The Korea Herald


[Joel Brinkley] Bin Laden’s death a Rorschach test

By 최남현

Published : May 12, 2011 - 18:45

    • Link copied

The killing of Osama bin Laden is producing an unexpected outcome. His death is proving to be a Rorschach test for the entire world. Everyone who looks at it sees something different, sometimes betraying hidden motivations.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has struggled since President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall to present a moderate image, while the group’s older leaders labor to mask the anti-Israel, anti-Western fundamentalism they hold in their hearts. But with bin Laden’s death, the truth tumbled out.

The group issued a statement in which it awarded bin Laden the prized honorific “Sheikh” (while the New York Times decided the dead terrorist didn’t deserve even a “Mr.”). The Brotherhood went on to laud “resistance” against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indirectly, the statement lamented bin Laden’s death. So much for moderation.

The Brotherhood is not alone. In Cuba, the Castro brothers have talked a good game in recent months, offering reforms that are intended to bring Cuba a few years beyond the mid-20th century. But Fidel Castro, the longtime leader who retired from office and virtually from sight in 2008, looked at the American operation and said he saw an abhorrent “assassination,” adding: “Obama has no way to conceal that Osama was executed in front of his children and wives.” Predictably, several Islamic groups said more or less the same thing.

When I look at that inkblot, I see a mass murderer, a man who was pleased to kill thousands of innocent people to achieve his own malign ends. Would any of us have faulted whichever nation assassinated Adolph Hitler or Pol Pot? The magnitude of killing is different, but the principle is the same.

China saw a self-interested opportunity to one-up the United States. Beijing called the killing of bin Laden a “positive development” but then went on to offer perhaps the most laughable interpretation of the day: lavish praise for Pakistan.

“The Pakistani government is firm in its resolve and strong in action in the fight against terrorism,” the Foreign Ministry averred.

The truth is, bin Laden lived in a military-garrison town for at least five years. Pakistan is either complicit or incompetent. There is no middle ground. But the Chinese look at this and see the best chance in years to pull their neighbor away from the United States and into the Chinese orbit.

Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s birthplace, perceiving a threat, offered equivocal praise ― aware that many thousands of its citizens admired bin Laden and hate the United States. Right now, the royal family doesn’t want to say anything that might spark an uprising there like those in many neighboring states. So the Saudi Press Agency called bin Laden’s death a “step that supports the international efforts against terrorism.” That’s all.

In Ramallah, the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement praising the country that provides most of its foreign aid ― the United States. “Getting rid of bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide,” it said. Meantime, the authority’s brand new partner in “peace,” Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, saw it differently. Hamas condemned the death and called bin Laden an “Arab holy warrior.” Across the West Bank, many non-Hamas Palestinians also had a different view. They angrily protested the killing.

In the U.S., a chorus of former Bush administration officials looked at that inkblot and saw vindication for themselves. One of them, John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, wrote in National Review: “President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success,” but “he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration,” specifically their willingness to torture terrorism suspects.

But perhaps the most amusing interpretation came from Pakistan. By all rights the image they see should provoke embarrassment, humiliation. But they preferred to flip that around and cry out about infringement of their sovereignty. (Wasn’t bin Laden violating their sovereignty? He certainly had no visa.)

As if that were not enough, a senior Pakistani intelligence official told reporters that Pakistan had secret information showing that bin Laden was sidelined six years ago (about the time he moved to Abbottabad) and had been a marginal player since ― implying that it didn’t really matter that he lived 35 miles from the capital because, actually, he was unimportant.

Just two days later, the United States made public its initial analysis of the data seized in bin Laden’s home. It showed that, until the end, he directed al-Qaida’s many plots and plans from his home in Abbottabad.

By Joel Brinkley

Joel Brinkley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, is the author of “Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a troubled Land.” ― Ed.

(Tribune Media Services)