Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I'm not sure what the new bin Laden tape tells us about the fate of OBL. But I think it gives us some pretty definitive info on the fate of Suleiman Abu Ghaith. And the word is, he's toast. Either that, or maybe he's already entered into negotiations with Ari Fleischer.

As TPM readers well know, Suleiman Abu Ghaith is the Press Secretary and Spokesman for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. There are several key signs that he's no longer providing his services to OBL and may perhaps even have been killed in the Tora Bora bombing.

First, on the most recent tape bin Laden pretty clearly seems to have been reduced to writing his own material, which has reduced his effectiveness both in sowing terror and communicating his message.

Second, OBL appears with bad lighting, making him look pale, washed-out, and frankly rather languid. A good flak never lets this happen.

Third, bad or non-existent make-up.

Fourth, no subordinates on hand to make OBL look like a bigger deal.

Fifth, exotic rocky crag now replaced by unappealing brown sheet background.

I would have preferred to have been proven wrong on this one. But I'm feeling pretty vindicated in my December 13th prediction that the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament would end up being a much bigger deal than the "bin Laden tape, the supposed severing of ties between Israel and Arafat, or US pulling out of the ABM treaty." This stand-off in South Asia could really scarcely be more serious. More on this in an opinion column to run tomorrow.

The Richard Reid story seems to be coming into focus. Conversion to Islam, fell in with the wrong crew at the local mosque, fab vacation getaway to Pakistan, all ending up with the martyrdom operation gone awry.

What really strikes me though is some of the talk coming out of the Brixton Mosque in South London.

When looking at cultures other than our own, certain traits and tendencies can appear alien even though they should actually be quite familiar.

Let me give an example.

In college I once went to a seminar on violence and misogyny in rap music (how I found my way there I honestly don't remember). There were a bunch of Afro-Am studies scholars and literary critics there on the panel (Arnold Rampersad is the only one I remember clearly) and one white dude who I think was like the rock critic from the Village Voice or something. There was a great deal of erudite chatter about how rap was the authentic voice of the inner-city and so on and so forth.

But the rock critic was the only one on the panel who said something which struck me as really insightful. Perhaps this wasn't something about African-American culture, maybe it was just something about adolescent men. Isn't Heavy Metal music and the hard-up losers who listen to it pretty much the same thing?

Anyway, I had a similar feeling when listening to the comments of Abdul Haqq Baker, the Chairman of the Brixton Mosque, where Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui worshipped before hooking up with Al Qaeda.

About Moussaoui, Baker told the London Times:

We saw quite a stark change in him. He became infuriatingly arrogant. He would try and speak to other unsuspecting youths about his view. We would try and stop him.

He kept asking us: ‘Do you know where there is jihad which I can fight?’ He would wear military gear and a rucksack showing he wasn’t sleeping in a fixed place.

Baker told the BBC that Reid "came into contact with 'more extreme elements' in London's Muslim community, started wearing military gear and talking about fighting a jihad or holy war."

The military fatigues is what really strikes me. And the talk of arrogance and belligerence comes up again and again in descriptions of these guys. To be honest, take out the words Muslim and Jihad and they sound like a lot of the guys I grew up with in Southern California in the eighties.

The weirdest thing we've learned so far about 'Richard Reid' is that his name actually seems to be Richard Reid. According to the Wednesday London Times, fingerprints from the FBI have positively identified the shoe-exploding suspect as a small-time British criminal named Richard C. Reid. A British national with an English mother and a Jamaican father, Reid had a "string of convictions for street crime such as muggings" and converted to Islam while in prison.

Articles in various other papers also provide a host of details which give a pretty clear sense of where this story is going. The AP says Reid had belonged to an Islamist organization called "Tabliq" but quit because they were "not radical enough." The London Times said Reid's mom went looking for him at the local mosque a few months ago after he went to Pakistan and stopped communicating with this family.

Perhaps most disturbing is the report that Reid attended the same Mosque that was home to Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, who has just gone on trial in Virgina. AbdulHaqq Baker, chairman of the Brixton Mosque, says he's sure Reid couldn't have been acting alone basically because Reid was too much of a doofus to have cooked up the whole plan by himself - a charge which seems amply supported by the just-released mug-shot, above.

I guess we could call this 'crony-watch.' Here's the scoop. Last Friday, long-time Gore insider Peter S. Knight sent friends an email informing them that he was taking a job as managing director of Metropolitan West Financial. That's the LA-based asset management company Al Gore signed on with as Vice Chairman last month.

Even absolute rulers have to delegate, right? Well, someone's got to tell the Sultan of Brunei - the oil-rich, mini-state perched on the edge of Malaysia. The Sultan's bio on the Brunei national website says:

Besides being the Sultan and the Ruler, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah is concurrently the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister, and head of the religion of Brunei Darussalam. Being a working monarch, he is involved in the conduct of the State affairs internally and internationally.
A working monarch, indeed!

Not the fog of war perhaps, but maybe we should call this the fog of terrorism. In the last post we noted the Washington Post report that 'Richard Reid' - alleged shoe-igniter - was really Sri Lankan national Tariq Raja.

Now CNN - relying on a Scotland Yard spokesman - seems to imply that the man really is a British national and perhaps even is Richard Reid, but changed his name to Abdel Raheem after converting to Islam.

More striking still, one of the subduers of the man in question - a Frenchman who happens to be a journalist - says the man had "light skin." That seems hard to square with the picture opposite unless the FBI guy is the stoned-looking dude on the right with the pull-over hood.

P.S. At least now we know he had exploding shoes.

I'm not sure whether it was admirable discretion or facile, unhelpful political correctness (I'm leaning heavily toward the latter) behind the networks' initial decision to ignore or keep mum about the question most everyone, yesterday, was likely asking about 'Richard Reid,' the guy who tried to light his shoes on fire aboard that flight from Paris to Miami: his seeming ethnic extraction.

For better or worse, people trying to discover whether this was Al Qaeda-related would want to know whether the suspect was a Muslim.

His apparent identification as 28 year old Sri Lankan national Tariq Raja doesn't completely resolve the matter. 'Tariq' is an Arabic name, as far as I know. And in South Asia I would assume it signifies being a Muslim. Yet, according to the CIA, Sri Lanka is only 7% Muslim. Of course, how little we know about what's happening here is driven home by the fact that some government officials are refusing to rule out the possibility that the guy was just trying to light a cigarette.

Look, I don't want to take anything from Rudy Giuliani. The Fall of 2001 has been his finest hour. Actually, hold on. I'll take a bit away from him: I hear that for the last month or so he's been completely checked out on his job and has been focusing on lining up gigs for his post-mayoralty consulting gig. But I'm not gonna give him a hard time over that. His performance in the midst of tragedy will go down in history, and his mayoralty - though certainly a more mixed picture - seems unquestionably historic.

But Time's decision to make Giuliani its Person of the Year represents a colossal failure of nerve and honesty. And it may even be a small sign of the baleful effects of media industry conglomeration.

Time's self-described criteria for the designation is "the one person on Earth who has had the biggest effect on history throughout the year -- for better or worse."

Can anybody say with a straight face that that person is Rudy Giuliani and not Osama bin Laden?

I've gotten another request that TPM add a section or recurring item featuring reader comments. I'm considering it. One of the things I like about TPM is its simplicity and relative featurelessness. But perhaps this would be a good addition.