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IUK: Fisk - Obsession with bin Laden crosses all frontiers
By Robert Fisk
21/10/2001 12:01 pm Sun
Robert Fisk: Obsession with bin Laden crosses all frontiers
22 October 2001
After Osama, "Godfather of Terror'' - our very own cliché - comes
Osama, "Saviour of the Muslim World'', Osama, the "New Saladin'',
Osama "V Mahdi''. Amid the blue moped fumes of the Peshawar
bazaar, his face beams out of a hundred bookshops, turbaned, wise,
On the front cover of Khaled Choudhury's Osama bin Laden:
Freedom Fighter or Terrorist? - readers may guess which
conclusion the author draws - Mr bin Laden gazes down at us from
the sky above the snows of the Afghan mountains. Printed by
Shaheed Publishers (shaheed means martyr) Choudhury's slim,
hard-cover volume is dedicated "to all Islamic Fighters''.
But let's be fair. Only a month ago, the photo-editors of Time
magazine asked to buy for a possible front cover one of my
snapshots of Mr bin Laden - which I took in one of his desert camps
in Afghanistan in 1996 - and then announced that they intended to
"age" the photo digitally to make the world's bete noir look older. I
told Time to go jump in the lake. No photo. But few lakes are deep
enough for the white T-shirt currently hanging in the bazaars here.
"Jihad is our mission," says one, beneath Mr bin Laden's face,
followed by the quotation, "As a Muslim, it is my aim to spread Islam
throughout the world by love or power". Another exhorts the wearer
to remember that Osama "is a Muslim brother - Osama is one of us".
Western journalists will no doubt be sending this little keepsake to
their editors; in the days of the Iranian revolution, most of us bought
watches illustrated with Ayatollah Khomeini's face in which the
minute hand was composed of a splodge of martyr's blood. But we
should not mock the purpose, or possible result, of this hero worship
in the souks of Pakistan. Reading Choudhury's work, you can see
why men and women here regard Mr bin Laden as a just and good
man, persecuted by the United States not because he blows up
buildings but because he defies the greatest power on Earth. The
Americans may have the most sophisticated military equipment, the
author says, but Mr bin Laden proves they don't have faith in God.
Tareq Ismael Sagar's Osama bin Laden: One Man, One Movement,
begins in fairy-tale style. "On a cold evening in December, 1997,''
Sagar writes, "a handsome young Arab sits in his room, thinking
about what he can do for the world ... his father advised him to go to
Afghanistan." Forget that Mr bin Laden was already in Afghanistan
by 1997 and that it was a senior member of the Saudi intelligence
service who originally asked him to go there - not Mr bin Laden
senior. Sagar's hero worship knows no bounds. He wishes "love to
Osama'' and praises his military and economic assistance to Bosnia,
Chechnya, Sudan ...
But who can blame Muslims for being obsessed with Mr bin Laden
when the West has been equally obsessed with him for years?
Choudhury proudly tells us that his book has entered its second
edition "by public demand'', and I can believe it. Sagar's work
informs readers that its English distributors are Green Dome
International Limited, operating from 148-164 Gregory Boulevard,
Nottingham, NG7 5JC. "Every Muslim,'' Sagar says, "must get to
know their new leader, especially young people ... Saddam Hussein
never had our support, but Osama does.''
If Choudhury lays on the jam - Mr bin Laden is "majestic'' and
"legendary'' - he deals in a now-familiar style with the World Trade
Centre attacks. Assaults on America had hitherto only happened
outside the United States: in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Aden and
Al-Khobar (in Saudi Arabia). So the World Trade Centre destruction,
of which there is a powerful graphic in the volume, was obviously
the work of the CIA and Mossad. And there follow the now familiar
questions about the supposedly "missing'' 4,000 Israelis who did not
go to work in the buildings on 11 September. There is no reference
to the Jewish Americans slaughtered.
Sagar includes an intriguing account of one of Mr bin Laden's
"hiding places'', a system of caves in Logar province, which the
author says he visited. "I saw three places there ... three rooms; one
was a library, the second contained sophisticated communications
technology. But the third contained just a single Kalashnikov rifle,
which bin Laden had taken from a Russian officer whom he had
killed in the war against the Soviets.''
Some of the texts are a little confusing. One goes to great lengths to
deny the (hitherto unheard) argument that Mr bin Laden killed a
close Palestinian friend, Abdullah Azzam - blown up by a car bomb
in Peshawar - while others carry quotations Mr bin Laden has
allegedly given in interviews with Arab journalists. The destruction of
America, he reportedly says, "is in my hands''. After the Clinton
flurry of cruise missiles at his camps after the bombings of American
embassies in Africa, Mr bin Laden is quoted as promising that "my
war has not started yet - I believe in action, not words'', which might
have come straight from a speech by George Bush or, indeed, by
There is an element of fantasy. Choudhury insists that Mr bin Laden
thinks in "threes". Thus we are told the most important elements in his
life are trust in God, fighting for God and fighting for a Muslim's
rights. Thus his three favourite places are the mosques of Mecca,
Medina and Jerusalem. His three most hated countries - in
decreasing order of importance, of course - are the United States,
Israel and Russia.
But all is not lost. The American journalist John Cooley's Unholy
Wars has pride of place in several bookshops.
And lunatics who demand the withdrawal of any book that dares to praise Mr bin Laden can rest assured that another personality is well represented among the book stacks of Peshawar. I don't know why, but Pakistanis seem obsessed with a man some regard as responsible for more deaths than Mr bin Laden. A certain Henry Kissinger.