Why Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ is going viral on TikTok

Why Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ is going viral on TikTok

Two decades ago, Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader behind 9/11, laid out his attempted justification for the terror attack against the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people in his “Letter to America.”

This week, that same letter went viral on TikTok among a new generation, many of whom are debating the Israel-Hamas war and the role played by the U.S. For some, a big part of bin Laden’s justification—American support for Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in what the U.N. deems a violation of international law—resonates with what’s going on now in the Middle East, leading them to renew calls for a Gaza ceasefire.

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In one video with more than 900,000 views, a TikToker made the claim that “everything we learned about the Middle East, 9/11, and ‘terrorism’ was a lie.” Others on social media have criticized the trend as sympathizing with terrorists and legitimizing violence.

The trend follows a pattern: TikTok has responded to Republican criticism that the platform was biased toward pro-Palestinian content by pointing to polling that shows younger people are more sympathetic to Palestinians.

While tens of thousands of people recently publicly showed their support for Israel in the U.S. and condemned anti-Semitisim in France, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in pro-Palestinian protests around the world, calling for a ceasefire to protect civilians in Gaza, since the start of the war on Oct. 7.

Bin Laden’s letter appeared to go viral after TikTokers found a translated copy published by The Guardian in 2002, although the news site removed the letter on Nov. 15.

The Guardian told TIME in an emailed statement on Nov. 16 that after the transcript was widely shared on social media without the full context “we have decided to take it down and direct readers to the news article that originally contextualized it instead.”

The letter argues a justification for the killing of civilians, referencing reports of American and other government-sponsored violence against Muslims in the Palestinian territories, Somalia, Chechnya, Kashmir and Lebanon, and economic sanctions in Iraq that left people hungry.

The letter accuses the U.S. of hypocrisy for allowing Israel to occupy Palestinian territories for decades in disregard of United Nations’ law and for violating its own law by imprisoning people in Guantanamo Bay without charges or trials.

Taxpayers fund wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the letter said, and “the American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.” 

The letter also criticized the U.S. for failing at the time to sign the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Elsewhere, bin Laden called for people to follow Islam and “reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants.”

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