The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Lex Luthor in a Turban; A Great Criminal Brain Dead

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Lex Luthor, the criminal mastermind of DC Comics and the nemesis of Superman, lived underneath Grand Central Station in the series of three movies about the man of steel that started in 1978. He was literally underneath the feet of the mayor, the police commission and all the flat feet of New York’s finest.

Luthor had no superpowers, but he was an evil genius with fantastic designs on the Western World and lusted for power and wealth. His house looked pretty comfortable although it wasunderground. He had lots of cool gadgets and furniture, was surrounded by sexy bimbos and a handful of flunkies, and he had lots of evil plans for world domination.

But as we know from all the comic books and the TV shows and movies, he was always thwarted by a righteous, bona fide superhero, usually, the man of steel himself.

Maybe I’m stretching things too far, but can’t you see all this as a parable for Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen in al Qaeda. After all, bin Laden himself seemed to claim religious authority for his jihad. Bin Laden was diabolically clever, was he not? Didn’t he and his henchmen produce scores of harebrained schemes over the years — one of which worked in a spectacular way. He ended his days in a comfortable suburban house in Pakistan, just down the street a Pakistani military school, surrounded by a few of his wives and a handful of his minions.

Bin Laden also inspired more than a few would-be heros. Can’t you see Dick Cheney as Superman — even though the guy has a bad heart and shot his best friend while hunting in Texas one weekend. Cheney is fuming now because he wants credit for wiping out all the arch evildoers, bin Laden.

Bin Laden was a mythic figure, indeed. The attack on New York and Washington shocked the nation, and was immediately cast as a military operation so complex and precise that it was diabolical. Don’t get me wrong. It was horrible and I was as shaken as the next person. I remember the day well, as I live only about two miles from where the Trade Center towers stood. But, in truth, I think it was mostly a matter of extraordinary good luck.

Remember that four teams of suicidal minions armed with box cutters hijacked four airliners and crashed two in the Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one into the ground. There had been hijackings in the 70s and 80s, and the authorities here had imposed some security at airports, but when I flew to Europe early in 2001, it struck me that the airline people gossiping around the metal detectors were not really looking at anyone or anything.

By the end of the morning on September 11, 2001, the authorities had pretty much described the entire plan. Air travel halted. From my roof here, I watched the military jets crisscross the sky. Oddly President Bush disappeared for a while, I always imagined to head for the secret nexus of government set up in case of nuclear war. What were they expecting?

Since then, the United States has done a fair amount of violence in Afghanistan, which harbored bin Laden and al Qaeda, and in Iraq, which did not. In both of those countries, al Qaeda responded by killing thousands of civilians, almost all of them Muslim, but a few American and European soldiers and mercenaries as well. I’m not saying that the U.S. should not have hunted bin Laden. There are many things in the Mideast that America should not be doing, but this manhunt was not one them.

Al Qaeda at least inspired if not helped with two big attacks in Europe, in Spain and in Britain, and bin Laden occasionally, and his henchmen frequently made wild claims about carrying on the jihad. They did put someone with a bomb in his shoe on one airplane, and another with a bomb in his underpants on another plane, but these plots failed.

Until a unit of Navy Seals killed him in his suburban house in Pakistan on May 2, there had been some debate about bin Laden’s actual role in terrorist affairs. With his killing, that debate has exploded as the stream of news about bin Laden grows relentlessly. If you search for bin Laden on Google News, the search giant finds well over 100,000 articles in English. Has anyone read 100,000 news stories in his lifetime?

The sad thing in all this is that all the government officials and all the scholars still don’t know much about the terrorists or the Muslim countries from where they come. All the experts were just as surprised as the rest of us at the uprisings in Tunisia and then Egypt. The Arab Spring inspired me to read more deeply about the Mideast and the Muslim world. I’m just starting, but it’s clear there’s a pervasive religiosity there that hasn’t been seen much in the West in many generations. There’s also a strong undercurrent of rhetoric about struggle with the West, symbolically and concretely. Perhaps bin Laden was right when he said that his fate didn’t matter much because there are many bin Ladens in the Muslim world. What bothers me is that the news media, the papers, television and the Web pour out details without context or understanding.

Conspiracy theories flourish. My favorite has everything. It goes like this: Bin Laden wasn’t killed, but his death was faked to make Obama look good. In fact, the story continues, that Obama wasn’t even elected, but installed in the White House because the cabal of men who really control the world decided that it was time to have a black president in the U.S., and now they wanted to bolster his popularity. This story comes from an ostensibly sane hair stylist in New York who told it to a customer who told me. It’s only one of many fables that have grown up around the man.

I would be happy if I had some better response to this stuff than, “That sounds crazy.” But I don’t.

Experts in and out of government, we are told, are now debating whether to pull out of Afghanistan. If that’s it, if after 10 years of conflict and death, two invasions, two trillion dollars, if it was all a matter of this one manhunt. Yet, as far as I can see, we haven’t diminished the hatred and suspicion of the U.S. in the Muslim world one bit; we have not improved our security in terms of terror or of energy one bit.

What has happened is that we’ve been sucked into a fantasy, one that probably exaggerated the danger in the beginning and comes to an improbable end.

Meanwhile, small-time criminals, people who operate in the real world, are pumping out malware-carrying spam on the Internet in fake bin Laden death pictures, while the serious news media petulantly demands a glimpse at the real photos.

I want to give the last word to al Jazeera. Last week, the Middle Eastern news service ran an opinion piece by Marwan Bishara, a Christian Palestinian who has taught at American University in Paris. He declared that “al-Qaeda was more of a global and post-modern creature or phenomenon than a religious one.” You can read the article here if you need to know more. But I wish someone would tell me what post-modern means.

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Written by theunbiasedeye

May 13, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Culture, Trends

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