Thursday, September 01, 2011

September 11 retrospective: Bruce Lawrence on Bin Laden's predicted end and posthumous image

We'll be seeing a flood of 10th-anniversary retrospectives on the 9/11 attacks, some of them obviously more substantial than others. So I'm taking the occasion to offer a few posts of my own for the occasion.

Bruce Lawrence of Duke University edited one of the English editions of Bin Laden's public pronouncements, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (2005). In his Introduction, he makes a prediction that turned out remarkably accurate this year:

Bin Laden's own fate remains uncertain. Unless he dies a natural death in hiding, it seems inevitable that sooner or later his hunter will catch him. If captured alive, he will doubtless be killed on the spot, as Che Guevara was forty years ago. His captors will know that it would be useless to torture him for information, as they have his lieutenants; while to put him on trial would risk huge embarrassment for those attempting to judge him, given his powers of eloquence and their own record. [my emphasis]
Lawrence isn't defending or romanticizing Bin Laden. He's explaining his perspective. And, in that passage, the perspective of the US and its allies. I was surprised in retrospect to see how firmly he made this prediction about Bin Laden's summary execution.

Lawrence notes that Bin Laden adopted a martyr's pose. Though, again accurately, he predicted that his legend would have some appeal, though not his deeply flawed methods and approach:

His posthumous legend will live on, like that of Guevara, to inspire other such knights [a reference to Bin Laden's self-description as one of "a band of knights"], until such time as different, more humane heroes can attract the idealism of Muslim youth, and find a better way not only to liberate their homelands but also to forge a brighter future for those liberated.
The Arab Awakening is providing some substantial part of that "better way," though obviously it's a process with a hopeful future rather than an accomplished fact.

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