Could Bin Laden Become An Arab Icon After All?

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

With A Little Help From A Foe

By Stephanie Doetzer

The reactions following Bin Laden’s death are a disaster. A person’s death may sometimes be good news. But somebody’s assassination never is. A commentary by Angela Merkel is happy. Hillary Clinton is happy. Barack Obama claims that justice has been done and hundreds of Americans celebrate cheerfully right next to Ground Zero. Hmm. Is this the Western world that likes to think of itself as an epitome of civilisation?

Bin Laden has never been the Arab icon that many Westerners believed him to be. And during the last four months of Arab revolutions Al Qaida has become even more irrelevant. But the fact that he was shot by American Special Forces on a “kill mission” changes the picture. He now has a chance of becoming an icon after all.

To be sure, many Arabs aren’t even interested in Bin Laden’s death. There are far bigger issues to care about these days and the young revolutionary crowd doesn’t have time for a man they perceive as a mere Western obsession. They didn’t care while Bin Laden was still alive, and why would they now?

German chancellor Angela Merkel comments on the death of Bin Laden in front of the press:

Epitome of civilisation? Chancellor Angela Merkel was chided in Germany for expressing “joy” of Osama Bin Laden’s death Others, however, do care quite a lot. They started caring when the news of the killing broke and changed the tone in which Bin Laden is being talked about. While most Western media prefer to use the word “killing” rather than “assassination”, Arab media go for either ightiyaal, meaning political murder, or istishhad, which is martyrdom said to lead straight to paradise.

More than ever, Bin Laden is now referred to as “Sheikh Osama Bin Laden”. In most Arab countries this is a sign of respect – or at least, it’s not the kind of word one would use to describe a heretic who has besmirched religion and misused Islam for his own goals.

Complex picture of Arab realities

In secular media, formulations are neutral and almost indifferent, but in many more religiously conservative outlets the tone is clearly one of mourning. But how to write about this for Western media without distorting the complex picture of Arab realities with its many shades of grey?

Does it make sense to quote the most outrageous reader’s comments from Al Jazeera Arabic’s website? From “May God have mercy on his soul and let him enter paradise” to “If he’s dead, then we’re all Bin Laden”?

Or is it more appropriate to quote those Arabs who say exactly the kind of stuff that Westerners want to hear? Like the commentators in Egypt’s Al Wafd newspaper who call Bin Laden a “black spot in Islamic clothes” and hope to close a dark chapter of Arab history.

There has been plenty of both. What is new is that people who are neither Salafi, nor particularly religious now defend Bin Laden as a person. They don’t approve of attacks on civilians, but they do consider him a fighter for a just cause rather than a criminal. And not because of 9/11, no. It’s because of his criticism of the Saudi royal family, because of his speeches about Palestine and because he allegedly relinquished his family’s fortune to lead a life of poverty.

Those who praise his principles and ‘good intentions’ don’t hate the West, nor are they likely to ever turn terrorist. But they feel an immediate urge for solidarity when one of them – and that’s what Bin Laden remained after all – gets shot by the special forces of a country of which they have ceased to expect anything good.

What may sound offensive to most Westerners, doesn’t shock many Arabs. After all, Bin Laden’s image in the Arab world has never only been that of a ruthless mastermind of international terrorism. He was the man that you could see on those Al Qaida videos from time to time, until they were replaced by audio-tapes. A man with a calm voice, a charismatic face and a captivating way of speaking classical Arabic – which is not exactly what the Western world got to see. Outside the Arab world, Bin Laden was reduced to fear-inspiring sound bites without context.

Front page of a Pakistani newspaper covering the death of Bin Laden

Is Bin Laden merely an obsession of the West? Al Qaida believes in violence as a political means, and, writes Doetzer, “the problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it” By listening to him directly, Arabs could disagree, discard his ideas and compare him with their official leaders they liked even less. Unlike most Westerners, they knew Bin Laden wasn’t only talking about US foreign policy and Israel, but also about climate change and food security. And that he sometimes came up with suggestions for a US withdrawal from the Middle East that weren’t completely preposterous.

Emotional mishmash and contradictions

But events in these days also show that many Arab Muslims never quite figured out their own take on Bin Laden: Within one conversation, the same person may well claim that Bin Laden was on the payroll of the CIA, then deny his involvement in the 9/11 attacks – and end up by saying that the attack could be morally justified given the American atrocities on Arab soil.

It’s usually an emotional mishmash without much moral reflection, but a high dose of an intra-Islamic sense of unity that allows downplaying crimes committed by one’s own group by pointing to those committing by others.

The mechanism is strikingly similar to what Americans and Europeans do when they celebrate the extrajudicial killing of an individual and justify their reaction by highlighting his crimes.

It’s yet another example to show that the current enemies may have much more in common than they would ever admit: The problem with Al Qaida is that it believes in violence as a political means. The problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it.

Watching those YouTube videos of Americans cheering in front of the White House feels a bit like a Déjà-vu. Last time, it was some Palestinians cheering the killing of Israeli settlers. And if I remember it rightly, Westerners were appalled by the pictures.

US Americans celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden in front of the White House in Washington

An eye for an eye:

Doetzer criticises the extrajudicial killing of Bin Laden, arguing the victory of Al Qaida’s ideology would have been more sustainable had it been achieved in court those chanting “U.S.A.” and “We did it” in New York and Washington don’t sound fundamentally different from Islamists chanting “Allahu Akbar”. And in both cases, it’s not the words that are problematic; it’s the spirit behind them.

A myth rather than a man

Both are tearing at each other for double standards, but neither truly believe in the rule of law. After all, things could have been done differently: Bin Laden could have been captured and put on trial. We could have listened to his version of events and might have found out what kind of person he was.

Instead, all we have are a couple of pictures: Bin Laden as a young fighter in Afghanistan, and then the man with a turban and a greying beard. It’s not much. And it allows him to be a myth rather than a man who has lived until a couple of days ago.

Had he died of kidney failure instead of the bullets, it may indeed have been a blow to Al Qaida.

But as things are, American Special Forces did him a huge favour by making him a martyr in the eyes of many. “I swear not to die but a free man” he said on an audio tape released in 2006.

He got what he wanted – with a little help from a foe.

Source: Qantara.de

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America After the Quiet Coup

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edward L. Palmer, Robert N. Rhodes and Alice J. Palmer

“There has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.” That seizure of power has resulted in devastation for Black America, where “48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty.” Among the general public, “70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers.”

“A financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.”

America is on a path toward a savage capitalism that is already decimating the middle class and working people and swelling the ranks of the poor. Adam Smith never intended this.

The U.S. government has spent more than one trillion dollars of taxpayer money to resuscitate the financial services economy and restore the status quo while unemployment has grown by millions since January 2009, and all without developing the real economy: production, sustainable development, infrastructure, and social networks.

Unlike Germany, for example, where, faced with a similar economic downturn, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative, chose to increase public spending on production, infrastructure and human capital. Or, as in Sweden, which took measures to reverse unemployment and the contracting gross domestic product by isolating bad debts, stabilizing their currency, and allowing some banks to fail.

Or, for that matter, the win-win strategy the Chinese favor, which pursues their national economic interests without seeming to threaten the national interests of other countries.

Americans should ask themselves the fundamental questions that Bob Herbert is asking over and over in his New York Times columns: How do you put together a consumer economy that works when the consumers are out of work, and when poverty, particularly among Black Americans, is alarmingly high.

“At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families.”

The statistics about Main Street are distressing. At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families. According to a recent Harper’s magazine monthly index, 70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers. Some 16% of the daughters and sons of White Americans are not as financially stable as their parents. Most disturbing is that 48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty as they earn little more than $23,000 a year. Their parents, whose incomes average $55,000, came of age in the 1960’s.

For decades, from the late 1940’s through the end of the 1980’s, Black men expected to find work in the plants that dominated industrial centers such as Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Steady work, no matter how initially back-breaking and low-level, afforded Black families adequate incomes to purchase homes and send their children to college from which a solid, often politically active, Black middle class emerged.

There is a “silent Black depression” in the United States, according to a 2008 report issued by the Institute of Policy Studies, in which 29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth as of 2004 compared with 15% of Whites; and Black males aged 16-19 have a 32.8% unemployment rate. People of color, in general, are more likely to be poor in the United States; yet, poverty is rarely discussed as an element of the country’s economic crisis.

“29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth.”

To gauge the consequences to America’s eroding consumer and family income economies we must look beyond spurious US unemployment and employment figures that do not adequately tell us how many new jobs are part time and how many workers are discouraged or under-utilized. Most European countries count the number of adults who are employed, which is a more realistic measure of consumer and family-economic well-being.

What does happen to a dream deferred? Job loss can also mean pension loss – a loss of family sustainability – which could cause a social crisis for decades to come, warns the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in its yearly report. During the vaunted 1990’s, employers, looking for savings to their companies, encouraged working Americans to choose market-driven defined contribution pension packages that hinted at easy-living wealth at retirement instead of the traditional defined benefit pensions that assured steady retirement incomes. In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns; so thousands of retirees cannot make ends meet, and thousands of younger workers must start anew to build their nest eggs.

Yet corporate chief executives and their circle earn an almost unbelievable 400 times what the average employee earns; and, as we have seen recently, garner enormous bonuses in spite of failing companies.

If we say in this country that we believe in family values, then we should value the family with adequate and equitable work, education, pensions and health care policies that matter to their well-being.

The US is not just experiencing an economic crisis, this is a crisis of our social being; and there are no quick fixes. Simon Johnson, a former Chief Economist for the International Monetary Fund, pointed out that there has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.

“In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns.”

During the 19th century through c1929, it was common to experience economic panics roughly every 20 years, e.g., in 1819, 1837, and 1873. Since World War II, we have not had feast or famine years. Why? Perhaps because Keynesian principles were in practice that fostered the judicious use of government interventions to fine tune the economy to avoid crises that imperiled people and businesses alike.

At the start of the 1980’s, the size of the financial service sector, i.e., traditional banks, was 4% of gross domestic product; and the number of financial corporations on the stock exchange was 0%. It was against the law for the financial service sector to be listed on the stock exchange. The Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, passed after the Great Depression, which prevented banks from underwriting stocks and bonds for companies, was annulled in practice during the 1980’s, and the practice became law in 1999. The financial sector, especially banks, became one-stop centers for selling insurance, questionable mortgages and other risky undertakings to an uninformed public.

What is the significance of this change? A recent Bank of International Settlement report from Switzerland shows that world GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone, and the gap continues to widen.

Many respected economists are alarmed by such economic indicators, the direction the US is taking, and the toll on people’s standard of living. Joseph Stieglitz calls the present-day economy ersatz capitalism; Paul Krugman calls it crony capitalism. John Monks, Secretary General of the European Confederation of Trade Unions, calls the economy casino capitalism. By any name, ponzi schemes are proliferating.

“World GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone.”

Of course America’s financial sector should be kept viable; but in the long run, its salvation depends upon the ability of Americans to participate in and benefit from the economy. Real capital uses money to buy raw materials and machinery, hire workers, and produce products that can be sold for more than the cost of their production. Moreover, investment in research and development should be ongoing as new technologies and new ideas lead to innovations and new productivity. Real capital does not hollow out the lives of the average American.

It is in the interest of the United States, its people, and its place in the world to promote a sustainable development model, which is comprised of a labor policy, deliverable industrial and infrastructural advancement strategies, and social policies that ensure human well-being in health, education, and the post-work and sunset years. Since these policies and practices are not self-generating, it is necessary for common-sense minded people to undertake decisive, principled, actions to forge the path to our well-being.

Edward L. Palmer is Senior Research Associate, retired, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, palmeredward@ymail.com; Robert N. Rhodes is Political Science Professor, retired, University of Ohio; Alice J. Palmer, PhD, is a former Illinois State Senator and current Associate Research Professor, University of Illinois aapalmur@yahoo.com.

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