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Tape Reaction: Unsettling to Watch, but Necessary for Closure - 2001-12-13

The release by the U.S. government of a video tape of Osama bin Laden reacting to the September 11 terrorist attacks drew immediate comment in New York. Analysts believe Americans and the world needed to see the tape for themselves.

The videotape of bin Laden, sitting with some of his cohorts, describing what he knew about the attacks beforehand and rejoicing at the deadly results, clearly was not casual viewing for many New Yorkers. But David Yamins, a local psychiatrist, believes it was a necessary experience. Americans, he says, had to see for themselves the character of the man who heads the Al-Qaida terrorist network.

"It is distressing to see evil speak and evil at work. And to see them talk about this attack and talk about the foreknowledge of this attack so blandly and, on the other hand, cast it as a religious act, I think, is very unsettling," he said. "But I think it's very important to see that because that is how evil works. And this person and this group is really evil, and I think it's very important for people in this country to realize that."

Another expert, Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at New York's Fordham University, was appalled, he says, more by bin Laden's demeanor than his words.

"The chortling, the pleasure that he takes in talking about the horrible events of September 11," he said. "In some ways the non-verbal aspects are more chilling and horrifying than what he actually says, you know, licking his fingers, sitting around talking about this wonderful thing, in his view. That is very good and important for American people and the world to see. It gives a certain closure, not complete closure, about who was behind those events."

On the negative side of releasing the tape, Professor Levinson says it could bring more violence against Muslims, by reinforcing a cultural bias that has grown in some quarters since September 11. He says he hopes people realize that Bin Laden does not represent the vast majority of Muslims.

"One of the things I felt watching that tape, it almost looks like a scene out of the Old or New Testament, some ancient saga of people talking about victories over a great enemy, and that kind of thing," he said. "And I think that is very repulsive to Americans. And the point has to be made that although bin Laden and his followers are wrapping themselves in the cloak of Islam, this is not what Islam is about."

No one is sure whether Bin Laden will ever appear in a court of law. But experts agree the bin Laden tape will be critical in the court of public opinion. They hope countries that have expressed reservations about the U.S. war against terrorism will see the need to support it.

Meanwhile, for the grieving families who have lost people in the attacks, psychologists generally believe the tape will be invaluable. They say seeing the face of the enemy in its most unappealing form is a kind of therapy that may unblock, for many, the long road to recovery.