Monday, December 07, 2009

Osama bin Laden and "1984"

picture of usama bin laden

There's been some buzz over the weekend about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. One member of the Obama Administration, National Security Advisor General James L. Jones, was recently quoted saying that bin Laden, the "mastermind" of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and on the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., has been moving across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan; while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that we don't know where he is -- and haven't known for years. In my opinion - my highly uninformed opinion - both are correct.

What strikes me most about these news reports is not so much the farce of the hunt for bin Laden as how he continues to be brought out from time to time by the media. For some reason, he strikes me as the modern-day equivalent of the character Emmanuel Goldstein, from George Orwell's novel, 1984. Goldstein is the novel's Leon Trotsky to Bib Brother's Josef Stalin: once a member of the highest level within the Party that rules Oceania who broke with Big Brother and formed "The Brotherhood" for the purpose of bringing down the Party. Consequently, every failure that is acknowledged by the Party is blamed on Goldstein and the Brotherhood; and Goldstein features prominently in an exercise known as the "Two Minute Hate"; with his image being replaced by that of Big Brother, whose appearance brings calm and peace and joy to the rank and file at the end of the Two Minute Hate.

Now, I'm not saying that bin Laden fits the mold of Goldstein as an analogue of the "Goldstein equals Trotsky" element of the novel; but I can see that he is very definitely "in play" in a toned down version of the Two Minute Hate. To see the picture of bin Laden is to see again the Twin Towers on fire, and then collapsing; to recall the horror of that day, and its aftermath; to be moved once more by the deaths of thousands of people; and ultimately to respond with revulsion, and a continued dedication to tracking him down and bringing him to justice.

Please don't misunderstand: I am not a supporter of bin Laden or of Al-Qaeda. I utterly reject the use of terror and murder; and yes, I would not be opposed to his being brought before the bar of justice should he actually be captured. My point is a larger one, and one that I have written about before, on August 8th and 10th back in 2006. In these posts, I mentioned how the "War on Terror" - in which the hunt for bin Laden plays a major theme - touches on aspects of life as experienced in the world of Orwell's novel: especially how the state of "permanent warfare" that transformed the United States and Great Britain into "Oceania" (with Great Britain becoming "Airstrip One") parallels the "War on Terror" whose end cannot be seen. In order to inflame the passions, and so to keep the support of the people for this war without end, the symbol of Osama bin Laden as the agent of destruction serves a very useful purpose, indeed: all the more so in that there really is a good reason to pursue him. Yet we must always be aware, and vigilant - for this very real and worthwhile pursuit also can serve a deeper, and more sinister, purpose...

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