Tag Archives: Osama bin Laden

The Peoples’ News

The news industry is one that is undergoing a constant evolution. From word of mouth to the printed press, and on to radio, televised, and digital media, the art of spreading the word has changed enormously throughout its lifetime.

Nowadays, another dimension of news has come to the fore: The social dimension.

Most Americans, and indeed most people with access to news coverage all around the world, are most familiar with a type of news reporting that is presented in a kind of lecture-oriented format. Stories, at least those sent to press by major news organizations, are usually very factual and objective, and tend to follow a common pattern. Now, these are good things to have in such a crucial and informative media source, don’t get me wrong. But if you look at the broader, grander scale of the news industry, this kind of media is something of an anomaly.

Back in the 19th century, and even well before, news was spread by gossip, word on the street, and pamphleteering. One could make a case, as Tom Standage, business editor at the Economist does, that early American revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were essentially low-tech bloggers, using pamphlets and propagandistic methods to spread the news. Before such technology as the radio or television emerged (making competitive news creation prohibitively expensive for most), news was communicated largely by coffee shop conversations and pamphlets handed out on the street. News then was much more partisan and was fully conscious of this fact.

Surprisingly enough, technological advancement seems to be bringing the news back to this kind of media, and away from what 19th century press developed into. In other words, moving forward in tech is bringing us back in time.

That’s not to say that this is a bad thing! As the internet becomes more and more pervasive, and more and more people begin using it to discuss and spread ideas (as I’m doing now), the news will gradually be taken out of the hands of the few and become produced by the many. Already, sites like Twitter and Facebook (both of which can be linked to this article at the bottom of the page) allow people of all kinds to share events and discussions with friends. In fact, the news of the death of Osama bin Laden was first publicized accidentally by a Pakistani man tweeting about the events unfolding near his home.

This is very reminiscent of those 19th century times when pamphlets and common people were the main vehicle by which news traveled. Things are also becoming more partisan, as they were then. As news becomes more dominated by and dependent on the power of the internet, people are more able to weigh in and voice their opinions about stories of all kinds. In fact, social networks like Facebook allow people to almost create news stories, forcing the larger media world to pick up the story. If enough people take up a cause online, the industry has no choice but to notice.

All of these things lead me to one simple conclusion: The until-recently monopolistic news industry is quickly and inexorably shifting to a social one, and it’s up to the industry to jump on this bandwagon or be run over by it. The potential for an amazing new era of news is enormous. Which side will they end up on?

For more on this subject, and to see some of the writing that inspired and informed this post, check out this Economist discussion.

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Clashing Dreams in the Middle East

As revolution rushes through the Middle East, radical Islam and democratic secularism will clash and confront one another. (Source: beforeitsnews.com)

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his dream lives on. His was a dream of violence, bloodshed, and sectarianism, one in which a new Islamist caliphate could take power, and his repressive ideology would flourish.

Bin Laden also envisioned a Middle East that would be sympathetic to his ideas and ideals. And while most people are repulsed by his beliefs, there are a frightening number of people who hold the same bloodthirsty views as him. Many of these are already involved in al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other distinct terrorist entities. But this mindset can be found all throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is an idea that advocates the violent enforcement of one’s own beliefs, and is not only a grave danger to lives, but an offensive and woefully misguided interpretation of the otherwise peaceful and fairly welcoming religion of Islam.

Yet the Arab Spring, as it is now known, is seriously calling into question the efficacy and popularity of bin Laden’s violent Islamist vision for the Middle East. Unlike the religious revolution al Qaeda dreams of someday bringing about, the Arab Spring which brought down both Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was almost exclusively secular, and motivated by secular desires and aspirations. It’s democracy that the Arab people seem bent on achieving, not an Islamic state or caliphate.

So there seem to be two conflicting viewpoints in the Middle East right now. On the one hand, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and all who share their twisted views see a future in which their own beliefs about religion and society are paramount. On the other hand, a powerful new youth movement is swelling in the Middle East, a movement that, despite al Qaeda’s fondest wishes, is a secular one.

The stage seems set for yet more tension in the Middle East. Even as a new dream of freedom and democracy builds momentum in places that previously suffered under terribly repressive states, a different kind of repression, this time of a religious variety, is still in the arena. As these two dreams of the future, one of religious nationalism and the other of secular democracy, face off over the coming years, the people of the Middle East will have a choice. They must make it wisely.

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Filed under International Focus, Religion & Reason, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

Yet More Pakistani Complications

Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in this compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1. (Source: talkingpointsmemo.com)

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death sent shockwaves through the United States. Barack Obama’s announcement of the mass killer’s demise was amazing and exhilarating to most Americans, and gave the President strong new legitimacy as the country’s leader and commander-in-chief.

But it also presents a tricky and troubling question: If bin Laden has been hiding in a compound in Pakistan (see picture) for quite some time now, how did Pakistan not notice? Or more worryingly, why did they not tell the US if they knew where bin Laden was hiding?

Osama was tracked down to a modest city in Pakistan called Abbottabad. It’s not particularly surprising or alarming that bin Laden was found in Pakistan. What is frightening is that he was hiding in the middle of a good-size town that is only around 50 km away from the capital of Islamabad. What’s more, the compound in which bin Laden concealed himself was only around half a mile away from a major military training academy.

All of this adds up to yet more turbulence in the already complex and conflicted relationship between the United States and Pakistan. As I mentioned in a previous post, things have been tough between America and Pakistan as of late, and the discovery of bin Laden is unlikely to help things much.

So far, Pakistan has played a key role in counter-terrorism operations and provision of intelligence to the US. Since the alliance between the two countries began after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan has generally assisted American forces in the fight against terrorism in the area. So the question of why they did nothing and said nothing about bin Laden is an important one. Bin Laden’s compound, which burned trash, had holes rather than windows, and featured walls up to 18 feet high, is hardly covert or discrete. And being just down the road from the Pakistan Military Academy, and located in a town known as a military stronghold, it seems ludicrous to say that no one in Pakistani law enforcement had any idea.

Which leads to two possible answers as to why Pakistan’s lips were sealed about bin Laden: Either the Pakistani military and intelligence officials were incompetent, or they were intentionally harboring the most notorious terrorist in the world. Both possibilities are grim ones. Pakistani officials have also been questioning why the United States didn’t give them some warning or wait for permission to carry out such an operation within Pakistan’s borders. This is an understandable desire on that country’s part, but there are good reasons why they weren’t told.

As I also mentioned in the above previous post, a serious trust gap is widening between the US and Pakistan. While neither side is directly scorning or condemning the other at this point, both sides are uncomfortable with one another. American leaders feel that Pakistan is not consistent in their handling of terrorism and in their alliance with the US. Pakistan, on the other hand, sees America as overstepping its boundaries with civilian collateral from US drone strikes, the discovery of a number of CIA agents operating in secret within their borders, and a general distrust of Pakistan’s leadership, especially the ISI.

This led US officials, and rightly so, to refrain from informing Pakistan about the operation to take out Osama bin Laden. To inform any Pakistani leadership would be to take away the security of the operation; this would perhaps even have allowed bin Laden to slip quietly away from Abbottabad, even as American forces closed in on him. The simple fact is, the US simply does not know enough about Pakistan’s desires and goals as they relate to al Qaeda and the Taliban. It’s apparent that at least some factions of Pakistani leadership seek to keep certain terrorist cells and organizations in existence, as this could presumably offer them some benefit. It’s unclear whether keeping bin Laden alive was intentional on Pakistan’s part, or whether they were simply worryingly ignorant of his presence.

Neither reason is likely to do much to help ease tensions between the US and Pakistan. With many questions yet to answer about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, Pakistan is finding itself under pressure to explain things. Whether Osama’s conspicuous living in Abbottabad was allowed by Pakistan or simply overlooked, this revelation adds another strain of unease between these nascent allies.

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