Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hooves for Peace? Horse Race Across North Africa
Planned by bin Laden

Omar Osama(1) bin Laden, that is. He's a son of "the" Osama bin Laden.

The Associated Press article says that Omar Osama bin Laden "bears a striking resemblance to his notorious father - " although, judging by the photos, I wouldn't have much trouble telling the two apart. For starters, the younger bin Laden's dreadlocks and black leather biker jacket aren't quite what you'd expect the leader of Al Qaeda to wear. Besides, Omar Osama bin Laden is 26. his father is 51.

Omar and his 52-year-old British wife (her age is not a typo) hope that the 3,000-mile race will draw attention to their effort to negotiate peace between Muslims and the west.

Although I think it's fine that they want peace, I think they may not understand what's actually been going on since September 11, 2001.

Omar said three things that caught my attention:
  1. "My father thinks he will be good for defending the Arab people and stop anyone from hurting the Arab or Muslim people any place in the world," adding that western governments didn't object when his father fought the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s.(2)
  2. "My father is asking for a truce but I don't think there is any government (that) respects him. At the same time they do not respect him, why everywhere in the world, they want to fight him? There is a contradiction."
  3. "It's about changing the ideas of the Western mind. A lot of people think Arabs — especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Usama — are all terrorists. This is not the truth."
I can agree with the last of those three points. As for the rest:
  1. The Associated Press said that "Omar doesn't criticize his father and says Usama bin Laden is just trying to defend the Islamic world."

    I don't know that the Islamic world needed defending from the West, and in particular America, until Omar's father arranged for airliners to crash into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and whatever target Flight 93 was headed for.

    It's possible that Omar may have been thinking of a more subtle threat than military force. Much of the Islamic world seems to have opted out of technological and cultural change almost a thousand years ago. (3)

    The Arab / Islamic world was able to stay out of the mainstream for quite a while. Even during the time when European nations had world-spanning empires, determined leaders could insulate their holdings with some success.

    Mass production, air travel, and telecommunications have put Mickey Mouse® and Coca-Cola®, Rambo and the Rolling Stones, and all the rest of Western culture, in just about every region of the world. Including the Islamic world.

    Going through about seven centuries of cultural and technological change in a generation must have been a terrible shock.

    I'm none to happy about quite a bit of the contemporary culture: right now, Britney Spears is a pretty good example. But my wife and I defend our beliefs by teaching our children what we believe, and why. Omar's father and his fellow-terrorists seem to think that Islam is best defended by:
    • Destroying office buildings, killing thousands of people in the process
    • Blowing up irreplaceable artworks (remember the Bamiyan Buddhas?)
    • Beheading people they don't agree with
    • Killing teens for wearing trousers.
    Although I'll admit to being biased, I think our way is better.

    In the Arab / Islamic world, it's easy to see the West as the cause of all problems. That doesn't mean that it's true.

    I think that the defenders of Islam need to decide what they're defending: the teachings of Mohammed, or practices that have as much of a place in today's world as the my ancestors' ritual human sacrifices(4).
  2. "My father is asking for a truce but I don't think there is any government (that) respects him. At the same time they do not respect him, why everywhere in the world, they want to fight him? There is a contradiction."


    I must be missing something here. America and the rest of the coalition are fighting Osama bin Laden and other terrorists because they're a very real and present danger to anyone who isn't Islamic enough - by burqa-and-burnoose standards. Respect has nothing to do with it.

    This isn't some chivalrous duel from Europe's antiquity, where noble knights face off in a clearing. Civilized people around the world are trying to protect themselves from a relatively small, but rabidly active, group of religious zealots who are convinced that their god is telling them to kill infidels.
  3. "... A lot of people think Arabs — especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Usama — are all terrorists. This is not the truth."

    Omar as a very good point here. The dismissive "they're all Muslims" attitude doesn't help America and the west in general, any more than it helped one candidate's campaign.

    I don't have evidence to back this up, but I strongly suspect that most people in the Arab world, if they knew about western culture and beliefs, would be content to go to their jobs, raise their families, worship in their mosques, and forget about suicide vests and car bombs.
I'd like to think that Omar's horse race will help end the war on terror. But, unless he and his backers learn about the West in general, and America in particular, I don't think it will work.

Not as a doorway to peace.

As a horse race, though, that 3,000-mile trans-African marathon should be quite a media event.
(1)Why do I use the "Osama" spelling? As of about four months ago, it was the more commonly-used Latinization of Sheik bin Laden's name on the Web. (The name's أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن (Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden), but he's usually called "Osama bin Laden in America. Or, "Usama bin Laden.") I wrote a little more about that name, and why I settled on "Osama," in "" (September 21, 2007)

(2) We're not likely to forget the Mujahideen - they seem to be the standard-issue example of American error these days. Apparently Iran-Contra Affair is passé.


If you don't like history, stop reading here.

The Crusades, from the 11th to the 13th century, were an intensely unpleasant experience for the Arab/Islamic world. Ignoring the outside world, or at least having nothing to do with foreign ideas, must have seemed like a very good idea at the time.

(Europe had a somewhat parallel experience, when the Huns had a shot at adding the west end or Eurasia to their holdings. "Attila the Hun" is still still a name that can be used to describe a particularly violent and dangerous person, at least in America, just as "Crusader" is still, I understand, an epithet in the Arab world. In contrast, "Attila" is a moderately popular name in Turkey, and "Crusader" was a positive term in English, or at any rate American English, until 'sensitivity' became fashionable.)

It's ironic that Arab/Islamic culture and technology was superior to what Europe had to offer during the Crusades. My ancestors were, in fact, little more than "barbarians" at the time, according to the 19th-century Lewis Henry Morgan / Edward B. Tylor model of cultural evolution.

But, they were smart barbarians, learned a great deal while in the east, and brought as much of the technology and ideas as they could back with them.

So, for the next seven centuries or so, Europeans developed new technologies. They also started tearing their society apart, and putting it back together: a process that loosened up the top-down feudal system, and led to a series of revolutions.

Arabic numerals replaced the Roman system for mathematics: paving the way for the sort of math needed in the Industrial and Information Revolutions.

The Magna Carta of 1215 was the first of several radical changes in the status quo.

I'm going to restrain myself, and boil everything that's happened in the last 10 centuries into this sentence: While the Arab / Islamic world generally worked hard to keep things just the way they were, Europeans developed global trade networks, movable type, space ships, the Beatles, and email.

So today, the culture of camels and burqas is dealing with the culture of SUVs and bikinis: and having a hard time adjusting.

(4)I'm half Norwegian: and sacrifices to Odin were recorded as recently as the 11th century in Scandinavia. My Irish ancestors probably were involved in human sacrifice, too, since neolithic buildings tended to include fresh corpses in the foundations. We don't do that sort of thing now, though: so it's quite safe to visit Scandinavia or Minnesota.


Anonymous said...

The timetable is very suspicious. Day 0: al-Qaida kills four French tourists. Day 11: the Dakar rally is cancelled due to al-Qaida threats. Day 18: Omar Osama bin Laden is sitting down to an interview with the AP about a horse race to replace the Dakar Rally. Now sure, maybe he's just really good at spotting and reacting to an opportunity and had no trouble getting to the world press... maybe it has nothing to do with being the son of the leader of the group that caused the opportunity, the roommate of the second-in-command while training at al-Qaida camps for six years. After all, he says he's reformed. You think?

I still don't know for sure whether with his past he is the same as "Omar Awad bin Laden" flown out of the U.S. eight days after the September 11th attacks with no FBI investigation who was involved with organizing WAMY, which sent charity to Hamas. Like to.

Brian H. Gill said...


I see what you mean. Just the same, odd coincidences happen (for example, "Times Square Bombing: "We Did It" Didn't" (March 7, 2008)).

The timing is suggestive, but that's as far as I'd go. It's possible, based on what little I know, that the younger bin Laden had been preparing his race for some time, in competition with the Dakar rally: and made a dubiously wise decision to grab the opportunity that the race vacuum provided.

I'm certainly glad that I don't have responsibility for investigating possibilities like that.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.