The video prepared by Osama bin Laden as a response to yesterday's air strikes was not an after-thought: it was an essential part of his strategy, almost as important as the September 11 terrorist attacks themselves.
His remarks, made with an assault rifle at his side and posterity in mind, are consistent with his long-standing aim of arousing an upheaval throughout the Islamic world, intended to drive the US out of the Middle East and topple pro-western Arab regimes.
Bin Laden believes himself to be a latter-day embodiment of Saladin: a militarily gifted defender of the faith, willing to jettison Islam's tradition of peaceful reflection and do what is necessary to drive the infidels out of the holy shrines. To this son of a Saudi construction magnate, it is a historic settling of scores.
"Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more than 80 years of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated," he says on the tape.
The appeal to a common sense of Islamic identity is central to his propaganda war. In fact the faith is as divided as Christianity, between Sunni and Shi'ite and a range of sects within those two broad strains, such as Bin Laden's own Wahhabis.
The September 11 massacre was intended to provoke a response which killed Muslims and galvanized the Islamic world.
That response has now been delivered, and it is vital for Bin Laden to counter President George Bush's strenuous attempts to reassure the Arab world and other Islamic nations that it is not an attack aimed at them.
By all accounts Bin Laden knew and cared little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until recently. His first fight was against the atheistic Soviet Union in Afghanistan, in which the US was his ally. He turned against the Americans principally after US soldiers were sent to Saudi Arabia in 1990 in the build-up to the Gulf war: to him and his followers that amounted to an occupation of Muslim shrines. Their removal is central to his objectives.
But the issue is regarded as parochial in much of the Arab world. The US troops are not actually stationed at the shrines, and they were invited in by the Saudi royal family.
It was reportedly Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who was sitting alongside him on the video, who taught him to look further afield for support, and to widen his outlook to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and the sanctions against Iraq: the two most emotive issues on the world stage today in the eyes of most Arab Muslims.
Bin Laden goes out of his way to demonstrate his knowledge of these issues, at one point listing the sites of recent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers.
In his address, he taps a deep-rooted sense of frustration across the Arab world that in the double standards adopted by the western media dead Muslims count for less than dead westerners.
It is a complaint heard in every Arab capital in the world.
"A million innocent children are dying at this time as we speak, killed in Iraq without any guilt. We hear no denunciation. In these days, Israeli tanks rampage across Palestine, and we do not hear anyone raising his voice," Bin Laden said, striking at the gut-level sympathy evoked in many fellow Arabs by the victims in New York and Washington.
"But when the sword fell upon America after 80 years, hypocrisy raised its head up high bemoaning those killers."
The 80-year period arises elsewhere in the speech.
Its significance is not entirely clear, but it is probably a rough reference to the start of British-led direct intervention in the Arabian peninsula which was aimed at ousting the Ottoman empire at the time of the first world war.
In the eyes of many Arabs, the colonial powers, principally Britain, reneged on the promises of self-determination made by such Arabists as TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).
Since then, it is argued, the imperialist baton has been handed from Britain to the US, which now plays the leading role in orchestrating events in pro-western nations like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Bin Laden's rhetoric is calibrated to trigger an apocalyptic sense of the moment when the world will fall into camps, the believers and the infidels, and each person must choose his camp.
The ensuing battle, Bin Laden implies, will resolve once and for all the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the suffering of the Iraqi people under sanctions.
It will also dispel the deep-seated sense of powerlessness afflicting the Arab world.
For those reasons, it will resonate deeply across the region.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001