Coming soon in theatres in the United States are two films that depict the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The screening of the film will coincide with the American presidential elections.
There is no doubt that the films, which unravel previously unreleased information about the process that preceded Bin Laden’s capture and death, could have never be shown at a better time.
These are films that bring back to the memory of voters Barack Obama’s most important achievement: the elimination of Bin Laden. Yet this topic has been used up by the media for the longest time and the killing of Bin Laden was glorified over and over. What would a film or two add to that? Bin Laden would still remain a corpse and none of the advanced visual and audio effects used in the movies would bring him back to life.
Osama Bin Laden died several times.
He died when he started living in the middle of the mountains on the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan and got totally isolated from the outside world.
He died when the Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze, thus giving a totally new meaning to suicide, one that is in stark contrast with that preached by Bin Laden and his operatives.
Then he died when American troops killed him and threw his body into the sea. This might be the only moment that can be considered cinematic about his death.
But some want Bin Laden to remain, even if in the form of a corpse, a bargaining chip and al-Qaeda’s specter to keep looming. This is made obvious in the reaction to the Syrian revolution where the world is adamant on proving that al-Qaeda is not an illusion. This could be seen with other Arab revolutions even if to a lesser degree. The end result is keeping Bin Laden alive so that the terror he inspired would stay for good.
The real cinematic moments cannot be found in Bin Laden’s death, but rather in his life—the blood he spilt over two decades, the mysterious life he led in the middle of the mountains, the televised statements he issued while sitting cross-legged in a cave in Afghanistan and in which he gave instructions about what should be done with the “infidels.” These are definitely much more cinematic than what the two films are going to show.
In the American cinema, Bin Laden’s body is used as an achievement, thus overlooking the way the Arab Spring managed to destroy this icon of international terrorism. But looks like the international community’s apathy towards Syria is just an attempt at portraying us as cave people and maintaining that very image Bouazizi managed to defy and erase.
The writer is a columnist at the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, where this article was published on Oct. 11, 2012