A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Showing posts with label Usama bin Laden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Usama bin Laden. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beyond Parody: Brazil Has Not Just One, But Several Usama bin Laden-Themed Bars

No, really. From The Guardian:
Of the many strange sights awaiting England football fans in Brazil, a Sao Paulo bar named after Osama bin Laden – and run by a Bin Laden lookalike – may be the most unexpected.

According to his tumblr page, Ceará Francisco Helder Braga Fernandes, a Sao Paulo resident since 1978, renamed his bar soon after 9/11. With a long grey beard and thick dark eyebrows, he had been a lookalike without knowing it. But when Osama bin Laden became the world's most wanted man, appearing on TV screens around the world, one alarmed customer called the police to report he was lying low as a downtown barman.
Police arrived, laughed, and posed for pictures with him. He appeared on local TV and became a local celebrity. After he changed the name of the bar to cash in on his newfound fame, it became a hub for local goths and rockers. British blogger and Sao Paulo resident Andrew Creelman says the bar has become a home for metal fans, who spill out on to the pavement on weekends, listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
Bin Laden's favorite bands. Also see a similar report in Al-Arabiya.

Too weird? Also from The Guardian story:
There are others too. Among them, in the seaside city of Niterói, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, a pool hall and bar named the Caverna do Bin Laden – Bin Laden's Cave; and in Juiz de Fora to the north, another Bin Laden's Bar, with a lookalike of its own behind the counter. Mac Margolis, of online news site Vocativ, searched online and found "nearly a dozen Brazilian establishments" named after the former Al-Qaida leader, "including bars, luncheonettes and one sit-down restaurant called Bin Laden and Family". 
Some of those might be peoole's real names I suppose, of course.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What You Liked Best in 2011: Dead Villains, Nude Bloggers, Great Novelists

This is a graph of my Pageviews during 2011 from Google Analytics. It's mostly predictable, chugging along at a few hundred a day, with surges in January and February during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and late in the year due to the renewed violence and elections in Egypt. But what are those two huge spikes that look like the Burj Dubai? (Excuse me: Burj Khalifa?) They were days I passed 1,000 pageviews in a single day. But why those days?

Well, the one in May was the death of Usama bin Ladin, and the one in October was the death of Mu‘ammar Qadhafi. Are my readers just bloodthirsty, or what? I think in the Qadhafi case a few news sites and bigtime blogs linked to me and spurred my traffic. I didn't even write all that much about Bin Ladin, though.

My blog is structured so if you visit regularly you can read the recent posts on the homepage; you don't have to click through to another page by clicking "Read more," as in many blogs. As a result I can only judge the popularity of individual posts by those who clicked on the individual link, either coming to it from a referral, a search engine, or one of my own links later. Curiously, the single most Googled-for post in 2011 was one I posted in 2010 on the 10th anniversary of the USS Cole.

Of course if I just look at the last couple of months of the year, I find that one of the most searched for terms was Aliaa Elmahdy, the "nude blogger." But I'm also gratified to see that my interview with Raymond Stock, Naguib Mahfouz' biographer, on Mahfouz' centennial brought a lot of incoming traffic. (I think I owe Raymond for that as he plugged it at the Arabic Literature (in English) blog and on Facebook, which probably brought over many Arabic lit types who might otherwise not have heard of my blog. Neither was the most searched topic across the year, but they led searches in December, when the Mahfouz interview appeared.

I do wish I could figure out how much overlap there is between those searching for Aliaa ElMahdy and those searching for Naguib Mahfouz. And I guess I should root for more bad guys to bite the dust in 2012, since that really seems to bring you in.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Max Rodenbeck on the Arab World's View on Bin Laden

Max Rodenbeck has a piece at the New York Review of Books blog on "Bin Laden's Death: Why the Arab World Shrugs" that is worth your time. Thanks to The Arabist for this one.

A Later Addendum: Since only us old folks know this, I should add that Max Rodenbeck, the veteran Economist correspondent in Cairo, is the son of John and Elizabeth Rodenbeck, longtime heads of the American University in Cairo Press. He grew up in Egypt and still lives there, so he knows Egypt better than almost all non-Egyptians, and his book on Cairo: The City Victorious ought to be read by anyone who knows the city, or wants to.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

There Was a Dog in the Story

All that was missing from the Bin Laden drama was a heroic dog. If we are to believe that bastion of respectable newspaper journalism, Britain's Sun (I know, I know), there was indeed a dog involved, a dog trained with the SEALs.

UPDATE: a somewhat more dependable source, The New York Times, mentions the dog, but didn't headline it. (They don't have a Page Three Girl, either.)  And Rebecca Frankel has a long essay on War Dogs at Foreign Policy. My dachshund is proud tonight.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why There's Not Much Left of That Lost Helicopter

A sidenote to the Bin Laden op: via Aviation Week, one reason the damaged helicopter was pretty thoroughly destroyed before the team left is that it was apparently a highly secret stealth version of the Blackhawk: an Av Week blog reports:


Well, now we know why all of us had trouble ID'ing the helicopter that crashed, or was brought down, in the Osama raid.
It was a secretly developed stealth helicopter, probably a highly modified version of an H-60 Blackhawk. Photos published in the Daily Mail and on the Secret Projects board show that the helicopter's tail features stealth-configured shapes on the boom and tip fairings, swept stabilizers and a "dishpan" cover over a non-standard five-or-six-blade tail rotor. It has a silver-loaded infra-red suppression finish similar to that seen on some V-22s.
No wonder the team tried to destroy it. The photos show that they did a thorough job - except for the end of the tailboom, which ended up outside the compound wall. (It almost looks as if the helo's tail hit the wall on landing.)
This could have something to do with the fact that Pakistani air defenses didn't apparently detect the operation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Al-Qa‘ida After Bin Laden

What happens now to the central leadership of Al-Qa‘ida, with Bin Laden gone? A lot of people are offering opinions: Foreign Policy has a round table discussion by many hands here; a useful piece in The Guardian here; there will be many more. I'll urge you to read those analyses, and throw in my own two cents here.

Even though Usama bin Laden had probably not been engaged in day-to-day operational leadership for some time, he was a potent symbol. Ayman al-Zawahiri is not. He's an ideologist and intellectual of the movement, but not a fighter. He lacks charisma. He also suffers from the fact that, as an Egyptian, he is said to not be fully trusted by some of the Gulf Arabs in the movement. He may be challenged by other, younger leaders.

Bin Laden was a showman, and in that role he may be irreplaceable. It wouldn't surprise me if the various regional Al-Qa‘ida franchises simply went their own ways, and Central became more and more irrelevant.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Time Revives a Perennial Cover Theme

Time Magazine has seen better days. The specific role Henry Luce had in mind when he founded the weekly newsmagazine back in 1923 has been superseded by 24/7 television and of course the Internet. Those of us old enough however, remember when being on the cover of Time was the pinnacle of fame (or infamy) in any given week, and the Man of the Year was a huge honor (or opprobrium: both Hitler and Khomeini made it).

Time, which has been struggling to find a role in a changed media environment, has announced a special issue on the death of Bin Laden, with the cover above right.It's a theme they've used before. I recognized it immediately because I have an old copy of Time from 1945 in my parents' scrapbook of World War II.

They first seem to have used it for Hitler.
May 7, 1945


August 20, 1945



The Japan V-J day issue is the only one in which the "X" is black, to contrast presumably with the red rising sun.

More recently, they've revived the theme a couple of times, using it for Saddam Hussein and Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi (below).

ABC news tonight said they'd only used it three times before, but they've used it four. Maybe because Japan was not a person it wasn't counted. In any event, they've returned to an old theme.

All covers copyright Time  and accessible here.

June 19, 2006
April 21, 2003

Lynch on Bin Laden

Marc Lynch has some useful comments on Usama bin Laden's end.

Revealed: Is This How Bin Laden Escaped Detection in a Major Town Full of Military Camps?

So Usama bin Laden was hiding in a large compound in the midst of a major town which includes military camps and, near the Bin Laden hideout, a major military academy. Many will no doubt say that the Pakistani Army has got some 'splainin' to do, but there may be a more innocent explanation, as Monty Python demonstrates:

Bin Laden: The Celebrity Terrorist

So much is going to be written about Usama bin Laden today and all week that I plan to restrain myself: my firar impressions last night, plus this post, may be most of what I have to say.

Everyone, at least everyone who would read this blog, knew what Bin Laden looked like. Before 9/11 he gave interviews to Al Jazeera, to CNN's Peter Bergen, and to others; after 9/11 he had to rely on videotapes or, eventually, audiotapes, but he was still a familiar face. He was a celebrity terrorist.

Contrast this with the earlier generation of international terrorists. Carlos (llyich Ramirez Sanchez) was a faceless figure, with only one old passport photo on the wanted posters. (Until he was captured and tried, of course.) Abu Nidal (Sabri Khalil al-Banna) was similarly known only from old, blurry photos from his pre-underground days. The same was formerly  true of‘Imad Mughniyya, though since his death Hizbullah has canonized him and his face has become familiar.

But Bin Laden has long been familiar. So is his stand-in and presumed next in line, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The only previous example that even cames close would be Che Guevara, but he was a government official and guerrilla leader, rather than an underground terrorist. (And while there are many pictures of Guevara, everyone under 50 reading this immediately thought of only one, the iconic portrait most remember him by.)

In the end, the spontaneous celebrations last night at the White House and at Ground Zero would have been less likely had he been an anonymous figure. He made himself the face of Al-Qa‘ida. Though he probably has had little operational role lately, he made himself a familiar symbol, and so gave the US a symbolic target.

Anticlimax: Bin Laden Had Already Lost Control of the Narrative

On slightly further reflection, I think there's an irony in Bin Laden dying at this exact moment; while some of his followers will consider him a martyr, he had lost control of the narrative in the Middle East. (As have we, of course.) The revolutionary youth of Tunisia, of Egypt, of Yemen, of Syria, of Bahrain, of Libya, have launched revolutions that have little to do with Islamism, little to do, even, with anti-Americanism, but everything to do with freeing their own lives.

Bin Laden was an anachronism. So I suspect is Al-Qa‘ida and its franchises.

I'm sure some in the Middle East will be offended by the triumphalism of many Americans at the news, but I suspect not a few Middle Eastern leaders are celebrating quietly as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden's End

Mistah Kurtz — he dead.
—Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

For some reason that was the first quote to come into my mind on hearing Usama Bin Laden was dead; those words from Conrad's Heart of Darkness, famously evoked in Eliot's "The Hollow Men" as well. Oh, and I guess Apocalypse Now, too. A corrupt man dies, and few will mourn.

Operationally, this may mean little. The regional franchises of Al-Qa‘idaAl-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula,  Al-Qa‘ida in the Land of the Two Rivers, Al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb — are pretty independent operationally; Bin Laden has been isolated to protect him, and had become a symbol more than a real mastermind. His death may make him a martyr among those groups, but symbols work both ways, and this will be a potent one for survivors of those who died on 9/11.

In some ways the wave of revolutions in the Arab world have made Bin Laden an anachronism.

I'm sure I'll have more to say tomorrow.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sometimes I Can't Resist

BBC Headline:

Is Osama Bin Laden Dead Or Alive?

Well of course, unless he's Schroedinger's Cat, he's dead or alive.

Sorry. Sometimes the Editor in me takes over.

(Don't worry if you don't understand Schroedinger's Cat. Even Einstein couldn't figure out quantum theory and famously said he couldn't believe God played dice with the universe.) You'll find the just and lasting peace in the Middle East formula much sooner, anyway, I'm sure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lynch on Bin Laden's Latest

Marc Lynch offers his take on Usama bin Laden's latest tape. As he notes, so many jihadist websites went down over the September 11 anniversary — that happened last year too, presumably courtesy of certain intelligence sources — as a result the tape, presumably intended for the anniversary, arrived a few days late and with no English subtitles. (I still haven't found a copy of the audio, but most news sites give quotations.) [UPDATE: Juan Cole has the full text in English.]