Column article, Film Review

Osama bin Laden — dead at long last!

After ten long years, after bombing Afghanistan to kingdom come and controlling all its oil and gas resources, after invading Iraq and creating havoc there while controlling its oil and gas resources, after declaring a War on Terror and practically profiling all Muslim males as terrorists, the United States of America, through its president Barack Obama, has announced that the American troops had killed Osama Bin Laden, America’s and the West’s (and their puppets’) Enemy Number ONE. Finally!

For quite some time, rumors were flowing around that Bin Laden was already dead. He had kidney problems and supposedly needed dialysis. For a self-proclaimed leader of the Arab world, it would seem uncharacteristic of him to stay quiet in the midst of the Arab uprising from Tunisia all the way to Yemen. (See Osama bin Laden: A Dead Nemesis Perpetuated by the US Government.)

At any rate, nobody can now point to him as the culprit of every terroristic act in the world.

The demise of Bin Laden must be a huge loss for the American and European governments. They have lost their bogeyman. Now, the U.S. Defense and Intelligence departments might have to invent another bogeyman to frighten the American people and keep their hold on massive defense and intelligence budgets and governmental powers.

However, I believe that the times have changed. The era of Fear, the era of the 3 B’s — Bush, Blair and BinLaden — is over. Finally!!!

In Oct. 2006, I wrote a critique of CNN’s documentary, In the Footsteps of Bin Laden. It was published in my column in Mr. & Ms. magazine, Oct. 2006 issue entitled “The Life and Times of a Super Terrorist”. A shorter version of it titled “Getting Lost in the Footsteps of Bin Laden” was published in the PJR (Philippine Journalism Review) Reports, Sept. 2006. I am posting it here to commemorate the death of this middle aged man with neither charm nor brilliance but whom George W. Bush and Tony Blair made out to be one of the most powerful man in the first decade of the 21st century.

Media creates social reality. And media is owned and controlled by the world’s economic and political powers. After World War II, the victors created more than a hundred countries they called “nation-states” including an ancient land in the Middle East which they gave to European Jews in payment for the crime done to them by Nazi Germany. And the victors declared that these nation-states were sacrosanct and should never be dismembered. They also declared that all states must either be capitalist or communist. And all states must be secular (non-religious) except for a tiny city-state in the middle of Rome.

After September 11, 2001, the world’s remaining superpower declared that “the world has changed.” And everybody must accept the new language of this new world. There is supposed to be a “War on Terror” and the American President warned, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” In this new world, Superpower America and its allies are set against a horrendous enemy – a middle-aged Arab hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan.

CNN of the giant media conglomerate AOL-TIME-WARNER-CNN produced a 2-hour documentary, In the Footsteps of Bin Laden, presented by its Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. It was supposed to tell the world the life and mission of Osama Bin Laden, “the West’s most feared terrorist.”

OSAMA’S LIFE AND TIMES

Osama was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1957 to a self-made multi-millionaire from Yemen. He was his mother’s only son but he has about 20 half-brothers and sisters from his father’s side. His father died when he was 10. In 1975, Osama entered King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and studied engineering.

According to Amanpour, Osama, his brothers and his sons used to go to the desert for days or weeks. This was supposed to be unusually remarkable and that it was Osama’s “training ground” for a future life as a terrorist.

But aren’t Arabs supposed to like the desert? The late King Khaled and the present King Abdullah are known to love the desert just as the late King Fahd was known to prefer city life.

THE ISLAMIC AWAKENING

During his college days, the various phenomena in the Middle East like the Sahwa or Islamic Awakening allegedly inspired Osama and his generation to be “jihadists”. The “revival” of Islam all over the world was supposed to be brought about by thinkers like Syed Qutb (1906-66), who, according to Amanpour, “inspired jihadists” as he “justified holy war that attacks enemies first.”

Qutb, one of the greatest Muslim political thinkers of the 20th century, was demonized as the patron saint of Islamic terrorists. From the documentary and from the language of the powers that be, it is as if once upon a time, the Muslims all over the world had lost “Islam” and it was only in the 1970s that they were “awakened” by an Islamic revivalist movement. And these “awakened” Muslims, who believe that they should be governed by the Qur’an and the Shar’ia (Islamic Law), are now called Islamists or jihadists or fundamentalists or plain terrorists.

But we must not forget that for about a thousand years, the Muslims were the superpowers – from Morocco to Spain to Eastern Europe to the Caucasus to India and up to Southeast Asia. It was only from the 18th century that the Muslim world declined, which coincided with the rise of Industrialized Europe. The Europeans methodically cut up the Muslim world and divided it among themselves using the old reliable “divide and conquer” strategy. While the Muslim world had been divided into dozens of countries, some even becoming minorities in their own lands, Muslims never forgot that they belong to One Community (the Ummah).

OIL CRISIS

According to Amanpour, Osama’s own “awakening” happened during his university years – 1975-79. Aside from the Islamic revivalism, there was the Iranian revolution and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. These events were supposed to cause Osama to turn to Islamic fundamentalism. The documentary failed to mention the great event of the 1970s which changed the world, especially the Muslim world – the Oil Crisis.

When the oil price jumped from 50 cents a barrel to more than 20 dollars a barrel, the Middle East, especially the oil producing countries, became a totally different place. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries turned from being the world’s poorest to the world’s richest countries. The Gulf nations embraced everything American and European. I lived in the Middle East during these times. Saudi Arabia and its universities were certainly not cauldrons of Islamic fanaticism. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia and its universities were places of intellectual and technological development.

I entered the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1976. It is a very modern university with top-notch faculty from around the world. We had 24-hour access to the mainframe computer when no school in the Philippines used any computer at all. We were writing computer programs when engineering students in the Philippines were merely calculating with slide-rules. My eldest brother was a Full Professor at Osama’s university in Jeddah. The first Saudi I met in Jeddah was Dr. Nassief, the Vice Rector of Osama’s university. He later became President of the World Islamic League. My university’s Rector, Dr. Bakr, was a graduate of Stanford University, and a classmate of my brother-in-law’s brother.

While there were trouble spots like Lebanon, there was mostly peace in the Middle East during that period. Egypt’s President Sadat signed the Peace Treaty with Israel’s Prime Minister Begin and this totally changed the face of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And during the Iran-Iraq war, the Arabs in general were solidly behind Iraq, which was backed by the US.

Khomeini had very small influence among Sunni (Orthodox) Arabs. In 1977-80, I traveled to Western Europe, New York, Mexico, Algeria, India, Pakistan and the Gulf countries and saw for myself that the oil-rich Arabs and most Muslims were very pro-West. But these Muslims also respected the writings of Muslim thinkers like Qutb and Maududi. At that time, the enemy of Western democracy/capitalism was not Islam but Communism. Then, as now, the enemies of Muslims are the oppressors of Muslims and occupiers of Muslim homelands.

To say that the Islamic revivalist movement and his university experience in 1975-79 drove Osama to the mountains of Afghanistan is not quite credible. Something or someone powerful made him do it. He was too young to do it all alone.

THE ABSENT PLAYER

In John Cooley’s Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (1999), he argued that the US created the Muslim radicals who went to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. Yet in the CNN’s documentary, America was conspicuously absent in the fight against Russia in Afghanistan. Everybody knows that USA recruited, trained and armed the Muslim fighters, including Osama, against the Russians. The facts were well documented by Western media. Does CNN or Amanpour believe that the world has forgotten America’s participation in Afghanistan?

Amanpour said that after the Russians left Afghanistan, Osama went back home. And then he supposedly asked the Saudi government to send his all-Arab group (al-Qaeda) to fight the Communists in Yemen. Now, why would Arabs fight other Arabs? And why would Osama, a Yemeni, fight other Yemenis? Fighting communists sounds very American.

OSAMA THE LEADER

The documentary portrays Osama as popular and revered in the Muslim world. Yet, Osama’s brothers and sons, who spent some time “training” in the desert, did not follow him to Afghanistan. Neither did childhood friends like Khalid Batarfi nor his university schoolmates like Jamal Khalifa. Strangely, even his co-mujaheedin (freedom fighters) in Afghanistan like Huteifa Azzam, the son of Osama’s mentor in Afghanistan, and Abdullah Anas did not become al-Qaeda members.

Instead, his followers included a US citizen and member of the US Special Forces in Fort Bragg and a Moroccan couple living in Belgium who fell in love with Osama’s image on TV.

Viewers get the impression that Osama bin Laden lives in his mountain lair and people come to him to propose potential terrorist targets. Sheikh Osama then gives his blessings and when the event occurs, he faces the cameras and claims the deed.

TRUTH IN DOCUMENTARIES

Documentaries are presumed to be true. It is also expected to show documentary evidence. It is thus up to the viewers to discern the truth or bias of the documentary. But if the viewers are unfamiliar with the subject, the setting, the milieu, the culture, etc., how would they be able to determine the documentary’s veracity?

Perhaps one can use common sense. Is it really easy to believe that a man with neither intellectual brilliance nor personal charisma, and with a rag tag army, can lead millions of Muslim followers and cause great physical damage to the world’s greatest countries while living in the mountains of a poor country?

In the “Battle of Torra Borra” where the US reportedly had proof of Osama’s exact location, the US used its biggest and most advanced bombs and missiles. But according to the documentary, the US fielded only about 60 men on the ground, despite demands by the officers for more, to hunt down “the world’s most dangerous man”. Consequently, Osama escaped. And the hunt and the drama (moro-moro?) continue. (END)

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Published in Mr. & Ms. Magazine in my column QUANTUM CINEMA, October 2006

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