Sympathy For Bin Laden?

For its latest issue, GQ commissioned Matt Fraction, Nathan Fox, and Jeremy Cox to do a comic about the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden this spring. As an extremely truncated encapsulation of a moment, I’m not exceptionally compelled by it. The most compelling thing about it is probably the decision to tell some of the story from bin Laden’s perspective.

We’ve got a lot of popular culture that’s about trying to get us to understand the roots of terrorism and the motivations of individual terrorists. Aileen and Brody on Homeland are both motivated by compassion, an openness to the world that makes them hugely vulnerable to trauma and suggestion. The members of the titular collective on Sleeper Cell have been spurred to extremism by everything from war in Bosnia, to alienation from American bourgeois hypocrisy, to parents who are pressuring them to get married despite the fact that they’re gay. We can’t produce a world full of shiny, happy people, but I can see the appeal in trying to find policy paths and to create an environment that will make people less likely to turn to terrorism in the first place, rather than resorting to convincing ourselves that war is the only answer in the aftermath of the attack.

But it’s sort of hard to find the source of Osama bin Laden’s murderous megalomania in personal trauma or policy. And even if we could, I’m not sure most of us really want to. It’s easier to see him as an unsalvageable other after the things he orchestrated and the damage he lured us into doing to ourselves. Of course, it’s those kinds of tensions that have the potential to produce interesting—if painful and revelatory—art. I’d actually like to see a longer version of this story that parallels the team that killed bin Laden and the team that surrounded him, that contrasts the stringent preparation for the raid with the relaxation of security around the world’s most wanted man. Did bin Laden believe he couldn’t be caught or killed, that he never would be? Or had he accepted it as inevitable? And which reaction would make more sense to us? Would we prefer to believe he was defiant and delusional to the end? Or would we like to see him repentant and resigned? I don’t really expect that any of the flood of bin Laden death movies coming over the transom to our theaters will spend time in this space. But I’m suddenly curious to see what it would look like if one did.