Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Osama Bin Laden: Myths of Villainy and Deceit

By James Curcio
As always with such charged issues, I feel a bit like I'm sticking my head into the lion's mouth here. It is invariable that some people will misunderstand my point, however I've had some thoughts that I feel need to be said on a platform like Modern Mythology, as this is part of what the site was designed for.

If you haven't noticed:
White House Changes Story Of How bin Laden Was Taken Down "Remember all those stories about bin Laden posing an armed threat and hiding behind a woman leaving the SEALs no other choice but to shoot him? Turns out they were not quite correct. Politico reports: “The White House backed away Monday evening from key details in its narrative about the raid ..."
It's amazing what a mythic villain the media has made of the man over the past decades. What could he do since 9/11 except hide out (in the Pakistani military's backyard) and have aides run him food and magazines? The terror cell system was designed in part so that taking down even an operative leader wouldn't take out the network, and as it stands, I can only imagine bin Laden would be more useful to the US as an information source alive than dead. It seems absurd to think that his assassination can be of tactical benefit to anyone except on emotional or PR grounds.

From a particularly craven point of view, it has occurred to me that it's a lot cheaper to fly planes into the world trade center than ever bankroll the kind of media campaign you'd need to run to get the kind of attention this lunatic got.

He has been playing his strategy by the numbers, and his war was against an economy, "...superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand. This was bin Laden’s plan for the United States..." (Washington Post.)

This is how it works with terrorism, by definition. Our own psychology works against us. Fear, a popular tool of the Bush administration, was used to do a real disservice to their own "war on terror" by painting the picture of this guy hanging out in his underground bunker with Destro, Cobra Commander, and The Joker. (That is should they ever hope to win a "war on terror" - I assume they actually intend to "win" as much as the "war on drugs" could ever be won, as we meanwhile prop up the regimes that supply the materials).

Recent reports say Osama didn't have a gun. But that's almost beside the point, since the deed is done and it's not like we're going to be seeing criminal investigations in the assassination of a figure like Osama Bin Laden. In the end he did share at least one thing in common with Saddam Hussein - both of them were tools for US interests for a time, and unlike puppet dictators, these used their own horrific means to their own ends and thus 'had to be stopped.' But in a National sense, maybe in an international sense, the blood is on all our hands, and it has been for a long time.

This might seem like an odd thing to say. Obviously none of us flew planes into any buildings. But yet in taking pride in violence, we're strengthening a narrative of vengeance. There's a MLK quote going around that had a different line added to the beginning of it. But the line from it, that is MLK, which I believe is the most relevant is this:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
So it isn't about whether it was right or wrong to kill him. We can have that debate, but the point when that debate was relevant happened in the situation room. As they say, the deed is done. (Unless if we conjecture that it isn't, and I'll explain in a moment why I'm hesitant to go down that road.) I'm personally uncomfortable with the precedent of political assassination without a trial, but I can see how it becomes a moral imperative in very specific situations.

Aaron Sorkin played with this theme in the assassination of Abdul ibn Shareef plot-arcs in the West Wing (seasons 3-5).

No matter which side you come out on, it's a hoary mess, but it's patently clear to me that it's barbaric to party in the streets over the death of any human. Even an enemy. Crack open the Illiad sometime and consider why the disgrace of Hector was such a big deal within the context of the narrative. If we are to assume the burial at sea was in fact what "they" say it was, then it's in part an attempt at avoiding this kind of spectacle, though most likely with the knowledge that it is inevitable on the part of the people of America so the party line had best wipe its hands of it. I understand why the families of those killed in 9/11 may want revenge, but I don't think we'll ever know all those responsible. (And if we lined them all up on the street and shot them, would it bring anyone back?)

In the midst of this, let's not forget something: if we're to consider the political power of the US anything other than a shell of lies and deceit used to displace the illusion of multi-national corporate interests - which bear no allegiance to any flag - then it is a patriotic act to question the acts of our leaders. It shouldn't go unforgotten how many pithy things Thomas Jefferson had to say about rebellion.

To that end, it may not be politic but from the position of the crown at the time, "we" were a bunch of upstart rabble terrorists "ourselves," once upon a time. Which is not to say that I in any way endorse the myths that lead people to strap bombs to their body or fly planes into buildings. But let's not act as if there's a single lens that we can apply to an identity so large as a nation let alone its history or identity.

All that said, I still have no fucking clue why this story has morphed in the way that it has, and I dare not conjecture in too much depth about it because it might lead me down a crazy rabbit hole that has a giant convention of 9-11 truthers on the other side of it, with balloons and streamers and confetti like SURPRISE! HAPPY YOU COULD FINALLY JOIN US!

And no one wants that.

That is...unless we just mix Occam's Razor, some observations of primate behavior, and some small dose of higher reasoning, and thereby formulate the idea that we all want to make ourselves look good. But our ideas of what "good" means differ. "We" (and by we I mean the media, in particular) want to appear macho or superior or unafraid or any number of things, we want to appear considerate and kind and humble, we want to appear - well, like I said, it depends on what we value, what our myths value, and that is further amplified. We're all human sounding boards, amplification devices.

The Internet is an echo chamber. Unspoken motive plays a large role in the formation of these narratives, facts are merely an occasional side-dish. So it is inevitable, there is going to be quite a few different accounts of such a culturally charged event. You're kind of forced to have an opinion about things like this. This was just mine.

It's all a little odd, isn't it? What the hell do I personally know about Osama Bin Laden? Nothing but what I've been told, all around.

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  1. Watching the Bin Laden death revelry made me ponder how much fun crass tribalism can be. In my personal experience, it's much more Dionysian than alcohol. I don't know what that means.

  2. You're essentially correct. Though of course see



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