THE LATEST Osama bin Laden audiotape is striking for what it implies about the Al Qaeda leader's growing alienation from even Islamist currents in the Arab and Muslim world. Both the National Islamic Front regime in Sudan and the Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority were quick to reject bin Laden's pretense of solidarity with them by declaring that they have nothing in common with Al Qaeda.
While criticizing Hamas for participating in elections and a secular Parliament, Bin Laden defined the West's withholding of funds from Hamas as proof of ''a Crusader-Zionist war against Muslims." But his most self-incriminating remarks concerned the genocide perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan by the regime in Khartoum and its proxy Arab militias. The victims are not Arab, but they are all Muslims. Yet bin Laden called on Muslims to go to Sudan not to rescue the victims of genocide but to wage holy war against United Nations peacekeeping forces that are supposed to arrive in Darfur next fall.
Because the roots of the Al Qaeda cult are in its simplistic yet grandiose ideas about a global conflict of religious cultures, bin Laden's public statements need to be understood not merely as threats but also as attempts to justify an ideology that offers no real solutions to the challenges confronting Muslim and Arab peoples. The tape broadcast Sunday reflects an effort to overcome the damage done to Al Qaeda's reputation by last November's bombings of hotels in Amman, Jordan.
Bin Laden asserted that the recently ended war that took 2 million lives in the south of Sudan, and the Darfur genocide, both originate in the dissolution of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I, after which ''Britain came to separate Sudan from Egypt and returned again to Sudan trying to separate its south . . ." This is bin Laden's way of linking the West to a plot to divide Islamic lands that he wants to reunify in a single caliphate. He claimed the intruders exploited ''some differences between some tribesmen" in Darfur ''in preparation to send crusader troops to occupy the region and steal its oil."
As revealing as bin Laden's lies about Darfur is the reaction of the Sudanese government, which he explicitly said he does not support and which kicked him out and expropriated his money in 1996. By way of rejecting his call for holy warriors to go to Sudan, the regime in Khartoum declared it will not host any terrorists. Since the Islamist rulers of Sudan have killed many more innocent people than Al Qaeda, that rejection is more than somewhat cynical. Nevertheless, bin Laden's standing with his desired audience must be plummeting if Hamas and Sudan's National Islamic Front are rushing to differentiate their brand of Islamism from Al Qaeda's.