I was putting my shoes on when I heard my mom say, “He’s now in heaven” as my sister nodded approvingly. I looked back to see what my mom was referring to. It was an image of Osama bin Laden on the television, then I realized. Naturally, I had my own reaction to the announcement of this man’s death. Everyone does, even those who believe it is all a hoax. “Even if he is responsible for the deaths of many Muslims? I asked my mom. She should know this because she was in Nairobi the day the US embassy was bombed there. Many Muslims were killed that day (of the 12 Americans killed, one was a Muslim-American). And in Dar es Salaam, all the 11 people killed were Muslims. When bin Laden was asked why did he kill those Muslims, he responded by saying that “good Muslims should be at the mosque on Friday.”
So how does someone who not only kills innocent people in general, but also fellow Muslims, get sympathy from my apolitical mom? It is very strange indeed to see very rational, and quite well-informed, people become emotionally sympathetic to such a fellow. We are taught, from an early age, that to not say bad things about the dead but does that mean we forget and praise people whose very identity as we know is about killing lots of people? Conversely, it is horrifying to see people so jubilantly celebrate the taking of a human life regardless of how evil or accused evil the person was (which is a sad reflection on humanity, to say the least). For all we know, bin Laden could have been a great father, husband, brother, son, uncle, and friend. Only those who knew him would have the benefit of knowing that. But his identity to the world was as the leader and chief financier of Al Qaeda whose bombings have killed countless innocent people, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Yet, as he has portrayed himself as the ‘defender’ of Muslims, by also killing many Muslims along the way, bin Laden has managed to create a political identity that many have come to sympathize with even as they recognize his undoubtedly horrible acts of violence and destruction that killed thousands of people, in addition to his cancerous ideology that will continue to outlive long after most people forget his image. He did of course defend his fellow Muslims earlier in his career – fighting and defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. But does that justify such a sympathy after the many more innocent people he killed since creating Al Qaeda? It still amazes me how many people I come across that believe bin Laden was a religious leader. Of course he was not, despite his followers calling him Sheikh Osama. He was a political figure, who has single-handedly changed geopolitics forever.
It is a grave mistake, then, to see his death as anything but a martyr.