In a clip from Osama Bin Laden’s personal audiotape collection, militant jihadis laugh and joke while cooking breakfast. They argue over how to light a stubborn kerosene stove. Finally, one of the militants says, “You see now? Engineers are we!” Another responds, “Engineers of… eggs.”
Osama Bin Laden’s 1,500 audiotapes are not always riveting, but they are revealing. The recordings, discovered in 2001 after the US invasion of Afghanistan, contain wedding speeches, taxi cab conversations, and even Osama Bin Laden reading his own poetry. A prominent family in Bin Laden’s former neighborhood gave them to CNN, who wasn’t very interested and turned them over to the FBI, who wasn’t interested either. The FBI gave them to the Afghan Media Project at Williams College, who contacted linguistic anthropologist Flagg Miller to analyze them.
In the tapes, Miller, profiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, has found a highly personal window into the personalities of some of the most wanted and reviled people in the world. According to Chronicle, the tapes “offer clues about how the jihadis see themselves and one another, how they think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.” It could be invaluable information, as the “war on terror” drags on through its eighth year.