Wednesday, May 11, 2011

..and the blood of unbelievers dripping...

'We will see Saladin carrying his sword, and the blood of unbelievers dripping from it'
- Osama bin Laden

What is a hero? i mean this in the sense of the Jungian archtype explored by Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero with a Thosusand Faces'.

The hero has mysterious or incongruous origins. He (he is usually male) may not know his parents or the circumstances of his birth. The birth itself may be miraculous or unusual. He may show early promise. He experiences a rebirth, or a conversion, in his early life and maybe takes a new name, or discovers his true one. He has a period of time in the wilderness where he contemplates his cause and is perhaps tested. His rise to prominence is sudden or unlikely. He is a charismatic figure. His end is as mysterious as his beginning, and there is often some doubt about it - maybe he is not really gone, maybe he will return.

Obvious heroes in Western culture are Herakles, Dionysus, and King Arthur. Jesus and Gautama fulfil the hero archetype. Some historical figures have had a heroic gloss to their stories, Frederick the Great being one. In modern literature Aragorn is a hero, as is Harry Potter.

OBL is a lamentably a hero. This is what is popularly thought about him (the detail is less important than the shape of the story:

He was born into the Binladen family (note the differnt spelling), a wealthy Americanised Arabic family with ties to US politicians and business interests (which, when it comes to oil, are often the same thing). He underwent a conversion to an austere version of Wahabism after becoming angered at the American presence in Saudi Arabia. He left his life of luxury and lived a simple lifestyle, using his wealth and contacts for his cause. Despite being well known in Jihadist circles, he really shot to fame after 9/11. Then, he became an elusive figurehead, an inspiration. Then, he died.

It is the end of his life that interests me with regard to the hero myth. The hero is often not really dead, or is resurrected. Some heroes are deemed to have died, but we await their return. Examples are King Arthur, or Frederick the Great. When England needs him most, King Arthur will return to lead the people into a golden age. When Jesus returns, of course, history ends. The death, and the return, are important.

i think that the Americans have a responsibility they may not appreciate, or may not be able to control. There is just enough doubt about bin Laden's death for mythmaking, for the hero archetype to fulfil itself. They 'buried' him at sea. We have no photos. Al Qaeda have admitted he is dead. But maybe that is a deep game. Maybe he is not really dead, maybe he will return somehow and sweep the jihadists to victory. i suspect that the mythmaking will happen no matter what the Americans do now. It disturbs me to say this, but it reminds me of neo Nazis claiming Hitler did not die in the bunker.

i think it matters because bin Laden is already such a 'made' figure. In part this because he has been in seclusion for so long; he has been a figurehead, a legend, a unifying force, a symbol. It is important how his story evolves now. Chris Hedges, in his excellent article 'Chris Hedges speaks on Osama bin Laden's death' talks about how we make the monster.

The quote above gives a hint of how bin Laden may have seen himself in history. Saladin, that humane and chivalrous leader, was another 'returning' hero. The quote comes from Scott Atran's book 'Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What it Means to be Human'. More good thinking about the topic. Lots of good thinking out there!

i am also here totally indebted to my husband the Archduke Piccolo. The Archduke studied the hero archetype through the medium of children's literature, and many of the views above are his.

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