By Cristina Odone
‘In the ascetic, bearded face, the soulful eyes burn with militant fervour. The full mouth is firmly set, determined and defiant. Dark head partly covered, the man stares at an invisible, distant point. A visionary, a leader of men, a rebel with a cause: his expression bears testimony to any or all of these roles. Remember that poster of Che Guevara? Not so long ago, it was impossible to visit a university campus without coming face to face with a 102cm by 76cm image of the revolutionary icon.
From Sussex to Stockholm, from Paris to Palermo, students worshipped the heroic guerilla who’d overthrown the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and swore to vanquish the "great enemy of mankind: the United States of America". History does not record whether in his student’s room in Jeddah the young Osama bin Laden had taped up the Guevara poster. But it is clear that today he appropriates elements of the Guevara narrative - the people’s champion who fought tyranny . and oppression, the David to the Yankee Goliath - as lie carefully constructs an image to peddle across the globe.
Nor does this cultural magpie take only from Guevara. From Saladin, greatest of Muslim heroes, who in the 12th century kicked out the Crusaders from the Holy Land, Osama has stolen mantle - white flowing robes, coiled turban and motto "Drive out the infidels"’. In this way, he plunders the mythology of East and West, to feed an Arab world hungry for heroes and a Western world baying for foes. The West’s Public Enemy No. I has brilliantly used Western tools - videos, television and photographs - to lay the foundations of a personality cult that, for reach and scale, has no parallel in the Arab world.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein have all been hailed as heroes at different stages of the radicalisation of the Arab world that followed the creation of followed the creation of the state of Israel. But none has shown the same talent for self-publicity as this supposedly elusive mountain hermit. More to the point, none had the natural ingredients - the dark glamour of Rudolph Valentino in The Sheikh; the warmly timbered, basso profundo voice; the six-foot-six Armani model frame - that Islam’s latest hero boasts.
Supremely conscious of his telegenic powers, Osama has, since the early 90s, spoon-fed the media images to whet our appetite for more sightings, more , messages, more bin. We’ve seen the interview with the ascetic visionary who squats before a frugal meal among his disciples. A mysterious smile playing on his lips, he answers his- unseen questioner with a slow, soft, enigmatic delivery. We’ve seen the training videos, where the long, lean figure in flowing robes strides across a desert landscape, a Kalashnikov under arm.
We never see Osama with his hands dirty, using his gun or losing his cool. We never hear him raise his voice, or talk on his mobile, or laugh. His every gesture is controlled, his every word measured: with his 20th-century weapon tucked into the fold of his first-century robes, Osama cuts a timeless figure, a contemporary embodiment of an ancient legacy. lt’s a brilliant manipulation of Western fears (the sinister fundamentalist) and Arab hopes (the invincible holy warrior). And its success - when before has one figure so monopolised our newspapers, magazines, television screens or radios? - owes everything to a cunning and opportunistic choreographer.
Having portrayed himself to the media as a hermit, Osama guarantees their interest in his cameo appearances; having portrayed himself as a devout Muslim, he conveniently ignores the ban on photographs that is found in most interpretations of the Hadith (the collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). Fuelled by brief, but continuously repeated, televised appearances, the myth-making machine works overtime.
In Pakistan, mosque schools send students to join the Osama troops while in the Palestinian camps protesting youths have turned his name into a rallying cry In Oldham, England, T-shirts with Osama’s face are selling like hot cakes. "Osama knows full well that unless someone is larger than life he won’t stick in Western consciousness," Fuad Nahdi, publisher of Q-News, the British Muslim magazine, tells me.
Tirelessly, meticulously he has built the image of a superman who dwarfs his adversaries: George Bush by comparison looks like a frightened rabbit; Dick Cheney disappears into greyness. Even charismatic Colin Powell looks a spent force against the brilliance of Osama’s aura. It’s an extraordinary personal feat, the myth of Osama bin Laden.
Incredibly, this antihero has fashioned out of an unimpressive rich kid and unpromising would-be engineer an icon that seems unassailable. In a few years’ time, student rooms in Algiers and Cairo and Lahore will sport a poster of a world famous guerilla whose gaze troubles and whose courage inspires awe.
For millions of Arab Muslims he will be the great hero - dead or alive. – Dipetik dari Observer.