Friday, 04 September 2015

Radio Review: 4 September

Bin Laden’s tape archive contains some surprises

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176When I first heard about the discovery of a vast archive of tapes at Osama bin Laden’s abandoned house in Kandahar, I was moved to frivolous musings on their contents. My theory was that his catalogue of atrocities could only be explained by something as awful as a couple of decades of listening to Sing Something Simple on medium wave.

I also wondered about the medium on which they were stored. Did he buy those cheap ones in a long bag from hardware stores, or did he go with the best chrome cassettes? Did he buy C120s and then wish he hadn’t when the extra-thin tape snapped?

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera went into the Bin Laden archive with US academic Flagg Miller, who has listened to and catalogued the lot. Much of the haul consists of Bin Laden giving speeches. Disappointingly, no Cliff Adams was found, but equally, Miller was surprised how little anti-American sentiment was present. Most of the time, Bin Laden was talking about how Muslims of other denominations were the real enemy.

Cassettes, easily duplicated and distributed, were the ideal medium for Bin Laden to disseminate his messages. One of his recordings was estimated to have sold over 250,000 copies.

The archivist in me was horrified and relieved the tapes were rescued from a second-hand store, where they were being sold to those wishing to tape decadent Western pop music. One suspects vain, dandyish Bin Laden wanted them to be found and heard.

There is some music on them: one speech about Palestine cuts off and gives way to the Jewish Algerian singer Enrico Macias. Given Bin Laden’s profound anti-Semitism, this is a bit like finding out that Enoch Powell was a massive Otis Redding fan.

The Bin Laden Tapes, Radio 4, available on iPlayer.

Louis on Twitter: @LF Barfe or email:

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