May 7, 2011
by Avi Melamed
Over the past week the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been discussed from a plethora of perspectives. In this article I would like to present a less discussed and less familiar part of the discussion. The killing of Bin Laden reveals deep layers within the Arab world. What are they? What can we learn from these layers about the nature of the relations between the Muslim world and the West? And, inevitably, I will also talk about the Israeli aspect of this issue.
Here is a strange sentence: Osama Bin Laden is dead and Osama Bin Laden is alive.
Let me be clear: In my mind he is definitely dead. However, many people in the Arab world think differently. Some say he is alive and well in the USA. That is not the real issue. The real issue is that the dead Osama Bin Laden is, as we speak, being transferred into the “Myth Zone” where he is going to be alive forever. That Myth, as happens many times with Myths, is not going to disappear – it will simply have different versions. At this point it really doesn’t matter if the US shows the body or a video or a picture of the dead Bin Laden.
The creation of this Myth is inevitable for two main reasons:
The first reason is the fact that people just love myths and conspiracy theories. In that case, the Muslim world is no exception. In the most interesting and coincidental timing, a couple of days before the killing of Bin Laden people in the Arab world were very excited! An audio tape of allegedly, Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi tyrant that was executed by his own people, was published. In that recording “Saddam” announces that he is doing very well and that actually it wasn’t him that was executed. Obviously, no one takes this tape too seriously. It seems like Saddam Hussein – unlike Bin Laden – is not going to be transformed into the Myth Zone. Saddam will clearly stay very dead.
The second reason is the more important one. The transformation of Bin Laden into the Myth Zone is deeply needed in the Muslim world. It is their way to bridge over the dual, conflicting and contradictory way that the Muslims view Osama Bin Laden.
I want to be very clear. The majority of Muslims totally reject Bin Laden’s extremism. Yet, at the same time, on a deeper level, for many Muslims, Bin Laden was also a source of a strange kind of pride. The gloomy situation the Muslim world finds itself in generates feelings of inferiority, frustration and incompetence among Muslims. In a mysterious process, for many Muslims including those who totally and genuinely rejected Bin Laden’s way, Bin Laden himself, as a figure, was a vessel through which these negative feelings were channeled.
The endless articles that are being written by Arabs following the killing of Bin Laden, clearly demonstrate the complex way that Bin Laden was perceived in the Muslim world.
In many articles you find the following combination:
Muslims are angry with Bin Laden because he, and his legacy, are responsible for the death of so many innocent people—most of them Muslims. Muslims are resentful of him because his extremism cast a dark shadow over Muslims and Islam. Muslims are even happy that he was killed, “He had it coming for what he did,” Muslims are openly saying. They also say, with relief, “Bin Laden’s radical way was defeated.” And yet, at the very same time, when you read between the lines, many of these same articles reveal the deeper level and symbolism Bin Laden had for the Muslim and Arab world. Bin Laden was a symbol of the fight against the oppression of the West, the person that defies the superiority of the arrogant West, a man that is a role model for the willingness to sacrifice personally, in the name of ideals—even if they are wrong ones.
And there are already people who are building and fueling the Myth. I’m not talking about Bin Laden’s followers. It may surprise you to know that up until now, radical Islamic factors have kept totally quiet. All of the web sites that relate to Al-Qaeda are totally mute. Not one single word. Why? Because they see how the Myth is being built right in front of their eyes by factors within the Arab and Muslim world that are considered to have legitimacy—some of these factors are also considered to be legitimate in the West. For radical Islamic factors this is a positive process. If they formally announce the death of their leader and the source of their inspiration they will damage the process of the Myth building. Why should they do that?
Who then is building and fueling the Myth in the Arab world? These are people and organizations, some of whom enjoy popularity and legitimacy within the Arab world, and some also have, or wish to have, legitimacy within the international community as well.
One example of these factors is the biggest and most popular movement within the Muslim world today – The Muslim Brotherhood. Here is a excerpt from the official announcement published on the official Web site of the Muslim Brotherhood: “The president of the USA announced that US Marine Forces successfully assassinated Osama Bin laden……The Muslim Brotherhood movement hereby declares that they renounce the use of violence and assassinations…..The Muslim Brotherhood maintains that legitimate resistance against a foreign occupation of any State is a right, justified both by the heavenly codes, as well as by international conventions….confusion between legitimate resistance and violence against the innocent was intended by the Zionist enemy.”
With your permission, I would like to elaborate on the use of the term “resistance” in the above Muslim Brotherhood Official Statement. In the contemporary Middle Eastern terminology, the term “Resistance” (in Arabic – AlMukawama) is the code name for terrorizing Israelis as well as Arabs or Muslims, that do not comply with the radical agenda. In the name of “Resistance” the Hamas fires thousands of rockets upon Israeli cities. And at the same time, in the name of “Resistance,” Hamas butchers its own brothers in the Gaza Strip. In the name of “Resistance” the Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, keeps their weapons, thus taking Lebanon as a hostage. In the name of “Resistance” hundreds of Muslims are butchered every day in different parts of the Arab and Muslim world by their own brothers.
Again, with your permission, I would like to elaborate on the use of the term, “Heavenly Codes” in the above Muslim Brotherhood’s Official Statement. The term “Heavenly Codes” is the other name for the Islamic religious codex known as the Sharia’ah. According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy, Sharia’ah is the right way, and the one and only way by which mankind should live—and it should be implemented as such—one way or another. It should be mentioned that the head of the US intelligence agencies recently described The Muslim Brotherhood as a movement with certain “Secular Aspects.” Based upon the above information, maybe he would like to revise his definition.
Another example of people building and fueling the Myth of Osama is – no surprise – Hamas, the Palestinian terror organization.
Here is the announcement made by Ismail Hanyia, the Prime Minister of the Hamas government that rules the Gaza Strip: “We condemn the assassination of the holy Muslim warrior…..we perceive the assassination to be the continuation of the American policy which is based upon the oppression and bloodshed of Arabs and Muslims.”
This is the same Hamas that launches thousands of rockets on Israeli cities. This is the same Hamas that butchered hundreds of its own brothers during its violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip in June 2007. This is the same Hamas that continues to terrorize, on a daily basis, its own brothers in the Gaza Strip in order to ensure its continuing rule. But then, on the other hand, one should not be surprised by the announcement made by the Hamas leader. After all, Hamas’ Terror Academy in The Gaza Strip is named after Abdallah Azam, a Palestinian in origin, who was the mentor of Osama Bin Laden, and one of the founders of Al Qaeda.
Another example of the Myth builders…This time it is not an organization. This time it is a very influential person in the Muslim world – Mr. Abd Albari Utwan. Mr. Utwan is the Chief Editor of a very popular Arab newspaper called “AlQuds AlArabi.”
Here is a quote from an editorial published by Mr.Utwan entitled “Osama Bin Laden That I Knew”: “Bin Laden was simple man, modest, soft spoken…..I remember I asked him what is your biggest desire?…Bin Laden kept quiet for a while and then he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said I wish to be a Martyr…..“
Mr. Utwan went onto write: “The new generation of Al Qaeda is far more dangerous that the old generation that lived and was educated in the West, the generation that perpetrated the violent terror attacks in Madrid and London and also led the attacks on the American targets on 9/11…..I do admit that I have contradicting feelings toward Bin Laden…Though I totally disagree with the ideology of Al Qaeda, and reject the attacks on civilians, I owe personal thanks to Bin Laden for his role in two major milestones in my professional career as a journalist…“
Towards the end of the article, Mr Atwan remembers the “tasteless food that Bin Laden served him.”
The next day Mr. Utwan wrote a new editorial, this time under the title “We will not believe until we see the Body.” Describing in this article the American administration as a liars, Mr Utwan adds: “Is it reasonable to believe that a man who fought the Soviets for 10 years and the Americans for 15 years will use his wife as a human shield?…..The American administration announced they will publish a photo but it should be clear right now – as far as we are concerned it is not proof…We are aggravated when we hear the American President declare that Justice was done…Justice should be carried out in a fair trial where the defendant has the chance to present his case even if he has already been convicted in the media and court of public opinion.”
Mr. Utwan is clearly a master in building a Myth. Sophisticatedly, Mr Utwan is addressing the feelings of admiration that many Muslims have deep inside towards Bin Laden. Mr. Utwan has a very flexible moral spine…For the last couple of weeks the Syrian regime has been brutally butchering its own helpless civilians. In the rare instance that Mr. Utwan has written about the situation in Syria, he has made remarkable efforts to be very gentle with the Syrian regime. However, in the case of Bin Laden, Mr. Utwan is “deeply insulted to the point of aggravation” with the fact that the USA was “in its action, violating the sovereignty of a Muslim State (referring to Pakistan).”
You may notice that Mr. Utwan describes Al Qaeda’s terror attacks in Madrid and London as “violent terror attacks.” Yet, he describes 9/11 as an “Attack on American targets.” One possible explanation for that approach may relate to the fact that the AlQuds AlArabi newspaper is published in London, where Mr. Utwan lives very comfortably.
I want to present an accurate picture. Many Arab writers present Bin Laden at face value – a radical whose legacy to the world is murder, death and pain. No less important, many Arab writers are lifting the masque of hypocrisy off the faces of people like Utwan or factors like The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Here are some examples:
In an article entitled “Osama Bin Laden and the Holly Sorrow” the writer is sarcastically offering his deep condolences to Mr. Utwan, the Al-Jazeera network, Hamas and The Muslim Brotherhood, as they grieve the death of Bin Laden.
In another article entitled: “The Days of Bin Laden and Hanyia” (Haniya is the Hamas Prime Minister) the writer argues that Hamas’ reaction to the killing of Bin Laden proves that there is no big difference between Hamas and Al-Qaeda.
Mr. Tarik Alhumeid is the Chief Editor of the influential Saudi Newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat. In an editorial entitled “Bin Laden is Killed,” Alumeid undermines the clear attempts to build the Myth. Alhumeid reminds the readers that Bin Laden’s legacy was one of terror and murder that caused a terrifying death toll in the world, mostly of Muslims. He reminds readers that Bin Laden sent people to die while he was living in a castle and that he didn’t die as a Martyr, but rather in his bedroom.
Another article in Asharq Al-Awsat, entitled “In the World of Fundamentalism Everyone is a Hawk,” explains the support of the Muslim Brotherhood movement for Bin Laden, and argues that the logic of the Muslim Brotherhood movement is similar to the logic of Al-Qaeda. After all, adds the writer, the Muslim Brotherhood was very often an inspiring source for radical and extremist Islam. The difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda is that “The Muslim Brotherhood does not pull the trigger.”
The killing of Bin Laden reveals yet another characteristic of the Muslim world – the tendency to look for a scapegoat. It is amazing to see, time and again, in the articles and comments posted by Arabs the following orientation: “Bin Laden is indeed a murderer, he painted Islam black and he deserves to die.” And at the same time, without even blinking — “Let us not forget, he was created by the USA,” or “It’s well known that Bin Laden was an Israeli Mossad agent.”
One Arab analyst, who’s analysis I respect, used a very strange logic to explain that Israel had lost a strategic ally with the death of Bin Laden……That is a very strange perspective, given the fact that Bin Laden had declared an uncompromising war on the Jewish people, and needless to say, the on the State of Israel.
The manner in which Bin Laden was killed and the reports that his body was dumped into the sea, reveals yet another layer within the Muslim world. And that is the constant feeling of humiliation that the Muslims experience in their relations with the West. Announcements that were made by Arab writers and Muslim clergy, argue that the way Bin Laden was killed and the way his body was treated is an insult and a humiliation to Islam and any Muslim. Here are two examples: The Mufti of Egypt says Osama Bin Laden’s burial is contrary to Islamic Sharia, and This one is entitled: Osama Bin Laden Goodbye: We are all Terrorists.
In summation, the killing of Osama Bin Laden reveals many different aspects and layers within the Muslim world and gives us insight into their emotional, political and cultural state of mind. These aspects are complicated, different one from the other, and sometimes totally contradict one another. Time and again, it is amazing to see how rich the Arab language is and what an incredible a tool it is. It is a language that enables a writer to express totally opposite and contradicting opinions, as if it was the most natural thing.
This article reveals the tip of the iceberg regarding the highly complex emotional political and cultural layers within the Muslim world that are reflected in the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This article presents the way influential figures like Utwan or influential organizations in the Arab world like the Muslim Brotherhood are able to convey double messages without even blinking. They claim to present a “balanced” or “rational” outlook, while the real subtext of their messages encourages terror and violence. This double-speak reflects an inner code of double standards and morals and norms. Sophisticatedly, they fuel the pent up feelings of frustration and the negative feelings of inferiority among people in the Muslim world, as they fan in their messages the fire of animosity. Think of the influence they have on so many people that are receptive to begin with to these messages.
And that brings me to talk about the Israeli perspective. Perhaps now people in the West will understand that the State of Israel is facing an Arab world that, unfortunately, is still manipulated by people like Utwan, or similar organizations like The Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas. The State of Israel is facing an Arab world whose inner conflicts and challenges manufacture a double and triple moral code and norms. The State of Israel is facing an Arab world that genuinely despises and condemns the legacy of Osama Bin Laden while at the same time makes him a Myth and a Legend.