A good death
May 3rd 2011
He had kind eyes.
They were brown and glowing, and seemed to be brimming with compassion, empathy, and a touch of mirth. They were the eyes you might expect to see in the face of a Buddhist monk, the lady who runs the local Toys For Tots program, or a Hollywood priest.
He was almost certainly the man responsible for 9/11, the worst crime ever committed on US soil, a crime that killed 3,000 people in one hideous day.
I know about the dangerous charm of sociopaths and demagogues, and so the eyes shouldn’t have been so jarring. The most lethal monsters in the history of the world were nice fellows, often jolly, and made people adore as well as respect them. The fires and deaths and screams would come later, after they had achieved unassailable power. Everyone knows about the power of Hitler’s oratory, but it was his ability to charm and create trust that put him in the position where he could become the horror he was. It’s downplayed in the history of the Third Reich, but there were literally millions of women in Nazi Germany in the 30’s who would have gladly abandoned their husbands and lovers and families for a chance to have his baby. Just as England had the far more benign “Beatlemania” thirty years later, Germany had “Hitlermania”. When Stalin died, millions of men who had been shunted into the Gulags on trumped up and Kafkaquese charges wept openly in their cells. They had lost, not just a leader, but a friend.
Osama bin Laden probably was a pathologically narcissistic personality. Such people, contrary to popular belief, are not entirely self-absorbed. They can certainly be warm and caring, as long as they experience a positive feedback from that, and they can also attach to deeply felt beliefs and causes. They often have childhoods in which they are over-indulged or abused, or both, and that matches what we know of bin Laden’s early life and eventual estrangement from his wealthy and privileged kinfolk.
It’s also a personality disorder that has an elevated tendency toward committing murder. A narcissist who is stymied in some major element of his life can be extremely dangerous. He might literally believe the universe has no right to frustrate him.
I got around to wondering what bin Laden’s Enneagram number was. For those who don’t know what that is, “The Enneagram…describes nine distinct and fundamentally different personality types…Study and practice of this profound and powerful system helps one to identify and move beyond non-productive habits of body, speech and mind, increases compassion for self and others, and effectively integrates psychological and spiritual life.” [From “What is the Enneagram?” http://www.ashlandenneagram.com/whatis.shtml ]
I spoke to a man who teaches the Enneagram and has engaged in a life-long study of it. While allowing that many people in his field regarded the reclusive bin Laden as an eight, it was his opinion that bin Laden was most likely a four. That would be “The Romantic”, and according to the Ashland Enneagram website, “Romantics are idealistic, deeply feeling, empathetic, authentic to self, but also dramatic, moody, and sometimes self-absorbed.”
He added that dictators and terrorists aren’t associated with any particular Enneatype, noting that Adolf Hitler, like myself, was a counter-phobic Six on the Enneagram. (So are Jon Stewart and Michael Moore. We sixes stir things up, for good or bad).
Bin Laden was supposedly enraged that American troops were desecrating the soil of Saudi Arabia with their presence — the troops had been stationed there at the invitation of the Saudi Prince as part of continuing operations against Saddam Hussein. The attacks on September 11th were supposedly Osama bin Laden’s way of letting the Americans know he was having a right snit about those troops.
Back in 1996, bin Laden penned a fatwā titled “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places”. Aside from the fact that he was far exceeding his non-existent religious authority to declare war on behalf of Allah, it shows that he had, prior to 9/11, spent at least five years stewing about those troops. [A few months after 9/11, the Americans were quietly withdrawn from Saudi soil]. By 1996, bin Laden was already an outlaw in Saudi Arabia and permanently estranged from his family, so he wrote a fatwā. He had some neighbors to the north who would have called that “chutzpa”.
“Romantics are idealistic, deeply feeling, empathetic, authentic to self, but also dramatic, moody, and sometimes self-absorbed.” That certainly seems to describe bin Laden, doesn’t it?
To paraphrase Frank Miller, Osama bin Laden’s death leaves the world no poorer. He single-handedly transformed America, turning it into something very brittle and frightened. I’m hoping that with his death, America might start a road to recovery, to become the open and confident country it once was.
I am sorry in one way that bin Laden was killed. I wanted to see him stand trial in a fair and open court, and perhaps we might have learned what he did and why he did it. I watch once-confident Americans agonize over giving fair trials to the men still remaining in Guantanamo, and perhaps it doesn’t matter that he’s dead because he would never have gotten a fair trial anyway. Or perhaps Obama might, in an act of extreme political courage, have handed bin Laden over for a trial at The Hague.
Perhaps in that “compound” in Abbottabad they will find writings that will yield clues about bin Laden and his role in 9/11.
But even if we never learn these things, at least now America can begin to move forward. The entire country has been traumatized, and effectively in a state of post-traumatic stress disorder since 9/11.
It’s time for the Adminstration to think about pulling out of Afghanistan. The original purpose in going there was to “get bin Laden” and now that has been accomplished. It is the occupations that will continue friction with the Islamic world, and not the death of bin Laden, who had already been relegated to the sidelines throughout the Islamic world. Have you noticed how few and mild the demonstrations and protests have been over his death? Most of the Arab world wanted him dead as badly as the West did, and among the relatively few that flocked to his cause, he was an out-of-touch antique, one who had simply made life more difficult for extremists whose primary goal was to overthrow their own governments, rather than fuck with the Americans. Bin Laden and al Qaida have had no meaningful role to play in the unrest sweeping the middle east, and that is not by accident. Their day was done.
This leaves America with a brilliant opportunity to extricate itself from central Asia and begin to normalize relations with much of the Moslem world. Yes, America has enemies there, but simply by disengaging, America can neutralize the rage and ill-will of those enemies. And reduce the paranoia and hatred simmering among the American people.
The day after bin Laden was killed, I had one person tell me that they should take his body, wrap it in bacon and pork chops, and drop it right onto Mecca. Sure, why not piss off a billion people, most of whom presently feel that bin Laden was America’s lawful prey? But it shows the corrosive and vicious undercurrent of fear and hate that permeate American society, and inform the utter madness we are seeing from Republicans and some Democrats.
Fortunately, Obama has a calmer head, and didn’t desecrate the body and insult hundreds of millions of people presently kindly disposed toward him. Just that simple act probably saved America a world of grief, and help slow the slide into paranoid fascism that the country is experiencing.
For Obama, it was the capstone for what was already the best week he’s had since the rump session of Congress passed a lot of his legislation. He had enormous fun at the Washington correspondent’s dinner dismantling Donald Trump, which in turn followed his artful release of his birth certificate, just at the time when Trump and Faux News and a lot of the GOP had signed on to the racially-tinged idiocy of the “birther conspiracy”. It’s a testament to his maturity and self control that he didn’t just flip cameras a double bird and shout, “In your faces, bee-yitches!” I doubt his predecessor would have been so restrained.
Not surprisingly, Obama got a big bump in the popularity ratings. Republicans are pretending it will fade in a week, but I don’t think it will. With this move, he changed the image many people had of him, as being too thoughtful and cool and indecisive. And the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is coming up in four months, which will remind everyone once again of who finally brought down bin Laden.
And so bin Laden is dead, and now the rest of us can get on with our lives.