Osama bin Laden: A Digest

Image of this morning's flashboards by Sarah Masters

Image of this morning's flashboards by Sarah Masters

The death of Osama bin Laden is still sending shockwaves through the world (or is it?). It cost many lives and $1.3 trillion - more than the worth of the entire Australian economy in a single year. Readers wanting to catch up on the whole sorry saga would do well to begin with these two books. Of course, it’s no secret that Pakistan - the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power - is a deeply troubled country, as a new book by Anatol Lieven explains. Fatima Bhutto - writer, poet and niece of the late former Pakistan prime minister Benazir (who claimed Bin Laden was killed in 2007) - has written extensively on failures in Pakistan’s leadership. Here’s a reading list on Pakistan she compiled last year.

In the print media, Bin Laden’s death has triggered another skirmish in the flashboard wars. On a more serious note, it’s also prompted a major change in editorial policy at the New York Times, which will no longer refer to him as Mr. bin Laden. The Grey Lady has dropped the ‘Mr.’ - a small step for mankind, perhaps, but a giant leap for a newspaper. In the social media universe, keen-eyed observers will have noted a Facebook page created to memorialise the occasion. It’s gone viral with close to half a million ‘likes’ at the time of writing.

The news set a new Twitter record of 12.4 million tweets per hour. Initially Twitter reported that 4,000 tweets per second were being sent at the beginning and end of Obama’s televised address; it’s now reported the figure was more like 5,000 tweets per second. For the record, the highest amount of tweets sent in a single second was 6,939, during this year’s Japanese New Year.

It also transformed the life of a humble IT consultant who just wants to lead a quiet life. Sohaib Athar, who tweets under the moniker ReallyVirtual, left the hubbub of Lahore for the quiet, tranquil life of a hill town an hour from Islamabad. Abbottabad is noted “for its pleasant weather, high-standard educational institutions and military establishments” - it’s home to the Pakistan Military Academy, which adds a whole new meaning to the phrases, ‘hiding in plain sight’ and ‘diplomatic tensions’. When ReallyVirtual tweeted, early Monday morning, “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)”, he had no idea that within hours he would be, in his own words, “the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

Portrait of General Sir James Abbott dressed as an Indian noble by B. Baldwin, 1841, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London, via Wikipedia

Portrait of General Sir James Abbott dressed as an Indian noble by B. Baldwin, 1841, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London, via Wikipedia

Something that is often overlooked is that Osama bin Laden always had a keen sense of historical irony. The name of al-Qaeda, for example, is thought to originate in an eerily prescient Isaac Asimov novel. The World Trade Centre was the brainchild of David Rockefeller, whose father John D. (the richest person in history) played a large part in founding the global oil industry that helped shape the world into its current configuration. Indeed, the twin towers were conceived as a paean to international free trade, a passion of David Rockefeller’s. “The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries,“ he wrote. And Abbottabad was founded by Captain James Abbott (pictured, later General Sir James Abbott) after the British colonial authorities annexed the Punjab in 1853. When Abbott left the town, he penned a poem, now engraved on a stone in English and Urdu in the town. Although it’s not a very good poem, we couldn’t resist quoting it in full:

I remember the day when I first came here / And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air

The trees and ground covered with snow / Gave us indeed a brilliant show

To me the place seemed like a dream / And far ran a lonesome stream

The wind hissed as if welcoming us / The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss

And the tiny cuckoo sang it away / A song very melodious and gay

I adored the place from the first sight / And was happy that my coming here was right

And eight good years here passed very soon / And we leave our perhaps on a sunny noon

Oh Abbottabad we are leaving you now / To your natural beauty do I bow

Perhaps your winds sound will never reach my ear / My gift for you is a few sad tears

I bid you farewell with a heavy heart / Never from my mind will your memories thwart

Pakistani writer and poet Fatima Bhutto will visit the Wheeler Centre on May 18, in conversation with Anton Enus.

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