by Jesse Marinoff Reyes:
May 4-10, 2011 issue
Illustration: Jim Blanchard
For the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001 I present my favorite image epitaph for the legacy of that event, from last spring 2011 (numbers make you feel weird, don’t they?)
The End of Osama bin Laden via THE alternative newspaper from my old stomping grounds, Seattle, the cultural inheritor of (my alma mater) The Rocket magazine’s mantle as the muck-raking voice from outside of the mainstream. Sure, I could have posted another Time or Newsweek cover of the towers coming down, but I lived through that and the enormity and horror of that moment in time tends to distract, as it did then, and aid in losing sight of the mission while getting wrapped up in the trappings of the mission. What do I mean by that? Look back at the better part of the last eleven years and reflect on all the ways everything in the United States of America has changed (Homeland Security, The Patriot Act, etc.), and not for the better, as a result of the action of the criminal illustrated here, this Mighty Hero of the Muslim World (whether they wanted it or not), the Holy Warrior who took on the Great Satan to repay America for all of its international evils and so on, ad nauseam. This Mighty Fraud is more like it. This Grandstanding Rich Boy grasping for attention and desirous of a certain kind of glory that he had never truly earned (and I’m not talking about George W. Bush, though I very well could be), so he went on another path—one of convenience over reality, using the United States as an easy and incompetently willing foil.
I’d have to bore you with decades worth of foreign policy missteps in the Middle East to lay out the full story, but if you’ve only been paying half attention you already know that the Cold War-trained state departments of the 1980s-1990s were completely unprepared for any new paradigm shift in the global equation and despite enmity over our alliances and our association with Israel that we were only scant engaged in the region in comparison to that of the Eastern Bloc, and the incoming Neocon ideologues of George W. Bush’s cabal were too short-sightedly incompetent in their own right while obsessing over their world view and were patently manipulative in using bin Laden as an ongoing bogeyman to frighten the American people (now that Communists couldn’t be used to cudgel us with the threat of a nuclear winter from which we’d never emerge) and win votes over (“weaker on defense”) Democrats. Furthermore, bin Laden had been “our boy” (or one of them) in Afghanistan during the Soviet Invasion, so there was perhaps more than a bit of denial that one of our vassals decided to bite the hand that fed him. Speaking to my point of his fraudulent claim to Holy Warrior status, bin Laden was more than happy to accept our aid and material support however directly or indirectly during the Soviet Invasion because it was CONVENIENT. Just as it was then as CONVENIENT to turn against the U.S. when circumstances made that possible. Bin Laden knew what America’s aims were—he was no hayseed after all, but the scion of a wealthy Arabian family with every benefit given him that wealth afforded—as the super powers checked one another, though he could pretend he was not affiliated as the militant forces he was recruiting received training from Pakistan. But the real Mujahideen leader in Afghanistan, the real guerrilla fighter against the invasion and resistance against the puppet Communist government, the real “uniter” of the disparate tribes of the Afghan steppes was Massoud—Ahmad Shah Massoud—a pragmatic and conscientious leader who was against the backward-thinking Taliban and against the import of Jihadist fanatics, regardless of how great a need there may have been for more fighting men.
Respected by western governments, despite receiving almost no American material support (as aid was being funneled through Pakistan who favored other leaders who would be beholden to them, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or fringe characters like bin Laden). It was Massoud however who stymied the Soviets and ran them out of the country—and it is Massoud who would have been the face and the conscience of the Afghans over such “foreign” interlopers as bin Laden. Consequently Massoud was assassinated by Al-Qaeda just two days before September 11. When in doubt (and lacking in any kind of genuine moral standing), eliminate the competition. Ironically, it’s the American Way (another convenience?).
For September 11, and the lives lost in New York City that day—mostly office workers and support personnel, kitchen staff in the building’s restaurant and the like (many, many immigrants, even Muslims), not the Engineers of so-called American Economic Imperialism—who were made to die needlessly; for the firemen, police, and rescue workers—the first responders—and everyone who came to clean up the mess and look for the remains of the dead who now suffer from often fatal health consequences from being exposed to the smoke and toxins at the site; for the soldiers sent to two wars over the decade while Bush spent nary an effort to really seek out the event’s architect of mass-murder; and then for the tens of thousands of civilians in two countries who are now dead, their surroundings reduced to rubble and ruin, on this eleventh anniversary of that terrible day in American and Human history, I am more than happy that President Barack Obama, in his signature measured and methodical way, gave the order to put a bullet in the head of the man at the center of it all.
Blanchard’s illustration, done very quickly under the sudden deadline of the Navy SEAL strike that ended the national nightmare, takes a deceptively simple idea, the iconic news portrait of bin Laden (as it was used over and over and over in the wake of the September 11 event) with a bullet whizzing towards his head. Stark and yes, gratuitous, it does capture the notion of bin Laden’s end really rather brilliantly. Numerous illustrators executed bin Laden’s end for the news magazines and weeklies, a classic case of editorial’s NEED for the conceptual strength of illustrators when no photographic documentation existed, or at least hadn’t yet been declassified. It reflects The Stranger’s hard-hitting op ed piece which served as the paper’s coverage (as a weekly, it would not necessarily cover the event the same way a daily news story would), extolling the Obama Doctrine—when Obama ran for election, he vowed to reengage the hunt for bin Laden and the “crushing” of Al-Qaeda over the Bush administration’s meandering war on terrorism generally—for executing once and for all what his critics could not (“don’t be an incompetent motherf****r”). It’s not stately nor is it ponderously analytical, as is the Blanchard illustration, though Blanchard’s technique is a skilled and laborious pen-and-ink pointillism suggesting the familiar photograph, but twisting it ever thus with an almost comic book-like directness. But if we’ve learned anything from comic books, sometimes a bullet in the head is a bullet in the head.
Special thanks to Stan Shaw for sending me copies of The Stranger when it was published.