Thursday, September 12, 2002

Where in the world is Bin Laden?

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi, Special to Arab News

Ask an Arab — or any Muslim for that matter — about Osama Bin Laden and you will be bewildered by the apparent contradiction in the answer. While most do not agree with his terrorist orientation, many do understand his motive. It is as if a group of red Indians were sitting around a fire, exchanging grievances and stories about white men’s atrocities. Suddenly an overwhelmed, overburdened member shouts. "Let’s kill them all!" The wiser ones will not agree to his mad proposal, but they will certainly understand where it came from — and won’t hate him for it.
You may ask why the Arabs sympathize with Osama’s cause. Well, read the last 50 years of their bloody history and you will understand. In brief, the Americans have supported the Arabs’ worst enemy, Israel, against every UN resolution which would give them back the occupied land and so stop the flow of blood between the Semite cousins — Jews and Arabs. The Americans were still at it on Sept. 11 when, on their watch, Sharon was finishing what he started in Lebanon 20 years ago, when he was found — by an Israeli commission — partly responsible for the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in refugee camps near Beirut.
Moreover, the US reaction to the terror of Sept.11 was out of proportion. Thousands of innocent Afghans paid with their lives for a crime they had not committed while the accused escaped untouched. A country that lived in the misery of the Middle Ages was bombed back into the Stone Age. A regime, chosen and protected by America, was led by corrupt, weak and inept leaders who put a fragmented Afghanistan back at the top of the chart of drug-exporting countries. Now it is another war against a Muslim nation. This time it is Iraq, and God knows who will be next. It seems the war against terrorism is becoming terror against the Muslim world. Why do Muslims hate America? Does anyone still ask that question?
Ask Arabs and Muslims again whether they believe Osama did it and you are in for another surprise. Most think he is innocent! Al-Jazeera, the Pan-Arab satellite TV network, broadcast a program last Thursday about the kind of conspiracy theories many Arabs and Muslims still believe in. The CIA, Israeli Mossad, and the right-wing US militias could have carried out the attacks to start a new Christian crusade against the Muslim Ummah (nation), they say. But what about Bin Laden confessing on tape? It has been doctored in Hollywood. Watch the movie "Wag the Dog" and you will see for yourself what that group is capable of and for less compelling reasons. How was America able to announce so soon after the event the names of the terrorists even though most of them were dead?
Later, they remind you, many of those named were found to be alive and innocent in Saudi Arabia. The haste, they will tell you, shows either the US intelligence agencies knew in advance or did it themselves. Osama, they say, is innocent. The worst they will agree to is that he condones such terrorist attacks. Reaction? They would pray to Allah to give him guidance away from these criminal thoughts, to enlighten his mind and methods — but to protect him in the meantime.
You may well ask what is wrong with these people who believe such things. After all, the evidence is abundant and the conviction is on tape! The answer is in psychology. Parents won’t believe their darling son is involved in a horrible crime until they are overwhelmed by absolutely conclusive proof. Regardless of all the evidence against him, black America didn’t believe in O.J. Simpson’s guilt. It is human nature that you stand by your loved ones, hoping against all odds that they are innocent. This means that the accusers need to work harder and smarter in order to come up with 100 percent proof.
Finally, the inevitable question: Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden? People are of many minds about this. The prevailing view is that he is in a cave somewhere in, or almost in, Afghanistan, probably moving at night from one place to another under the protection of various tribal chiefs. Muslims brag that they will not betray him for the $25 million dollars the US put on his head — certainly not while they believe in his innocence and a US conspiracy against Islam and the Muslims.
His organization and finances are evidently in a mess but not total bankruptcy. Internal communication may have gone down but it is not dead silent. The organization and its communication network is still functioning, they assure you. The Al-Jazeera program shows that.
Other theories prevail. Some will have Osama already in American custody and being interrogated. The US, they will explain, is not announcing this for fear of a backlash from his followers and supporters. Others believe he is dead, either of wounds from bombs or because of kidney problems. They disagree, however, whether America knows about his demise. If it knows, then it won’t announce it for fear of a backlash.
His mother, family and friends, at the same time, are hoping against all odds that he is still alive. He must be, they reason, because they would have been told if he wasn’t. The families of any member of his organization are usually informed of their sons’ fates by mysterious callers and their names are regularly listed on sympathetic websites and distributed on e-mail lists. If the big boss himself, who is surrounded by a huge entourage, is killed, then it stands to reason that his family would certainly have been informed.
What is true and what is not? Only God knows. And, maybe, America.

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