Why did Bin Laden's letter to America go viral on TikTok?

Why did Bin Laden's letter to America go viral on TikTok?
4 min read
17 November, 2023
The Guardian has removed its translation of Osama bin Laden's 'Letter to America' after it went viral on TikTok, sparking reactions and discussions
Osama bin Laden was formerly the leader of the terrorist group al-Qaeda which conducted the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 [Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images]

The Guardian newspaper has taken down a translation of Bin Laden's 'Letter to America' after 21 years on the site as the essay resurfaced, going viral on TikTok.

The letter, which was addressed to the US public shortly after the 9/11 attacks, explained why Bin Laden's militant group al-Qaeda targeted America.

The letter was received with widely positive comments by social media users with trending searches on TikTok including "Osama letter to America summary" and "a letter to America explained".

Users on the platform described being "changed" by the letter, with some saying they were "going through an existential crisis" over it.

"I need everyone to stop what they're doing right now and go read - it's literally two pages - go read 'A Letter to America'," one influencer with 12 million likes on her profile wrote.

"Come back here and let me know what you think. Because I feel like I'm going through an existential crisis right now, and a lot of people are. So I just need someone else to be feeling this too."

One user posted a reaction video that garnered close to one million views with the caption: "Trying to go back to normal after reading Osama bin Laden's 'Letter to America' and realizing that everything we learned about the Middle East, 9/11, and 'terrorism' was a lie."

However, although many users expressed their shock or agreement with the contents of the letter, one user described the letter as "the truth is in here", others took to the platform to express their anguish at the trend.

This includes one user who described the trend as "utter insanity", and sarcastically thanked Generation Z for "enlightening us all".

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The Guardian page that originally hosted the letter now reads: "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 2002. The document, which was published here on the same day, was removed on 15 November 2023".

According to Fox News, a Guardian spokesperson said that "the transcript published on our website 20 years ago has been widely shared on social media without the full context. Therefore we have decided to take it down and direct readers to the news article that originally contextualized it instead."

TikTok said on X that it was "proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform."

"This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media," the Chinese-owned app added.

What did the letter say?

Bin Laden's message, released a year after 9/11, outlined his objections to Western activities in Muslim nations, condemning the United States for its backing of Israel and its approach towards the Palestinian regions.

It also denounced what he described as Western "lies, immorality and debauchery" and argued that attacks against civilians and the United States were justified as a result.

"They threw hundreds of thousands of soldiers against us and have formed an alliance with the Israelis to oppress us and occupy our land - that was the reason for our response on the eleventh," it said.

After nearly 10 years as the world's most wanted man, bin Laden was tracked down and killed by US special forces at his compound in Pakistan in 2011.

How did Arabs react?

The Arabic hashtag Bin Laden was also top trending late on Thursday and early on Friday in many countries across the MENA region, drawing hundreds of thousands of posts, many linking it to Washington's backing of Israel in its war on Gaza.

Palestinian-US author Samar Jarrah shared a video of a young woman analysing the letter, commenting: "They linked the events of [11] September to the occupation of Palestine."

An Omani user shared another video of US TikTokers reacting to the letter and commented: "The United States is in trouble."

Al Jazeera TV presenter Zein Tawfik mocked how the attempt to draw a parallel between the 11 September attacks and the al-Aqsa flood had backfired as "young people began to examine his speech" and scrutinise  "all donations to politicians from the Zionist lobby".