Saturday, 14 May 2011

How Will Posterity Treat Osama Bin Laden?


For almost a decade he was the top of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List and the media’s pet bogeyman in the West. His death from ”Ballistic Trauma” (being shot in plain English) became a global media event instantly. Planes flying into the twin towers in Manhattan - this iconic image has spread globally and is probably forever associated with Osama Bin Laden. What kind of role would posterity give him?



How Osama Bin Laden Became the Big Baddie

Daddy bin Laden was a collossal achiever by any measure. Osama bin Laden’s father, was in illiterate poor lad from a poor area called hadramaut or ”death is among us” in Yemen. This poor lad became the personification of the American dream. He reaches Jeddah, begins as a porter and starts his own construction business to eventually become the favourite royal architect and the richest non-royal in the country. Religious and very loyal to his regal patrons (In 1964 he saved the broke royal house by lending them money when Prince Feisal deposed King Saud), he gave a personal touch to recycling. He divorced almost all of his 22 wives, never keeping more than four at a time.


Daddy bin Laden (on the right) with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in mid 1990s

He divorced his tenth wife, Osama’s mother, soon after the kid was born. Then daddy (with 54 children) recommends his mother to an associate, who marries her and they have four children. So Osama grows up in a household with three half-brothers and one half-sister. Though attending university, he never got a degree or acquired a profession. Being born very wealthy in Saudi Arabia, one doesn’t even have to think of such banalities as earning one’s living by working.

At 17 Osama or Usama marries his first cousin, a Syrian woman, the first of his six wives, two of whom he would later divorce. He would father 20-26 children with his wives. Here is a link to his family tree.

Osama is seen as handsome, has polite and refined manners, loads of money and is considered gifted. Here begins the central problem of all gifted persons – what do with this gift? He has no role model except daddy, against whom he has to rebel. He can’t direct the fire, the daemon in himself to a cause. He doesn’t have the Moses-like quality of transforming an entire civilization like Kemal Ataturk. He is not willing to personally suffer the hardship of long marches like Mao Tse Tung as he travels always with his retinue of wives and children. 

Osama’s charisma is compelling but he definitely wasn’t an intellectual speaking many languages after personally experiencing the injustices of foreign powers like the swashbuckling Che Guevara in his travels. He seems to lack the spiritual depth of T E Lawrence fighting for the Arab cause. Compared to Muhammad Ahmad (1844-1885), the Mahdi or the Bin Laden of the British Empire, Osma also did not personally lead successful battles.
So the directionless 19-year-old lad arrives in Afghanistan to join the defensive jihad of the Palestinian Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. The Mujahideen, set up and funded by the USA welcomed him, his sincere and principled devotion and his money. After Soviet Union withdraws in ignominy from Afghanistan, Osama returns to Saudi Arabia a hero. Disappointment creeps in when it dawns upon him that the regime in his own country doesn’t want him. He turns against them. Expelled to Sudan, he becomes the ultimate outsider with no country, no tribe no social class or group to call his own and fight for. He finds his home in an idea of Jihad where innocents can also be slaughtered.

Though the outsider’s angst and miseries are a prophet’s teething troubles, few become prophets. A person destined to be a prophet, rejects the bustle of society, ventures alone into the desert and descends into himself.  The loneliness may not bring him proximity of his chosen vision of divinity, but he hears in the solitude something more than the echo of the impulse that brought him there.

Osama's Main Target Becomes America

Osama chooses to appear as a prophet, without the schooling of the lonely dark night of the soul. He takes over from Ayatolla Khomeini to rant against the moral corruption of America and their allies. His enemies want him to assume that role more than anyone else as it gives them a justification for wars and acts of retaliations. Ironically he becomes more of their creation than his own. Rather than growing to take in life as it is and could be, he becomes a pipe through which events unfold, often in spite of him. His existence and his death ultimately serve them more that his followers.

The war he joins is one of preaching and not of fighting because in preaching he finds his cause. Egoistically he aligns himself to the locus of the moving finger of history, where all great empires crumble under their own megalomania, mostly due to economic, social and moral corruption. This was the undoing of the Soviet Union, with the help of USA, and now it was to be America’s turn.

He would have liked to give America a chance to redeem itself by reconnecting its activities with the lofty idea that is America, the noble vision of the founding fathers. The rulers of America couldn’t care less, he felt, eerily like the unabomber Ted Kaczynski, PhD. This frustration echoes in Osama's statement. We were fighting against the communists since 1979, and now the United States was pressuring us to cooperate with those very same communists. The United States has no principles. To achieve its own interest, it forgets every principle.” When a person resorts to violence or terrorism against a society, what else does the system do but return the favour! An individual can turn the other cheek, but can a state law enforcement system do so?


American propaganda leaflet in Afghanistan. Bin Laden second from left (note the raised finger).

Towers, Airplanes and America as Important Symbols for Osama’s Life


As a poor boy, Osama’s father had dreamt of building towers and that is how he became rich. He was the first private citizen in Saudi Arabia to own an airplane and was killed in an air crash in Saudi Arabia in 1967, due to the American pilot’s landing error. His eldest half-brother Salem (the next head of the family and who had a British wife) accidentally flew his plane into power lines in San Antonio, Texas and was killed. The iconic image of the planes crashing into the twin towers in New York in 9/11 sealed his fame as the world’s most known baddie.

What do the Jokes About Osama’s Death Reveal?

Most of the American jokes about Osama’s death continue the work of the seals, taking pot-shots at the favourite bogeyman to score domestic political political.
  • "The Republicans are so happy about bin Laden they've granted President Obama full citizenship." —David Letterman
  • "Osama Bin Laden's supporters want to rename the Arabian Sea where his body was dumped Martyr Sea. Really? Martyr Sea? Hiding in your bedroom for six years? How about Chicken of the Sea?" –Jay Leno
  • Breaking News: Donald Trump is now on a quest to see his death certificate...
  • Osama's last words: "Man, I just got my iphone 4, too! How did they find me?"

Here's a pre-Ballistic-trauma joke about Osama
  • Osama Bin Laden seeks out a fortune-teller, since he knows there is a price on his head. The fortune-teller says, "You will die on a major US holiday." 
  • Bin Laden says, "Which one?" 
  • She replies, "Doesn't matter! Whatever day you die, it's gonna be a major US holiday."

The best Osama death joke is from DanaArikane who wrote: "They should have captured Bin Laden alive and made him continually go through airport security for the rest of his life." This would vibe with everyone who goes through airport security.

Deathers probably love this one.
  • "What? Not only did we kill Bin Laden, we killed him in Abottabad! Abottabad sounds like name most New Yorkers would have invented for the fictional place they would have loved to kill Bin Laden." –Jon Stewart

Conspiracy theorists would love this one:
  • Obama overheard during Bin Laden raid: "Are we shooting this in the same studio where we faked the moon landing?"
  • There is a new Cocktail called Osama. 2 Shots and a splash of water!
This one is for people who hate President Obama:
  • Obama - The first black guy that has ever had to convince the world he did do the killing.

In Pakistan and the sub-continent, the Pakistani army are the butt of local jokes.
  • "No honking: the army is asleep" and another read as: "Public Service Message from the Army: Stay alert. Don't rely on us."
  •  
  • "Pakistan radar system for sale: $99.99, buy one, get one free (Can't detect US helicopters but can receive Star Plus.)"

Pakistani blogger Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi posted some of the best bin Laden jokes on his blog: 
  • "It has been recently revealed that Osama bin Laden was a visiting faculty at Pakistan Military Academy, where he was teaching Global Terrorism 101"
  • "Osama Bin Laden's Facebook status has not changed from RIP. It was Resting In Pakistan before".

Not Jokes but Prayers for Osama bin Laden divides Muslims

Though most Muslims did not like Osama or his negative message of hate and violence, some still continue to revere him.

In Kolkata, India, the Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan mosque, Maulana Nurur Rehman Barkati, held special Friday prayer for the "peace of the soul" of bin Laden.
In Chennai, the imam of a major mosque on Anna Salai Road announced prayers for bin Laden, and many people responded by praying.
The Al-Qaeda has vowed to avenge the killing and so the senseless killing of mostly innocents goes on and on.

Osama as The Frankenstein of the Media Age

When 9/11 happens, Osama denies twice and then almost reluctantly claims responsibility. Later he begins bragging about planning them. He continues his preaching and his stature grows as the media credit him with all kinds of evil acts and machinations. He became the justification for two ongoing wars, though the UK government officially admits that the case against him would not be a prosecutable case in a court of law. 

Interestingly, Osama has played a significant role in US presidential elections. He dutifully turned up when with some kind of diatribe and venomous preaching or evil action whenever there was a need to swing public opinion. So, now he can be killed, sorry, subjected to ballistic trauma, but he can’t be debogyfied. So the pathetic aging man (probably only a citizen of Bosnia at that time) sitting in his luxury home next to Pakistan’s West Point military academy and watching videotapes of himself reading hate messages will continue being the worst of the baddies.


Would historians a century from now be tempted to say that Osama was successful in bringing down not one but two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the USA as the costs of these wars are many trillions of dollars and not even the mighty US economy can bear it for too long? The likelihood that he will soon be forgotten and end up as a footnote in history is also very high and probable.