Who is #osama anyway?


Posted by in May's Magazine

Where was I when Kennedy was shot? Well, I hadn’t been born. But on Tuesday the 11th of September 2001 I was 15-years-old and packed into a rickety – somewhat rusting – minibus along with a dozen other action-adventure minded Air Cadets, for the journey through the apparently ever-sodden Welsh countryside to a remote RAF base. Below the sound of low branches slapping on the bus windows and rain thundering on the wafer thin roof, we heard the first terrifying news bulletins…America was under attack. Rushing into the mess hall somebody unearthed a TV and we joined millions around the world in terrible wide-eyed silence.

With disbelief I read the other day what appeared to be a fashionably ironic message on Twitter ‘who is #osama anyway’?. Maybe not so ironic… glancing at the tweeter’s profile I reckoned this kid was pretty young, 14 maybe. Is it so unfathomable that someone of that age would have no idea who the alleged director of the worst attacks on American soil since Pearl Harbour was? It felt like the end of an era to me.

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70% of Americans
Where were you when Osama bin Laden was shot? Online apparently. Google searches for ‘Osama bin Laden’ were up 1,000,000% on Sunday May 2nd. Yahoo! reported a similar spike in statistics, 66% of Osama queries came from 13 to 17-year-olds. This isn’t a poll; these kids are doing research, getting their facts straight. More than can be said for the Daily Mail hack, who’s headline read: ‘Clueless teenagers flood search engines’.

Bin Laden has been linked with 9/11 from day one, along with terrorist attacks in Yemen and Egypt in the 90s, he founded Al Qaeda who supported the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan until we invaded in the ‘name of democracy’ in 2003. Since then the noise from Washington, through two Bush administrations, was of the ‘us versus them’ variety. Implied links were made between Iraq’s state sponsored terrorism, Al Qaeda, 9/11… they’re all the same these evil doers. It worked. A poll conducted in September 2004 found 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attacks.

No wonder those kids are confused. After all, didn’t the Iraqi leader destroy the World Trade Centre singlehandedly? The Bush administration failed to act appropriately on bin Laden. Speaking 6 months after 9/11 Bush said: “I am truly not that concerned about him.” The word was bin Laden had gone AWOL, lost in the inaccessible tribal regions of Pakistan, hiding in a cave. Focus shifted to Iraq.

At 15 I was aware of the effect of the 9/11 tragedy. I made a phone call that day to a girlfriend who asked if I was to be conscripted, another to a close friend whose family lived in Washington, his aunt drove past the western wall of the Pentagon every day. It was scarily real.

Hearing bin Laden had been shot dead by US Navy SEALs sent a faux patriotic shiver down my spine. It seems in a very brief time. In my time. This man’s heinous story has come full circle, but as the Pakistani Prime Minister said on May 9th: “we should not be so foolish as to call this mission accomplished.” Nonetheless the man who many hold responsible for 9/11 is dead.

In America The Huffington Post writes – amid sighs of relief and talk of closure – ‘[Obama] took action. And that concrete act and the success of the raid that followed has had an immediate psychological impact on the country… There’s no reason why this sense of tangible achievement must end in Abbottabad’.

Trevor Kavanagh
Where does this lead the US? Where it can’t lead is to the defence of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (aka torture), which Bush era officials are arguing led to the pivotal information pin-pointing and identifying bin Laden’s compound. It did not. The current US Administration has made this very clear. In The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh equated waterboarding to twisting a man’s arm concluding: ‘If we have to thank a little waterboarding [for the death of bin Laden], most people could live with that’. Just a little bit of torture? It’s so much worse in the US, Sunday yak shows filled with Republicans deriding Obama’s condemnation of their ‘hard work’ (torture) and never ceasing search – Bush: “I am truly not that concerned.”

Are lazy hacks to blame for the misappropriation of the word Terrorism, the wholesale lie that we stand for democracy when 45% of the UK did not vote for either coalition party in the 2010 election? It’s certainly unhelpful to characterise the youth of today as so wrapped up in their Facebook pages that they wouldn’t know an aircraft had hit their building until a friend had first uploaded HD Video to their profile and they had chosen to ‘like’ it. I hope that generations to come will continue to use mixed social media to cut through the nonsense that partisan publications and mis-educated hacks like Trevor Kavanagh spew.

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