We did him a favor. Already he seemed like a figure from another era, a star from the days of the silents. Like Norma Desmond, the nutty and out-of-place star in Sunset Boulevard, Osama just ran his own clips all day, watching his earlier work in his robe, wondering how to recapture the world’s attention when the world seemed to be riveted on other things.
Like Tunisia, and Egypt, and Libya. Trouble in Bahrain and Syria. The giant unruly mess of the Arab Spring. What possible connection did that ancient bag of bones, huddling in his Abbottabad hideout, have to the young people in the streets of Cairo? Or, for that matter, to the young people in the streets of Syria, facing bullets from their own Arab leader? What message did he send to them?
The people thronging the streets in tottering Arab countries aren’t demanding a renewal of the Atlantic–to–Indian Ocean caliphate. They’re demanding Facebook and Twitter. Say what you like about the Arab Spring — and it may eventually make things worse for America and her interests — but it has nothing to do with, and nothing to say to, the old man in Abbottabad. And he had nothing to say to them.
He was lucky to get that midnight visit from SEAL Team Six. There’s nothing more depressing than an old star who won’t get off the stage.
Without a quick airbrushing of his nasty-looking compound, it’s hard not to think of Osama bin Laden’s death as the final humiliation for the man. The Arab culture is deeply sensitive to the requirements of protocol and the trappings of luxury. The public’s seeing Osama bin Laden in his hideout can’t have burnished his image. But deeper than the stash of pornography or the moth-eaten blanket or the smell, it’s his irrelevance that resonates.
How quickly the game has changed. Since 1993’s attack on the World Trade Center, it’s been Them vs. Us, an epic clash of civilizations. But for the past six months, anyway, it’s been Them vs. Them, in capitals all over the Middle East.
Them vs. Them is a big improvement. But there’s no place in that game for Osama bin Laden.
We forget, I think, just how far back 2001 really is. Before Facebook and Twitter. Before the iPod and iPhone. Before Obamacare and the Prius and yoga studios on every corner. Before JetBlue or Glenn Beck got big. Before Nancy Pelosi, the Tea Party, or American Idol.
Imagine, then, if the troubled young Egyptian, Mohamed Atta, who went on to fly a plane into the World Trade Center, had been born ten years later.
He wouldn’t be taking lessons at a Florida flight school. He’d be rioting in the streets of Cairo.
A big improvement.