Osama Bin Laden is alive and well … well, he is still reduced to just a faceless voice without access to a video camera. The mass-media elected leader of Al-Qaeda sent another audiotape to al-Jazeera on Sunday. According to al-Jazeera, the tape is “believed by Washington to be authentic.” It was his first public relations event since January and it seems to be more of a “I am still here and hearing the news” message than anything else. And so the distant-learning op-ed propaganda war goes on, but who is listening?

The more important question is: Who needs Bin Laden these days? As the world’s number-one wanted terrorist, Jesse James — no I mean Al Capone — no I mean the last Mafia don — no, of course, we are talking about Bin Laden — seems more unwanted than wanted these days. The multi-million reward on his head has thus far tempted no starving border Pathans to turn him in. Neither the government of Afghanistan or Pakistan seems interested in finding him and possibly running a show trial to top the ratings of the eternally frustrating “Saddam Trial” in Baghdad. Even George Bush has given up putting Bin Laden in his sights, perhaps worried that Bin Laden as martyr might be more powerful than the Middle East version of Krapp’s Last Tape.

So is Bin Laden losing his star appeal? First, he tries to appeal to the Palestinians. “The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist crusader war on Islam,” the voice of Bin Laden says on the tape. This would seem to push all the buttons. But what is the official response of Hamas? “What Osama bin Laden said is his opinion, but Hamas has its own positions which are different to the ones expressed by bin Laden,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas. Bin Laden also called “upon the mujahidin and their supporters in Sudan and its surroundings - including the Arabian Peninsula - to prepare to lead a prolonged war against the ‘crusader robbers in western Sudan’.” The response from the field must be equally unnerving for the al-Qaeda CEO: Ahmed Hussein, speaking for the Sudanese rebel group Justice and Equality Movement, said: “We categorically reject these declarations. His words are completely disconnected from the reality in Darfur. Bin Laden is still preaching the theory of an American-Zionist conspiracy when the real problem comes from Khartoum, which is a Muslim government killing other Muslims.” And, a little bit on the late side, Bin Laden calls for the Danish cartoonists to be handed over to al-Qaeda for justice. Considering that the Saudis and Gulf States have made their peace with Denmark and the cheese is once again filling the supermarket coolers, this is old business.

If Bin Laden, or whoever is so good at reproducing his voice, is still a voice to be listened to, it is an increasingly irrelevant one. To be rejected by Hamas, call for a jihad to defend a corrupt Sudanese regime killing its own Muslim citizens and try to resurrect a tired cartoon controversy are either signs of isolated ignorance or else one of the more clever CIA plots to keep Bin Laden around just in order to deflate his legacy. With apologies to Samuel Beckett, that last tape really is crap, but does Osama know it?

Daniel Martin Varisco