A 21-year-old letter from Osama bin Laden blasting the US for its support for Israel went viral on social media, as young Americans said it revealed a truth they were never told before.
TikTok has banned the promotion of content related to a 2002 letter written by al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after the document went viral among American users earlier this week, with many finding the text to be “mind-blowing” for what it says about their own country.
The document, which was published by The Guardian in November 2002 but has since been removed from the newspaper’s website, was written by bin Laden only months after the Saudi-born militant masterminded the 9/11 attacks in the eastern US.
In the letter, bin Laden sheds light on the ideology that pushed him to organise the attacks on the US, which destroyed New York’s Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands of others.
According to bin Laden, the attacks were justified by the US role in supporting Israel and what he called the oppression of Palestinian people, adding that Palestinians will have to be “revenged,” the same as the people of Afghanistan.
“The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals,” bin Laden argued in the letter, as quoted by Rolling Stones. “Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily.”
Many young, left-wing TikTok users in America found the letter to contain a truth they were never told about the US role in the Middle East. Some said their entire viewpoint on the world had changed, and many agreed that bin Laden was “right.”
A compilation of such TikTok videos shared by journalist Yashar Ali on X, formerly Twitter, attracted even more attention to the issue, somehow making the letter resonate even louder in the American public debate space. On Thursday, “letter” and “bin Laden” were trending on X.
Many on social media criticised the TikTok users hailing the letter and encouraging others to read it, expressing concerns that young Americans might be radicalised. After being hit by criticism over the spread of the content, TikTok removed most of the videos about the letter, saying it was investigating how the videos got into its platform.
The Guardian removed the letter from his website, explaining to other media companies that it did so as the document was being widely spread on social media without its proper context.
But others called for the letter not to be censored.
“Don’t turn the long-public ravings of a terrorist into forbidden knowledge, something people feel excited to go rediscover,” Renee DiResta, a research manager at the Stanford internet Observatory, wrote Thursday in a post on Threads. “Let people read the murderer’s demands – this is the man some TikTok fools chose to glorify. Add more context.”
Writer Talia Jane wrote on X that young Americans’ fascination with bin Laden’s letter might come from the fact that pro-Palestinian protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza were “demonised” and called terrorists too.
While videos on TikTok only discussed the part of the letter dedicated to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, other, darker parts of the letter were ignored. In the document – which is to be interpreted as a propaganda tool of a recognised mass murderer – bin Laden included attacks on women and gay people, preaching his anti-semitic, misogynistic and anti-LGTBQ+ view of the world and hoping to gain support for al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden was killed in his compound in Pakistan in 2011, when he was shot by American Navy SEALs.
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