Al-Qaida's second-in-command used a racially demeaning term to refer to President-elect Obama in a videotape released Wednesday, and said Obama's election represented “the American people's admission of defeat in Iraq.”
In the 11-minute video, posted on the Internet, Al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, repeatedly and unfavorably compared the first black U.S. president-elect with Malcolm X, the black Muslim leader and activist who was assassinated 43 years ago.
“You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik al-Shabazz, or Malcolm X,” al-Zawahri said, according to English subtitles of his Arabic remarks provided by Al-Qaida's propaganda arm. “You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America.”
Al-Zawahri said Obama, Colin Powell and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “confirmed” Malcolm X's definition of a “house negro,” a term the militant black leader used to describe black leaders who were subservient to white interests. He used the Arabic phrase “abeed al-beit,” which literally translates as “house slaves,” but the English subtitle said “house negroes.”
The Washington-based Muslim Public Affairs Council condemned al-Zawahri's comments, saying he doesn't represent Muslims, most of whom have celebrated Obama's election.
“To al-Qaida, we say clearly: Stop using our name as Muslims and our religion to spread your suicidal, hateful and un-Islamic propaganda,” said Salam al-Marayati, the group's executive director.
Al-Zawahri's comments were the first time al-Qaida's leadership has reacted publicly to Obama's election. Some analysts said the delayed response reflected uncertainty within al-Qaida's ranks over how to respond, given that Obama is widely seen in the Muslim world as the mirror opposite of the group's longtime archenemy, President Bush.
Al-Zawahri and others in al-Qaida “recognize that Obama has a certain appeal, not just to Americans but to people in the developing world,” said Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst and senior investigator for the Nine/Eleven Finding Answers Foundation. “They feel a need to dampen this sense and enthusiasm and excitement for Obama.”
Al-Zawahri, 57, an Egyptian physician, is the second-ranking leader of al-Qaida, behind only Osama bin Laden. According to U.S. intelligence officials, he is believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan.
In Wednesday's video recording, al-Zawahri welcomed the pending withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq but warned Obama not to send additional forces to Afghanistan, as the president-elect has pledged to do.
On the tape, Zawahri is flanked by two separate photographs of Obama and Malcolm X. In his picture, Obama is wearing a skullcap and surrounded by Jewish leaders as he visits the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site. Malcolm X is shown on his knees, praying in a mosque.