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Author’s note: I originally wrote this following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Since, we’ve seen the assassinations of many others, including Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16 year old son and most recently Muammar Gaddafi. I find it interesting that so many in the US cheered on the images of Gaddafi’s bloody corpse not even a week after the dedication of a monument to Martin Luther King Jr., one of history’s greatest nonviolent advocates. However, judging by what I observed following the bin Laden killing, I can’t say any of this is a surprise.
Assassination and We Cheered
“USA is at it again, number one in the rankings of Killing Championships. Stealing the Gold in the Murder Olympics, and the crowd goes wild!”
-Chuck D via Twitter
The days following the killing of Osama bin Laden have been a microcosm of everything wrong with the US. President Obama announced US Special Forces assassinated bin Laden and people celebrated as if it was the Super Bowl. Anyone who dared ask questions was labeled a conspiracy nut while the corporate media fanned the flames of already tense relations between the US and Pakistan and asserted that torture deserved praise for the victory.
As I watched the celebrations I couldn’t help but notice something didn’t feel right.
My worries were confirmed by an Al Arabiya report, which said bin Laden’s daughter confirmed his death and said the SEALS captured him alive before shooting him in front of his family. Furthermore, according to the report, witnesses say no one in the house fired at the soldiers, challenging the US military’s account that there was a firefight.
This should set off a few red flags when we consider the “official” story delivered by the White House.
Obama said that following the killing, bin Laden was wrapped in a shroud, prayed over and thrown into the sea, in order to adhere to Muslim tradition. There’s one problem. This wasn’t exactly a Muslim tradition nor was it appropriate for bin Laden’s circumstances.
In fact, when do you remember the US treating the bodies of any combatants in the War on Terror with such respect?
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that bin Laden was unarmed but “resisted” when he was shot in the eye. The following day, Obama said he would not release photos of the body as to not inflame tensions.
As a black man, it’s hard for me not to be skeptical when I hear an unarmed man was shot for “resisting arrest” because police throughout the country shoot unarmed black men every week.
According to the White House, this was a “capture or kill” mission. Why Navy SEALS couldn’t capture a 53-year-old unarmed man with kidney problems certainly raises some concerns. Furthermore, the hastiness in which the soldiers disposed of the body and the lie told to justify it make you wonder what the administration is trying to hide.
The allegations that releasing a picture of the body would allow followers to build a shrine or would inflame tensions among militants are dubious to say the least. Shrines can be built regardless and a gruesome picture of bin Laden’s corpse can’t be any more offensive than the photographs of the Afghanistan “Kill Team” released in Rolling Stone earlier this year or the illegal detentions, torture, raids and bombings of innocent civilians in the US’s wars and proxy wars in Muslim countries.
Government sponsored assassinations are illegal according to international law and the body certainly would have provided some evidence to what happened in the compound. As of now, the US news is only voicing the side of the US and Pakistan, which has agreed to a deal allowing the US military free reign over the country while the government publicly denies any knowledge.
In addition to evidence from the assassination, the public’s acceptance and celebration has created a frightening precedent for the abuse of presidential power.
Obama has also ordered the assassination of other militant figures like US born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the past.
If a president is allowed to order hits on civilians then it opens the door for the White House to target anyone who opposes its policies.
People, even those as despicable as Osama bin Laden, deserve a fair trial where they can be held accountable for their crimes in a court of law. The only testimony we have from bin Laden is a set of videos whose validity has been called into question. Many of these grainy videos have bin Laden curiously operating right handed even though he’s a documented left-hander. This may be enough to satisfy the court of public opinion but it’s far from enough to hold up in a court of law.
Besides adhering to international law, this would also yield much more valuable intelligence. Since we killed him we’ll never know what motives and leads bin Laden could have personally divulged.
Public approval of the assassination has meshed with a corporate media all too willing to squash dissent and intimidate citizens from asking questions. Everyone from the White House to the cable news networks to liberal icon John Stewart have demonized, dismissed and labeled anyone asking questions as a conspiracy theorist.
As a journalist, I’ve been taught to ask questions and seek evidence regardless of the source. Thus, asking legitimate questions as to why we can’t see the body or why the SEALS chose to kill and not capture bin Laden shouldn’t be controversial. The US government has not exactly established enough credibility to have its word taken at face value.
During a debate I had earlier this week, someone went as far as to tell me Obama wouldn’t get on TV at 10:30 at night and lie to us.
Part of me cringed thinking back to the press conference where George W. Bush announced Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Posing tough questions is not necessarily asserting that bin Laden has been dead for years, as speculated since before 9/11, or that he is still alive. It’s an effort to seek evidence from an illegal operation.
Since the body was thrown in the sea there is no evidence of how or if bin Laden “resisted” despite being unarmed. All we have is the account of the SEALS vs. the recollection of witnesses.
While the media has given little time to critical thought, it has chosen to embrace two potentially harmful narratives: the untrustworthy nature of Pakistan and the effectiveness of torture in getting the intelligence that led to the killing of bin Laden.
The US has been conducting drone strikes in Pakistan for years and a 2009 Brookings Institute study found that they kill nine civilians for every insurgent. This and the murder of two Pakistani intelligence agents by CIA operative Raymond Davis, has caused serious tension between the two governments.
Despite the tensions, the US recently gave Pakistan 85 “Raven” drones, according to an Al-Jazeera report.
Keeping in mind that bin Laden came on the scene when the Carter and Reagan administrations chose to arm and train him as well as the rest of the muhajideen to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the late 70s and early 80s, this decision to give weapons to a potential enemy sets the table for history to repeat itself. This is all while debates persist over whether to arm rebels in Libya, another group of people who could potentially hold anti-American sentiments.
Reports say that bin Laden’s compound was housed near the Pakistani military academy, which has created more animosity amongst media personalities towards Pakistan for denying any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
According to a report in The Nation, Pakistani President “Musharraf’s comments are ironic given that he personally made a deal with Gen. McChrystal to allow US Special Ops Forces to cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan to target bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders. The so-called ‘hot pursuit’ agreement was predicated on Pakistan’s ability to deny it had given the US forces permission to enter Pakistan.”
The notion that the countries have any irreconcilable hostilities is overblown considering their mutual agreement, which has allowed for numerous civilian deaths and billions of dollars of US aid. Nonetheless, sowing the seeds for more tension doesn’t help the prospects of changing history.
Another disturbing development following the assassination has been conservatives’ praise of torture. Claims that torture led to the tips on bin Laden’s compound are unfounded and in fact, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad was reported to have only begun divulging information after the CIA decided to stop waterboarding him.
Torture in overseas prisons like Guantanamo Bay and Bagram gains mostly faulty intelligence because soldiers have imprisoned mostly innocent civilians, who will say anything when the pain gets to be too much.
For example, in Andy Worthington’s “The Guantanamo Files,” Muhmoud al-Muhajid, a Yemeni detainee says, “I never knew Osama bin Laden. When the interrogators kept bothering me with this question, I told them, ‘I saw him five times, three on al-Jazeera, and twice on Yemeni news.’ After this they kept after me really hard. I told them, ‘Ok, I know him, whatever you want. Just give me a break.’ ”
In addition to this, citizens were given incentive to falsely accuse others and sell them to Americans for the price of $5,000 to $10,000, according to Worthington.
To say that this system is efficient and is justified for whatever unfounded proof that it led to the killing of bin Laden is inherently irresponsible and cause for worry anywhere US soldiers are stationed. Such blatant war crimes are never justified and only cause more hostility among those oppressed by the powerful US military.
Amidst all these attempts to capitalize on the killing and the media’s persistence in shaping the narrative, we can’t overlook that the US continues its policy of murder with little discretion. Hundreds of thousands have died since the beginning of the War on Terror. It has bled over a trillion dollars from the US economy that will never go to schools or social services. Abroad, the war has created a system of secret prisons and a climate of fear and resistance. The rights of global citizens have been slowly eroded in the name of vengeance and there’s no end in sight.
Osama bin Laden’s death doesn’t mark the end of an era but the continuance of US blood lust. Our primal urge for revenge was on full display as few questioned the official story or the legality of the killing.
When Americans readily unify around murder one has to ask if we are any better than our supposed enemies. Have we really learned anything?
I like to think I started putting limitations on my dreams when I quit playing basketball before my senior year of high school. Truth be told, I built a ceiling for myself months earlier when I got Ds in both Physics and Pre-Calculus.
I wasn’t necessarily a superstar in math and science but I was a grade ahead in one and got mostly As in the other.
However, when junior year came around I faced an inspiration dilemma.
My Pre-Calculus teacher did everything he could to discourage me but that was no excuse to stop working hard. Likewise, my Physics teacher had a hard time keeping me engaged but that was no reason to think I was above putting effort into his class.
I coasted for the first part of the year and figured it would be a tough phase before I got back to my normal good grades.
After I got Ds, that all changed.
At the time I had no idea how many doors I was closing for myself.
Recently I talked with a professor from Portland Community College and I was surprised to find that specializing in math is one way to get on the fast track to becoming a dean and a six figure salary.
Compared to my prospects as a journalist (especially as one with a soul) that sounded very enticing.
Considering that test scores are going down across the board in the US, there are plenty of openings, especially for people of color who are underrepresented in these areas to begin with, in math and science related fields.
The term “revolution” often evokes thoughts of violence. However, what would be more revolutionary than blacks taking advantage of the gaping holes in math and science.
These fields power everything from health care to energy to war. Mastering them could yield both wealth and significant societal control.
For example, America’s infrastructure is in shambles. We need construction work but if you talk to people in the field, many young, aspiring construction workers aren’t qualified because they aren’t proficient enough in math.
My father always encouraged me to take an interest in construction but I figured my focus on writing was already way more than most expected of me as a black basketball player.
As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” If I had known back in high school what I know now, I would never have succumbed to the limitations I put on myself.
Instead of wallowing in what could’ve been, it’s important people like me ask ourselves what we can do to make sure we don’t lose the next generation as well.
My parents didn’t fail for lack of trying. I was just stubborn, like many young adults.
Part of the solution is connecting math and science to history and a sense of self. After all, this is what elevated my love of reading and writing.
The American education system does a poor job of teaching about the African kingdoms before slavery. This history holds the key to relating technical fields to the lives of our people.
Ancient Greeks used to go to Kemet (Africa) to study under men like the “Father of Medicine” Imhotep, a black man, to learn math and science.
These ancient kingdoms produced many new innovations like the step pyramid, which utilized the Pythagorean Theorem formula that Pythagoras would allegedly “discover” thousands of years later.
The knowledge of math and science gave these kingdoms control over civilization because other ancient kingdoms were dependent on their wisdom.
It is much easier to steer black children away from these subjects when they don’t know this history. However, they’re much more likely to take an interest if they can see the footsteps they’re following in.
Not to mention, having considerable influence and control over society is a much more enticing reason to take interest in a subject versus the prospect of simply getting a stable job.
When I was young I wanted to be an engineer. I never really knew why but the history of my people suggests it was something that was always in me.
We must take all measures to reawaken this spirit in our children as well as continue to encourage our aspiring black scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc. who don’t get nearly enough support from society.
As black people we can overcome all the odds as soon as we stop putting limitations on ourselves.
Even though I often don’t agree with President Obama, there was something comforting about him delivering an uninterrupted speech as John Boenher could only look on, glowing and angry.
For a brief moment, the symbol of white (even though he looks more Oompa-Loompa orange) establishment interests was put on mute.
If only we could do that more often.
One of the most overlooked benefits of white privilege is that white establishment’s opinion is always counted, no matter the discussion. Other voices only get a say when it’s convenient, even though they make up the majority.
This results in narratives and solutions that serve the white establishment rather than under served and/or underprivileged.
Sometimes we could use a mute button to keep issues from being hijacked by elitist outsiders who have no concern for the welfare of communities they preside over.
For example, the Economist recently published an article called “Race and the riots: A reckoning”. The author asserted that blacks were very prevalent in the London riots (the vast majority of rioters were actually white) based on photos released on the Internet by the police. It also pointed to crime as a cultural problem in the black community based on stop and search data.
As a journalist I couldn’t imagine getting away with such fallacious claims. We’re taught to do our research and take bias into account, yet this author was able to claim blacks made up a large number of rioters based on photos taken by a historically biased police force, not statistics. Further, this author used stop and search statistics to say there is a cultural problem with blacks. A study of stop and frisk in New York showed that while blacks and Latinos are nine times as likely to be stopped, they are no more likely to be arrested than whites..
Unfortunately, the bar was at its lowest when British “expert” David Starkey claimed the white rioters had become “black”.
Would it hurt the discourse in any way to put these people on mute?
Instead, that treatment is reserved for people like acclaimed black writer Darcus Howe. When he tried to explain how youth resistance had been brewing, a BBC anchor cut him off and even dismissed him as a rioter.
The whole episode resulted in further alienation towards British blacks and the vast majority white rioters who now face imprisonment. Giving context to the situation never seemed to cross the media’s mind. They preferred a ready made, not-so-subtly racist narrative.
It’s no better in the US. We give more time to people like Donald Trump, so he can question Obama’s birth certificate, or Michelle Bachmann, so she can claim the Pigford Settlement, which paid black farmers who were denied land based on race, is unfair slavery reparations.
We don’t give this platform to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Both men have been positive role models for their communities and black people across the nation but the media defines them by controversial soundbites. They don’t even get a chance to speak for themselves. Instead pundits spin the same tales of anti-Americanism to demonize the two.
Mitch McConnell is allowed to say making Obama a one term President is his main goal but that isn’t considered anti-American. When someone’s main purpose is to disrupt the success of our government, doesn’t he/she deserve the mute button?
Even the most obnoxious opponents of Obama might be able to accomplish more if they just shut up for a second. There are plenty of black people with legitimate criticisms of the President but we find ourselves defending him when people throw out ridiculous claims like “socialist” or “radical Muslim”.
There’s nothing productive about giving these people a loudspeaker while silencing others who could add substance to the conversation. After all, these debates are supposed to produce solutions for the betterment of the people.
Why then do the police and politicians get more media attention than residents of communities affected by gang violence? Why is Bill Clinton, who heads the Interim Haiti Recovery Committee, given more say on Haiti than the Haitians themselves?
Wealthy white paternalism is neither empowering nor in the best interests of the global community. Self determination will only come when people put themselves at the forefront of discussions involving their welfare.
We’ve heard the same tired rhetoric from the establishment for centuries. It’s about time we put tokenism on pause.
How do you sell products to a generation that doesn’t buy anything? As the Internet generation transitions into the workforce, we’re faced with the consequences of a rebellion many of us didn’t realize we were fighting.
We grew up being able to get music, movies, news and other media for free, whenever we wanted. Despite efforts by the music industry and others to push back, we’ve been able to successfully disrupt the system. Media executives have been virtually powerless to stop the creative, yet frugal youth.
In a sense, we are in a similar position to the freed slaves of the Haitian Revolution. We’ve used economic protest to take some power from the wealthy gatekeepers. However, these wealthy forces have found ways to retaliate and punish us for our newly found control.
In the case of Haitians, imperial powers like the French and U.S. imposed sanctions and/or refused to recognize them.
Our generation is facing massive unemployment and outsourcing of jobs.
One result has been an embrace of the arts, not just for fun but to help pay the bills and establish a career.
We are finding creativity and following our passions because we don’t have a stable alternative.
Whether you’re a writer, comic, poet, musician, etc., getting paid is a struggle. Most of us don’t have the mass marketing or distribution to reach all the people who might truly appreciate our product.
Not to mention, we’re a part of a piracy generation.
When I was at the University of Oregon, there were plenty of students with means who practiced urban scavenging, or freeganism, which is a yuppy word for dumpster diving.
How do we expect our peers to buy our art when they don’t even buy food?
It will only get worse when we become the establishment.
The next generation is only going to be crazier. Their schools are losing art and music programs due to budget cuts while the kids are being exposed to new technology without a context for creativity.
Our generation’s embrace of the arts will mean nothing if we’re marketing to youth consumers who couldn’t care less.
So how do we stave off this downward spiral?
We have to adapt our products to the needs of our communities and expand programs to teach youth the value of smart consumerism.
Young people are dying to express themselves in creative ways. We need more community art and recording studios as well as writing spaces. Perhaps if more of us get immersed in the media we consume then more people will understand the value of supporting it.
Also, people like to see benefits of their consumption. If we tie our businesses into our communities then it will motivate people to spend. There’s much more incentive to spend an extra dollar on a sandwich if the money is kicked back to your son or daughter’s school rather than some executive’s pocket in Chicago.
Reinvesting more money in the community also gives local businesses a better opportunity to hire residents. There’s a market for youth expression but people need money to support it in the first place.
Most importantly, young people need to be involved in decision making. We weren’t involved in the media decision making process and we responded by taking whatever we wanted. Once we become the establishment we will see the same happen to us if we don’t show the youth their proper respect.
Our generation revolutionized the media industry but if we’re not careful we’ll kill ourselves before we get the chance to reap the benefits.
According to Sigmund Freud, “The uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” In other words, when an event occurs that confirms an infantile fear, it is uncanny. For example, if you’re scared of plane crashes (despite the virtually nil chance of them happening) and you see a commercial airliner go down on the news, your mind will justify your irrational fright.
Hope works the same way. We put our faith in people or things that take us back to “Superman” expectations that rationality should’ve long since erased.
Freud, in his piece “The Uncanny,” says the essential factor in uncanny feelings is intellectual uncertainty. When we’re vulnerable and uncertain, we cling to hope.
This is most often expressed through religious fanaticism but also explains hero worship.
Freud exemplifies the uncanny through E.T.A. Hoffman’s story of the Sandman, a madman who tears out the eyes of children, which is figurative form of castration. The fear of castration reproduces itself as an uncanny feeling when a man is emasculated in real life.
Instead of the Sand-Man, hope produces the Super Man. This is generally a person who comes along and gives us hope he/she can lift us up when we are vulnerable.
We create heroes based on our own limitations and desires. Often we exaggerate their stories or hold on to myths about them to maintain the uncanny feeling.
For example, when Tupac Shakur was the victim of a robbery in 1994, the official story was that he was shot five times by the assailants. Many use this story of survival to convey the legend of Shakur.
However, in the book “Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice” author Ethan Brown disputes the widely accepted narrative. He asserts that Shakur was shot in the hand when he grabbed for one robber’s gun and accidentally shot himself in the groin while trying to pull out his own. Brown notes that the medical examiner was not able to release a full report because of the wishes of Shakur’s family, which allowed Shakur to tell a more harrowing story.
Once Shakur becomes human because of a differing account of the story, it reminds us that the black superhero doesn’t exist. It extinguishes the uncanny feeling of hope for such a presence, which many cling to because of the long history of black activists being murdered in the US.
Author Manning Marable caused similar controversy when he released “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” earlier this year. Malcolm is a cultural icon, whose legend has been exaggerated in both his autobiography and Spike Lee’s biopic.
In these works, Malcolm X was portrayed as an uneducated black boy who became a notable hustler and then learned to read in jail before becoming arguably the most influential black leader in history. Marable countered these claims by noting that Malcolm was always a student of Marcus Garvey’s teachings because his parents were followers. Similarly, while Malcolm was portrayed to have an unflinching stance, Marable asserts that he often second guessed himself. Other claims in the book include bisexual behavior during the hustling days and infidelity.
These assertions certainly go against the godlike portrayal of Malcolm in the autobiography and movie. However, they don’t make him any less important.
What made this superhuman image so effective was that it gave young freedom fighters something to strive to be. The idea that it was completely real played on our childlike urges for a mythical prophet.
There’s a scene in “The Life of David Gale” where Kevin Spacey asserts that living by ideals is the point of life. He says fantasies have to be unrealistic because once we get what we seek it’s no longer a fantasy. Thus, he says we must live by ideals and and measure the significance of our own lives by valuing the lives of others.
This is the ideal contained in feelings of hope. Once we find someone or something to believe in, usually when we’re at our most vulnerable, we have to maintain an unattainable image of our hero.
As soon as the Super Man becomes mortal it figuratively castrates believers. These people lived their lives and saw their aspirations through the hero. They too become mortal and limited once the superhero image no longer exists.
While it would be easy to tell people to stick to rational desires, it is human nature to fantasize. This desire is what underlies the entire spectrum of political rhetoric. All sides crave total power and/or harmony, which are both unattainable.
Some strive for these goals to the point where they can’t live without them. Often they become martyrs and are transformed into ideals they never achieved in life.
Even the world’s most powerful people are rarely satisfied. As long as you can hope for more than the feeling of hope is irrational.
However, irrational desires are what motivate society. Thus, the uncanny feelings of fear and hope will persist because complete harmony and total satisfaction don’t exist.