Osama bin Laden's Letter To America being discussed by various TikTok users.

Osama bin Laden's "Letter To America" TikTok Trend

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Updated Nov 17, 2023 at 10:49AM EST by sakshi.

Added Nov 16, 2023 at 05:18AM EST by sakshi.

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Related Explainer: Why Are TikTokers Sharing Osama bin Laden's 'Letter To America'? The Controversy And Trend Explained

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Overview

Osama bin Laden's "Letter To America" TikTok Trend refers to discussions and debates surrounding a controversial trend in which TikTokers discuss Osama Bin Laden's 2002 polemic against the United States in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda. After several TikTokers posted videos discussing the text and saying that it changed their view on the U.S., many X / Twitter users (among others) lambasted TikTokers for promoting regressive terrorist ideas. The event notably propelled U.K. newspaper The Guardian to pull the original text from its website, stating that it was being shared without the full context.

Background

On November 24th, 2002, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shared a letter titled, "Letter To The American People."[15] The text was originally written in Arabic and was subsequently translated into English in Britain. It was first reported in the Observer in Britain.[3]

In November 2023, during the Israel-Hamas Conflict, several TikTokers began sharing their thoughts on the letter, noting its analysis of American imperialism and its effects on the Middle East, as well as the influence of Zionist thought on American politics. TikTokers @kimberly.stover[1] and @miiasaurous[2] were some early users to share their thoughts on Bin Laden's letter, however, their videos have since been deleted (reupload of @kimberly.stover's video, 0:00-0:43 timestamp[10]). Other early examples of TikTokers sharing the letter are @raeyreads[4] and @_monix2,[5] who reposted the letter on November 14th, 2023. The upload has since been removed from TikTok.

X[10] user @yashar posted a thread discussing the trend on November 15th that gathered over 11,000 likes in a day (seen below).


According to 404media,[14][16] most TikTok videos discussing the letter don't idolize bin Laden but rather discuss his analysis of American foreign policy:

"In many of these videos, TikTok users are expressing shock that they don’t entirely disagree with some of what Bin Laden’s letter said, namely that he is at war with the United States because the United States attacked the Muslim world first, that Jewish people have no claim to Israel, and that Israel has occupied Palestine for decades “overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation."

However, a CNN[19] article from November 16th reported that in a review, it found "a few dozen videos overtly praising or sympathizing with the sentiments expressed in the letter," though it also noted TikTok’s design made it hard to precisely measure sentiments on the platform.

Developments

Various other TikTokers shared their thoughts on the letter in subsequent days, including TikToker[6] @kianaleroux, who said in a November 15th, 2023, upload that they would "never look at life the same way again" after having read it. The post gathered over 1 million views and 150,000 likes in a day (since deleted). That same day, TikToker[7] @cannablissful posted a similar video on November 15th, gathering over 1.3 million views and 280,000 likes in a day. The upload has since been removed from TikTok.

Some TikTokers also criticized the growing trend and those who expressed sympathetic views toward the letter or Osama bin Laden, while others attempted to add context to the letter. For example, on November 15th, TikToker @savinghistoryclass[20] uploaded a video delving into the details of the letter and its history, receiving over 120 likes and 70 comments in 19 hours. The upload has since been removed from TikTok.

A compilation of some TikTok videos discussing bin Laden's letter was posted to X by @libsoftiktok (seen below).

Online Reactions

As the trend spread in mid-November 2023, many TikTokers redirected followers to the letter hosted on the British news site The Guardian. However, the newspaper removed the letter from its website after over 20 years of hosting it,[8] instead showing text that read:

This page previously displayed a document containing, in translation, the full text of Osama bin Laden’s “letter to the American people”, which was reported on in the Observer on Sunday 24 November 2002.[17] The document, which was published here on the same day, was removed on 15 November 2023.

The transcript published on our website had been widely shared on social media without the full context. Therefore we decided to take it down and direct readers instead to the news article that originally contextualised it.


The additional line about "context" was added later on November 16th. The original page can be accessed via the Internet Archive.[24]

On November 15th, 2023, X[9] user @stunnatiff noted this removal in a post and gathered over 2,000 likes in a day (since deleted, screenshot seen below).


stunna @stunnatiff the kids on TikTok went viral telling folks to go read Os*ma's "Letter To America". thousands of comments of ppl saying "wow my eyes have been opened," "the US is so evil," etc. and The Guardian took it down today after having it published for 20 years. CAN YOU FEEL IT??? Support us News Opinion Sport Culture Lifestyle The Guardian Information Removed: document Wed 15 Nov 2023 15.19 EST 8:08 PM - Nov 15, 2023 113.4K Views ||| = f This page previously displayed a document containing, in translation, the full text of Osama bin Laden's "letter to the American people", as reported in the Observer on Sunday 24 November 2002. The document, which was published here on the same day, was removed on 15 November 2023.

On November 16th, the Washington Post[18] reported on the controversy surrounding the Guardian's removal of the letter, noting that it was originally included in a 2002 article detailing how "the letter was being shared among Islamist extremists in Britain amid government warnings that al-Qaeda attacks in the country were 'inevitable.'"

The Washington Post also interviewed Charlie Winter, a specialist in jihadist affairs and director of research at the intelligence platform ExTrac, in the article, who said:

[The letter contains] blatant language that is clearly calling for acts of genocide, clearly calling for or justifying indiscriminate acts of violence against civilians, clear justifications for killing noncombatants in any nation that is democratic and is fighting against a Muslim-majority state. It’s not the letter that is going viral. It’s a selective reading of parts of the letter that’s going viral. And I don’t know whether it’s because people aren’t actually reading it or, when they’re reading it, they’re reading the bits that they want to see or, you know, the bits that they want to see are sinking in.


X[11] user @EllaTravelsLove criticized the trend as antisemitic, adding footage from NBC in 2001 of Palestinians celebrating the September 11th attacks[21][22] (seen below, left). Author and X[12] user Malcolm Harris posted about the trend as well, remarking with surprise at the blurring lines between "America is losing credibility at home and abroad" and "the political theory of Osama Bin Laden is resonating with a diverse swath of America's youth." The post gathered over 12,000 likes in a day (seen below, right).


Ella Travels (Ella Kenan) @EllaTravelsLove Currently, on TikTok in the U.S., there's a surge in the circulation of Osama Bin Laden's "Letter to America," attracting attention from young Americans who are embracing the anti-Semitic ideology propagated by the Islamist terrorist. The conspiracy going around by the Woke crowd as if Osama Bin Laden was right about the Jews and the United States is disturbing. The amount of lies, fake news and propaganda against Jews in the US is similar to one in Germany after 1933. No kidding. Justifying Jihadist ideology, whether it's Bin Laden or Hamas, an ideology which aimes to destroy liberal values such as women's rights, equality, freedom of speech and much more is sick to the core. Heartbreaking to see a country that lost so many good people because of Jihadist terrorism to host such vast support in the same Jihadist ideology. : A gentle reminder on the celebration Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had on 9/11. 0:28 4:26 AM . Nov 16, 2023 110.8K Views Malcolm Harris @BigMeanInternet There's "America is losing credibility at home and abroad" and then there's "the political theory of Osama Bin Laden is resonating with a diverse swath of America's youth" Malcolm Harris @BigMeanInternet • 9h What The TikToks are from people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Many of them say that reading the letter has opened their eyes, and they'll never see geopolitical matters the same way again. Many of them and I have watched a lot - say it has made them reevaluate their perspective on how what is often labeled 9:26 PM Nov 15, 2023 1.1M Views :

A thread posted to Reddit's /r/BlackPeopleHistory resulted in people debating the ethics of promoting the letter, with some criticizing Gen Z for trying to have an opinion on a terrorist attack many of them did not live through, and others viewing the trend as part of rising anti-American imperialist thought.[13]

On November 16th, 2023, the official TikTok Policy X account[23] posted a statement addressing the controversial trend, noting that promoting the letter violated its rules on supporting terrorism and that it would be "proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform." The post (seen below) received over 220,000 views, 260 likes, 160 retweets and 110 replies in four hours.


TikTok Policy J @TikTokPolicy Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism. We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform. The number of videos on TikTok is small and reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate. This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media.

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