It has been one week since Bin Laden’s death, and I am ready to post on other stories. But before I do, I have to say a few words about the reactions coming out of the Middle East to Bin Laden’s death. This is obviously one helluvah task, given the diversity of the region, but I thought I would touch on a few reactions which have been particularly striking to me.
1. Osama Who? Sure, Bin Laden had made a name for himself in the field of anti-American jihadism, but from my time in the region, I got the impression that people there considered him to be a dramatic caricature not to be taken seriously. This is particularly true considering that the Arab uprisings have deemed Al Qaeda’s ideology obsolete. Who needs jihad when you can topple a dictator with peaceful protest?
2. Oh, now you like him? This category refers to those who had no love for Osama when he was alive, but now that he has been killed by American forces, they can’t seem to share enough love for the terrorist. For example, Hamas–who had previously made an effort to distance themselves from Al Qaeda–quickly condemned the killing of Osama, calling the terrorist a “holy warrior” and viewing his death as another act of American oppression. To me, it is clear that such a reaction is coming out of a deep-seated resentment toward American military action abroad than it is out of any love for Al Qaeda or its late leader. These two organizations were not friends before May 1, and in fact, Hamas has had its fair share of problems trying to put down Al Qaeda inspired insurgencies in the Gaza Strip. Analysts are already saying that Ismail Haniyeh’s statement was simply a superficial effort to appease such groups, whose recent protests are likely to make Hamas quite nervous. Let’s save the crocodile tears and get on with a real discussion about how to improve the lives of the Palestinians you claim to care about.
3. Osama as the new Che? Do you think that everyone who owns a Che Guevera shirt really agrees with the revolutionary icon’s militant ideology? Or how about those hipsters sporting the Stalin and Mao tee-shirts, do you think they really support collective farming that results in the death of millions (count ’em, millions) of people?
Something tells me that these people aren’t really thinking about the horrific actions of the men they are modeling. Rather, they are eating a candied version of history, where it’s cool to sport the faces of such nefarious figures. Unfortunately, Mao and Stalin aren’t “bad boys” to be fawned over, but monsters with the blood of millions on their hands. I am clearly not the only one to find these tee-shirts to be ridiculously offensive, and this shirt brings the point home quite nicely.
Likewise, I am afraid that Osama’s face might come to be an candied icon for “resistance.” As indicated by this slideshow, even before he was killed, Osama’s face had become a commercial item. Just like the sweetened versions of Mao and Stalin, this is obviously a troubling development, since Osama was responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. No matter how you feel about the policies of the United States, there is no justification for the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Period. End of discussion. If you are pissed off about the United States killing innocents in its various wars abroad, then you should be equally quick to condemn the crimes of Bin Laden. He wasn’t a brave man who stood up for the weak; he was a coward who hid in his nice compound as he ordered young men to kill thousands of innocent people (and themselves). Worst of all, he had the gall to commit such heinous acts in the name of God. But again, the pro-democracy Thai protester isn’t thinking of the 9/11 widows when she sports Osama’s face on her teeshirt. The Brazilian shopkeeper selling his “Yes Bin Laden” stickers isn’t thinking about what it would have been like to have been on United 93. Just like those hipsters who sport Stalin, they simply aren’t thinking. And that’s a problem.
While I have seen some instances of this ignorant glorification of Osama, the good news is that most of the Arab world seems to be tending toward the reaction of indifference. The Arab street seems to be too preoccupied with the revolutions underway to pay much attention to the death of a has-been. Bin Laden’s death made the news, but it certainly isn’t newsworthy in comparison to the existential changes underway in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt. Let’s get back to those stories of the future, and relegate Osama to the dusty shelf of history where he belongs.