Despite losing the Hearts and Minds, the Violence will go On
Osama bin Laden is dead and gone. So what is his legacy? A great Martyr? Or just a silly old man who lost touch with the Muslim world who did not quite want as an austere life as he thought they should have (see The Osama drama: Is the play over? by Michael Hudson posted 5/7/2011 on Al Jazeera)?
But it was not only the denial of a media platform that marginalised him. It was also his script: to most Arabs and Muslims the idea of a new caliphate enforcing an austere – and not widely accepted – form of Islamic rule was a bloodless abstraction and not very appealing at that. So, while he drew strength by articulating violent resistance against deeply held grievances, he failed to offer, as it were, a “happy ending”.
How galling it must have been for him, isolated in his Pakistani villa, to watch huge audiences across the Arab world following a new and different script. Nowhere in the wave of mass protests that began last December were there banners for bin Laden or calls for a salafi order; nowhere were there chants for violence – even when unarmed protesters were brutally attacked by regime security forces. Osama was upstaged by new actors with a new script and an audience that chose not to sit as passive observers of the political scene – but actually insisted on participation in governance and public affairs.
You can almost hear his lament. “These kids today. When I was out there killing people it meant something. Today they don’t care. It’s just a little fun for young people who love to whine about the great problems in their lives. She doesn’t love me. My parents won’t buy me an iPhone. While I was trying to establish a new caliphate they just wanted to ‘friend’ others on Facebook. Whatever that means. *sigh* Jihad isn’t what it used to be…Get off of my lawn you snot-nose kids! Don’t make me come out there.”
It was a battle for the heart and minds of real Muslims. And apparently, he lost (see Al-Qaeda is its own worst enemy by Alia Brahimi posted 5/7/2011 on Al Jazeera).
Though al-Qaeda will be temporarily re-energised by the killing of bin Laden, it will not be enough to build up the sort of momentum and broad-based sympathy that they enjoyed at the height of the US-led occupation of Iraq. Between 2003-2006 in particular, bin Laden’s poetic narrative of resistance resonated even beyond the Muslim world. A German student in my halls at Oxford once returned from a trip home sporting a bin Laden t-shirt. George W Bush’s “war on terror” did not win the struggle for hearts and minds – fortunately, however, al-Qaeda lost it.
Yes, al Qaeda lost their way. They became ideologically soft in their brutal acts of terrorism. Violence for violence sake. Missing the big picture. Like Uncle Osama preached. To make everyone live under the most harsh and austere Sharia Law possible. That’s why the Americans lost the Vietnam War. They lost the hearts and minds. The North Vietnamese never lost their faith. Or their belief in Uncle Ho. Of course, victory for them included a happy ending. Which makes it easier to follow someone to the bitter end. Because the end won’t necessarily be so bitter.
So the violence will go on. It just won’t serve some higher purpose.
What a Terrible way to Spend a Decade
It took about 10 years to kill Osama bin Laden. That’s a long time. A lot can happen in 10 years. You can build buildings. A lot of them. For example, they built the Empire State Building in only 410 days. That’s about a month longer than one year. And this during the Great Depression. Not to mention the fact that it was the tallest building in the world at the time. Says a lot about New Yorkers. Even in the worst of times, they’re tough and strong and can do anything you ask of them. So I imagine the new World Trade Center site should be showing great progress in almost 10 years. Because some of the best people in the world were there to rebuild that site (see A World Trade Center Progress Report by Bill Marsh posted 5/7/2011 on The New York Times).
It will take much longer than that to heal the gaping wound in the Lower Manhattan cityscape. Blame politics, finances, legalities and the challenge of making the many compromises necessary for such an enormous reconstruction effort. But after spending much time on cleanup and foundation work, progress is ever more visible: The soaring 1 World Trade Center and another skyscraper are rising by about one floor per week; a spacious memorial is to open on the 10th anniversary of the attack this fall.
You know what you call an empty World Trade Center site? A memorial to al Qaeda. Rebuilding this site faster would have meant a lot more than a dead bin Laden. I can’t imagine the frustration of the New York building trades this past decade. What a terrible way to spend a decade.
A Better way to Spend a Decade
I can think of a far better way to put a decade to good use (see Whiskey is all about the waiting by Jason Wilson posted 5/6/2011 on The Washington Post).
Barrel aging is one of the most noteworthy aspects of whiskey making. It endlessly fascinates me that producers will take a clear “white dog” whiskey off the still at eyebrow-singeing proof, pour it into a barrel and let the liquid sit and mellow inside the wood — sometimes for decades.
Magical things happen inside that barrel in terms of flavor, texture and aroma. Beyond what sort of wood is used, the location of where the barrel sits in the warehouse matters greatly — a barrel sitting at ground level ages differently than one resting on a higher floor. In this way, the warehouse becomes a man-made terroir — similar to a winery, in which grapes from different geographic locations will take on different characteristics.
I’ve previously discussed the importance of aging and blending in the process of making whiskey. The craft of distillation is certainly of utmost importance — if mediocre whiskey comes off the still, it’s not going to get better after 10 years in a barrel. But how whiskey ages in a barrel is just as critical.
I’m sipping a bourbon right now as I write. It’s not a ten-year bourbon. But it’s okay. There’s some texture to it. And it warms the belly. But I know what I’ll be buying tomorrow.
In this week’s column, I discuss Buffalo Trace’s new Single Oak Project, which is part of the distillery’s larger two-decade search for the Holy Grail of bourbon…
This happened with the bourbons I wrote about this week. The man who went into the Ozarks to choose the white oaks for the Single Oak Project was named Ronnie Eddins, Buffalo Trace’s long-time warehouse manager. If you go to the Single Oak Project Web site, you actually can see videos of Eddins chatting with the loggers of those trees. Throughout the aging process, he was instrumental in creating these bourbons. Sadly, Eddins died earlier this year. He did not live to see the Single Oak Project bottled and sent to market.
Poor Ronnie Eddins. He didn’t live to see the day Osama bin Laden paid for his crimes. To see new buildings rising triumphantly on the World Trade Center site. Or taste what he so lovingly brought to market. Rest in peace, Ronnie. Know that you brought enjoyment to others. And that we smile as we raise a glass in your honor.