Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Will Osama's ‘Legend’ Live On?

Linda S. Heard writes: He and US President Obama have something in common — a misguided belief that the end justifies the means 
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 10/05/2011 

Once upon a time there lived a man called Osama. His father was a poor Yemeni who made his fortune in Saudi Arabia; his mother a sophisticated lady from Syria. The boy grew up in a palace with four of his 51 siblings. He read poetry, was shy and softly spoken, eschewing frivolities for studies — except for his love of English football. He married a 14-year-old cousin and graduated in engineering. Yet he yearned for something more meaningful.

While still in his 20s, he travelled to a distant mountainous country to raise funds for co-religionists fighting Soviet invaders — and stayed to join the battle. There, he met an Egyptian surgeon with whom he formed a guerrilla group committed to warring against colonialist enemies of their faith. Everyone who met Osama said he dreamt of martyrdom.

The occupiers finally driven from the land, Osama could have lived out his life in luxury. Instead, he sought new struggles, offering to help protect his homeland against the sabre-rattling of a wicked Iraqi dictator. When his offer was spurned in favour of the protection of an army from the West, Osama was incensed. He complained the armed foreigners were polluting his country's sacred soil and for that he was banished forever.
Stateless and disowned by his family, he found temporary sanctuary in Sudan which was pressurised by the world's mighty superpower to throw him out. Every door was now closed to him except Afghanistan's.

Once back on the soil he had helped liberate, he was befriended by a one-eyed cleric whose black-turbaned fanatical following ruled the country with an iron fist. Women had to shroud themselves from head to toe, were refused education and barred from laughing too loud. Music and cinema were banned. Executions were carried out in football stadiums.

Osama set up training camps for fighters from all over the world who shared his hatred. They blew up embassies and a naval destroyer while 19 young men were preparing themselves for the day that would change the world.

Some took flying lessons in readiness to hijack four US passenger jets to be used as weapons to attack the symbols of American power. Using box cutters to overcome resistance, the suicide squad flew planes into iconic buildings, turning skyscrapers into dust and damaging Defence Department headquarters.
As the Vice-President laid low in an undisclosed location, the President told his traumatised nation that it was Osama who was the evil mastermind behind the slaughter. Muslims in America were rounded up and detained as the president firmed up plans to invade nine predominately Muslim countries — beginning with Afghanistan.

The cleric was told to hand over his guest or else. He refused. Neighbouring Pakistan was warned it would be bombed into the stone age if it didn't cooperate. As American bombs rained down, Osama moved into a cave with one of his wives and a few of his 19 children guarded by diehards.
We'll smoke him out, pledged the president. But as troops surrounded his bolt hole, Osama fled on horseback. They sought him everywhere. They bombed tribal areas in Pakistan and villages in Afghanistan. They transported Afghans and Arabs to a far away gulag where they were kept in wire cages like animals and tortured.

They falsely announced that Osama had links with the Iraqi dictator who they said was amassing weapons of mass destruction before illuminating the skies above Baghdad as the earth turned blood red. Osama was never seen again except in people's nightmares. For most, he was a devilish fiend.
For others, he was an inspiration. Osama's ideology spawned copycat groups that killed and terrorised decent folk throughout the civilised world. The American President had dissipated his treasury and sacrificed thousands of soldiers but he was outfoxed; it was left to his successor Obama to hunt down Osama.

 The killing
Then one dark night 10 years on, long-held intelligence led American elite commandos to a walled home in Pakistan, close to a military academy. The monster was old, ailing, frail, cash-strapped — and unarmed. They wounded his youngest wife and killed his son; they shot him twice in front of his 12-year-old daughter who witnessed his body being dragged away before being consigned to the Arabian Sea.

Photographs of the corpse were too gruesome to show. We don't display trophies, we don't spike the ball, the President said. ‘What! No body, no pictures?' yelled the sceptics. Foul cried an English archbishop and a host of international lawyers asking why the "Home of the Brave" didn't take him alive and give him a trial in keeping with its much-vaunted values.
Most Americans weren't as cynical; they celebrated his death dancing in the squares. Obama's popularity peaked as he covered himself with glory, saying our world is now a safer place. Osama's followers called for ‘an eye-for-an-eye', warning Osama may be gone but hundreds like him will follow.

So ends the story of Osama and like every good tale there's a moral to be learned. ‘When fighting the enemy, remember not to become the enemy you are fighting' is, sadly, the one that springs to my mind. Ultimately, Osama and Obama had something in common, a misguided belief that the end justifies the means. If we want to preserve our humanity, it never does.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs.

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