Having a last name that sounds like Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's first name has never been a political plus for Barack Obama. Could it now be a burden for Al Qaeda too?
It was a lot easier for the Islamist terror organization to frame the U.S. as a racist, anti-Muslim "crusader" nation before we elected a biracial American named Barack Hussein Obama to be our president.
That would help to explain why Al Qaeda's first official response to Obama's election features Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group's No.2, denouncing Obama in a Web video as a "house slave" or "abeed al-beit" in Arabic. An English subtitle provided by Al Qaeda's propaganda arm translates the term as "house Negro." Actually, the Arabic phrase literally translates as "house slaves."
Zawahiri compares Obama to Malcolm X, the assassinated black American Muslim leader who made the plantation reference to house slaves and house Negroes famous in the early 1960s to describe blacks who played along with white supremacy.
"You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik al-Shabazz, or Malcolm X," Zawahiri said, citing Malcolm's Arabic and English names.
Zawahiri said Obama, Colin Powelland Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "confirmed" Malcolm X's definition of a house Negro, a term the militant black leader used to describe blacks who were subservient to whites. "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," Zawahiri said.
To which I as an African-American respond—in a cleaned-up version of an old black community phrase—"Negro, please!"
It's a little too glib for Al Qaeda's No. 2 to honor Malcolm, an American, 43 years after his assassination when he is unable to speak for himself.
As a longtime student of his speeches and ghost-written autobiography, I don't think he would appreciate being exploited by fugitive jihadi terrorists any more than he'd want his face on Ku Klux Klan bedsheets.
Such irony. Just as Obama has made it cool to play by the rules and challenge the system at its own game—and win!—along comes Zawahiri to challenge his negritude.
I might be a tad bit more impressed with Zawahiri's indignation had I heard him similarly denounce the traffic in black African slaves that Arabs continue to conduct in Sudan and Persian Gulf states.
With most of the world, including much of the Arab and Islamic world, enthralled with Obama's election victory, it's no surprise that Al Qaeda feels compelled to assert itself back into world headlines. But their show is getting old, lame and increasingly irrelevant, even in the highly competitive Islamist terrorist world.
In short, killing thousands of Arabs and Muslims has not endeared Al Qaeda to Arabs and Muslims. In Iraq, for example, Al Qaeda's attempts to take control of the Sunni insurgency backfired. Most of the rank-and-file insurgents actually have turned to make common cause with the American occupiers rather than put up with Al Qaeda's intruders.
And the appearance of Al Qaeda's No. 2 raises a compelling question: Where's No. 1? We have hardly heard from bin Laden since he popped up like a Cheshire cat four years ago in a videotaped address to the American people a few days before the presidential election.
Why no bin Laden this time? Maybe the old fox is growing cautious—or more cowardly. American forces have stepped up their missile strikes in the tribal regions along the porous Afghan-Pakistan border. Discretion can be the better part of bin Laden's survival.
Or maybe he's dead. Many intelligence experts think his notoriously bad kidneys may have done him in while hiding out in some cave in the wilds of western Pakistan. The Grim Reaper may have done the work of America's covert intelligence community without firing a shot.
While that mystery simmers, the bookish Zawahari does not inspire the same charismatic zing in the Islamic world, especially among the Muslims Al Qaeda has been trying to woo in East Africa. Many potential recruits there have been too happily joining Americans in celebrating Obama's new house—the White House!
Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune's editorial board.