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Hypocrisy isn’t Hip at All: What’s Really Occurring in the Obama-Osama Drama?

I often refer to a very close personal female friend of mine as “a voice of reason,” because she always has tremendously insightful things to share. When I am lost at sea she finds ways to guide me back to shore, and for that I very much appreciate her. Recently, I was drifting, floating, and reached out to her to assist me in pondering the Obama-Osama conundrum, the awkwardness that abounds relative to the celebration of Osama Bin Laden’s demise at the hands of a Navy Seal covert operations team sanctioned by President Barack Obama in response to 9-11. During that conversation I shared with her a conversation I had with my daughter who was taken aback by what she saw as bizarre adult behavior. My daughter felt that many adults should be admonished for their overt celebration of the end of Bin Laden’s life. In that regard I have a couple of philosophical points to make before I crescendo into a Churchill (Winston or Ward, you decide) conclusion.


First, why is it that we call Osama Osama? We don’t call Barack Barack! Bin Laden’s not a rock star or entertainer, so he hadn’t earned the single stage moniker that Cher, Sade, Sting, and Michael (both Jordan and Jackson), though he did infamously alter people’s worlds with his heinous crimes and other attempted felonious acts. I recall him being called Bin Laden a lot earlier in his career. Is there a relationship between Bin Laden being identified as Osama and President Obama’s middle eastern sounding name? Is it possible that the media took advantage of this and lyrically leveraged the Obama-Osama rhetoric to further play up the angle of his citizenship? After all, in our capitalist culture it is about ratings, and news isn’t news unless its news.

Secondly, one of my nursing colleagues in a NYSNA workshop I conducted recently in NY city on racism dropped a pearl that I thought I should share. We watched a scene from Rosewood, a John Singleton film that frames the decimation of a Black township in 1923 over the false accusation by a White woman of abuse followed by insinuations of rape by a Black man. The scene featured Ving Rhames as a Black war veteran—being asked after bidding at an auction for a price of land deemed beyond his reach—to show his papers which verified his identity. Within the scene it was apparent that the White men saw him as uppity and making him show his papers was a more subtle move of showing him his place in society. My colleague revealed how much Donald Trump’s insistence on seeing Barack Obama’s birth certificate had racist overtones not dissimilar to the scene we had watched, or the fact that Black men, during slavery time, had to show their papers at the bequest of any White man. Was this racist? Who knows what truly occurred in Trump’s mind. The possibilities of it being an instance of subconscious racism looms about as large as Mitch McConnell’s assertion that the one goal of the Republican party was to ensure that President Obama was a one-term president, or the vocal assertion that President Obama was a liar by Joe Wilson. But perhaps I’m overstating the case here, though the saying “just because you are paranoid does not mean you aren’t being chased” definitely comes to mind.

And finally, in considering the vitriolic hatred for the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden, and overwhelming glee at his subsequent execution, is it okay for Americans to hate Bin Laden based upon the rationale that he was responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans as well as his other global terrorists acts? If your answer is yes, then how does America reconcile the contempt Japanese Americans must hide for an American government that publicly humiliated a very proud people by interring them in response to Pearl Harbor? Before you say that the Japanese Interment during WWII was a completely different situation, the murder of a people (9-11) and murder of a culture (Japanese Internment) may not be siblings, or even cousins when we think of the subtleties of the social injustices that are occurring, but they are related. How deep are the wounds of being uprooted from not just your house, but your home? How deeply scarred is someone who must cast off the specter of not being a loyal citizen? Not every American will ever fill the sting of such a designation, but isn’t it nice that we now have a President who can relate to that feeling?

If that doesn’t do it for you, then how does America reconcile the disdain that Native Americans must manage when considering the systematic defilement of their culture and mass murder of their people at the hands of an American government hungry for land and too impatient to identify with its indigenous population. Native American scholar Ward Churchill was taken to task when he inconsiderately, while a nation was reeling/mourning from the 9-11 attacks, implied that the “chickens had come home to roost.” He was admonished by many including then Governor George Pataki who called him “a bigoted, terrorist, supporter.” While this is understandable, what would Pataki have me say to my precocious daughter if Native Americans started celebrating something horrible that occurred to America in response to how they were treated (which is essentially what Churchill did).

How does America reconcile the scorn born out of forlorn acts of brutality, rape, and murder, followed by covert codes, segregation, and duplicitous acts that sadly/retrospectively don’t leave many duped. The once so-called Negro, so-called Colored, so-called Afro-American, is still struggling to move beyond an ideal framed and accentuated by Muhammad Ali when asked why he wouldn’t go to fight in the Vietnam war, which ultimately cost him three years of his fighting career. His response was “No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.” Oh really champ, well nowadays you wouldn’t be called that either in America. You’d just have to show your birth certificate in a way no other president has done.

Far too often people will say we need to forget the past and move on. They will argue that it serves no purpose to remember things we can’t change and that carrying that type of anger is energy misspent. But our children just had a front row seat to the epitome of American hypocrisy, celebrations of the demise of the orchestrator of one of the worst calamities in U.S. history, while similar celebrations by victims in this country would be frowned upon if not ostracized. So, tell me, what advice do you have for me on counseling my eleven year old about the exuberant celebrations of the unarmed murder of a man that (I agree) needed to die, when in a few years she will begin to understand the relative exoneration of her own government for its orchestration and complicity in what could be construed as equivalent to Bin Laden’s actions, only strategically and systematically implemented over a longer duration of time so as to go almost unnoticeable. I told her that he was an evil man that got what he deserved, but that he didn’t deserve people celebrating his death, unless it was totally in a context of the fact that he couldn’t/wouldn’t kill any more. I also told her to refer to him as Bin Laden, so that we could do our part in eradicating any subconscious association with our current President as a result of their names. She said, okay Daddy!

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On Obama-Osama Drama

I’ll confess. I have slipped several times already referring to Obama but uttering ‘Osama’. This intrigues me because prior to bin Laden’s death, I had no problem distinguishing the two. I guess I got caught up by the Obama-Osama media blitz. If certain media outlets leveraged the Obama-Osama rhetoric as to somehow anchor the American mind into conflating Obama with Osama, then their strategy has been somewhat successful. But this rhetorical conflation is way more insidious than our casual Freudian slips. It fosters the subconscious connection between Obama’s oriental-sounding name and Osama’s terroristic intentions. This phenomenon is even scarier in light of the wave of media conglomeration. In the future, what will stop powerful media monopolies from implanting rhetorical viruses in our minds, which will dramatically shape the way we see and speak about certain issues? Let us pray.

As for the parade-like celebrations of Obama’s.....I’m sorry, Osama’s death, I was confused by it. The last time I witnessed such gleeful demonstrations was, ironically, during the post Obama-election. But, here is where my perspective on this issue gets muddled by history and conspiracy. Please, bear with me. Remember when scholars suggested that part of Al- Qaeda’s hopes post 9-11 were to motivate the U.S. to respond in such a way that it reflected the very imperial tendencies that the initial terrorists attacks intended to rebel against. Subsequently, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq to take vengeance for the lives taken on September 11th. Our actions were in accordance with Al Qaeda’s expectations, which boosted their recruitment efforts and insurgent activity in Iraq against American troops. Now, think about our celebratory reaction to bin Laden’s death. Although a possible surprise to the terrorist group, is it possible that our reaction to Osama’s assassination is in accordance with Al Qaeda’s expectations and plans? Could bin Laden’s symbolic death serve as the very diversion Al Qaeda’s decentralized power and communication structure needed to advance a part of their global jihad efforts? This is just some food for thought. I recommend chewing slowly.

All in all, bin laden’s death brings a symbolic sense of closure for our country and for the people who lost loved ones in the 9-11 attacks. Kudos to the Navy Seal Team 6 that kicked down the doors of bin Laden’s compound and brought him to justice Rambo-style! Their mission played very well into my childhood idolatry of G.I. Joe soldiers. On a deeper level though, I leave you with what Noam Chomsky’s response was to this operation. I’m still blown away by his perspective.

“Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

As I was watching the celebration on Bin Laden's death I couldn't help but noticing that there was the constant repitition of a teenage boy on some person's shoulder wearing a FDNY hoodie, yelling at the top of his lungs. I grimaced upon remembering that not a few day earlier John Stewart on the Daily Show exposed the incredible injustice perpetrated by our government in blocking the first responders access to health care. In fact, the latest stipluation would be that any 9/11 worker applying for health would first have to await a background check to see if they had any TERRORIST AFFILIATIONS! How twisted have we become when we celebrate a man's death who is attributed to the death of thousands yet torture those who were first on the scene to save American lives. It is certainly suprising that people are so enthusiatic to celebrate the death of Bin Laden, yet, not so much bat an eye towards the efforts of those who are now victims of delbilating diseases to which the government and media praise as heros but are, in reality, treated as terrorist ...literally. In that sense, isn't the Obama-Osama affiliation appropriate? I would venture to propose that until Obama does something that helps actual Americans instead of America that it is.

I’ll try to take your questions as they come, JW.
First – You’re exactly right in your observations about the juxtaposition of the President’s last name and Bin-Laden’s first name. Those who do it frequently simply hope to make the president “guilty by association.” It IS, in fact, all about ratings (rantings?).
Second – Donald Trump is about as serious as circus clown and far less artisitc. He does nothing that isn’t blatant self-promotion. That’s not just his primary motivation, it’s his ONLY motivation. I’ve heard him described as the modern-day P.T. Barnum and I think that fits pretty well. Trump’s actions were certainly racist but I don’t think Trump IS a racist. If Trump felt it was in his best interest to somehow humiliate the President of the United States, or the Queen of England for that matter, Trump wouldn’t care a hoot about the President’s race (or the Queen’s). I guess you’d call him an equal opportunity opportunist.
The celebrations of Bin-Laden’s death; poor taste at best. I can certainly understand those who were directly affected by 911 (lost a loved one, for example) feeling very, very gratified at the news, but, the “spontaneous” celebrations in the street really made me uncomfortable. An awful lot has gone wrong when a society deems the death of a single individual worthy of such a reaction. Perhaps the celebrations reveal a deep-seeded need to cheer for anything, anything at all, during a time when our economy and our politics leave precious little to cheer about.
Comparing 911 with Internment Camps? Slavery? Indian Reservations? Really? Does the fact that a society at one time – dozens or even hundreds of years ago – did not live up to its own ideals mean that the future generations of that society deserve whatever horrible consequences fate or others may heap upon them? Taken to its conclusion your argument seems to suggest that the entire human race could be decimated by aliens and no one would have the right to complain about it, since there’s not a culture on the planet that hasn’t mistreated another culture at some time in history. Such arguments might be useful in scoring debate points or winning radio ratings but have little use in serious conversations about moving beyond our worst selves.
Now, before you get all aggravated at the “moving beyond” remark please know I am not advocating a short cultural memory. On the contrary, I fear America’s cultural memory is far too short. We are, after all, just a teenage society when compared with thousands-of-years-old cultures of Europe, Africa and Asia. We must continuously strive to live up to our own ideals and good citizens have a responsibility to point out when we don’t. But the motivation for such conscientiousness of conscience should not be to shame present day citizens or diminish sorrow in the face of true tragedy. Rather we should all recognize where we have made mistakes personally and culturally and resolve to do better next time lest history repeat itself. The true philosophical difference in American political thought is between the people who constantly push our society to live up to its own ideals and those who think we already do.

i don't have an answer for you except to say the celebration at ground zero rubbed me the wrong way. In a way it looked to me like a bunch of privelaged americans looking for a reason to party and donot grasp the big picture. This whole thing is tragic for everyone. I am not proud of this county's history but at the same time feel we are the best country in the history of mankind from a social point of view. That is a relative statement of course bc we still have a long way to go. At best hopefully your daughter will come to realize the complexities in this world and the mPant faults inherent in humanity. Its not all bad though as there are reasons to be optimistic and happy about life(i think). Ps you are a great writer, look forward to reading you this summer.

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