Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Famous Grouse: May 7

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. -- AD

THE dramatic events in Pakistan this week had not gone unnoticed by the little ones. There they were, one moment awash in the warm glow of the cartoons and next thing, the grownups had taken over the TV remote and were hopping from one news channel to the next. It was perhaps inevitable there would be questions.

We had to tell them the shocking truth -- American soldiers had shot dead Jafar.

And why not? Any parent who has had to sit through Disney’s Aladdin movies will tell you there’s more than a passing resemblance between the two.

In the first and best of the films, weirdie beardie Jafar, the grand vizier to the sultan of Agrabah, is on a quest to locate the genie’s magic lamp which he will use to take over the sultanate before making himself the most powerful wizard in the world.

He fails, of course, and -- spoiler alert! -- at the end of the movie he is trapped in the lamp, now a genie himself but, alas, with no free will of his own.

In the second movie, it gets much worse. In a shocking display of violence, Jafar is once again trapped in the lamp which is now kicked through a fissure in the earth’s surface by a grumpy parrot called Iago and it lands in a sea of lava. The lamp melts and, alas again, Jafar is crisped and reduced to dust.

And so it was with Osama bin Laden, who -- as the chatter went at the Mahogany Ridge on Monday -- was finding paradise a bit of a downer, what with the 72 vegans who now won’t leave him alone.

The novelist Salman Rushdie had the perfect take on the al Qaeda leader, pointing out that he died on Walpurgisnacht, a spring festival celebrated in parts of Europe and usually associated with bonfires, dancing and what was known in medieval times as witches’ sabbaths but more lately as Workers’ Day.

“Not an inappropriate night for the Chief Witch to fall off his broomstick and perish in a fierce firefight,” Rushdie wrote in the Daily Beast. “One of the most common status updates on Facebook after the news broke was ‘Ding, Dong, the witch is dead,’ and that spirit of Munchkin celebration was apparent in the faces of the crowds chanting ‘U-S-A!’ last night outside the White House and at ground zero and elsewhere.”

Of course, we’ve since learnt that that firefight, fierce as it no doubt may have been, was a distinctly one-sided affair, and yes, the yahoo tone and jingoist triumphalism of those American celebrations was indeed grating.

But these and the other issues that have emerged in the days since the raid on the compound in Abbottabad had done little to alter my initial reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death.

I believe the world is a better place now that he is gone. The fact that this deluded murderer was unarmed when he was shot in the face and could see it coming really doesn’t change my opinion all that much. Perhaps it would have been ideal if he had been brought to trial for that procedural veneer, but in the end he would have wound up just as dead. That’s what the Americans wanted all along -- a dead terrorist, and that’s what they got.

Of course, one man’s dead terrorist is, in the nature of these things, another man’s religious hero and martyr.

But even that, too, is changing. The Arab spring, or the so-called jasmine revolution, has been secular in nature. In short, it’s about democracy and universal human rights -- and certainly not about following nutty mullahs and jihadi into the sort of theocracies deemed backward even by the standards of seventh century caliphates.

While al Qaeda’s influence may be on the wane, the same cannot be said for opprobrium for the White House, and in this regard, local reaction to the US raid has been predictably imbecilic, especially the outburst from Young Communist League secretary Buti Manamela: “They claim to be the champion of peace and democracy but they are nothing but invaders and their anti-terrorism campaign is the greatest cover-up of their own terrorism. Through their president [Barack] Obama, they are the worst animal fighting in human skin.”

On Tuesday, the Times of London printed all the known names of those who died in attacks planned by bin Laden. They included the 261 people who died in the blasts in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August, 1998.

The targets may have been the embassies of the “US imperialists” but the vast majority of the dead were African.

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