Osama bin Laden for the West: From ‘warrior’ to ‘militant’

Published: January 2, 2015
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While he was building the al Qaeda network, the West not only knew about it but also appreciated his help.PHOTO: FILE

Have you ever wondered if the international media works for an agenda? I’m sure you have. We all do. We have come across many instances where biases in western media houses have been pronounced loud and clear, so such inferences are only natural. Media’s shifting portrayal of Osama bin Laden over the years is just one testimony of that.

Being a media studies major, I have studied about the agenda-setting theory, which discusses how the media sets up particular agendas and then feeds news pertaining to that angle to its viewers. It’s all about understanding the underlying story behind a newspaper’s lead or a channel’s breaking news bulletin. And in western media, this underlying aspect can be found quite easily, if one just knows where to look.

Let me clear my stance by coming back to Bin Laden. While until recently, before he was killed, his status was popularly known as public enemy number one, but he wasn’t always the most wanted terrorist that the West has been portraying for the past decade. In the past, Bin Laden was considered one of the staunchest allies of the West, and proof of this can be found in western newspapers where articles written in praise of him can easily be accessed. His role in defeating Russia (former USSR) has been greatly highlighted and commended.

A clipping from The Independent, 1993. Photo: Fazal Gilani

The headline in the photo reads:

“Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace”.

They used the word ‘warrior’ for him, not ‘militant’. The connotations of these words need to be understood.

If we consider Bin Laden’s history, we would know that he was a Saudi businessman who founded the al Qaeda and started recruiting mujahideens (militants) in 1993 to use them in strengthening large-scale projects in Sudan. We have seen how he was very much a part of the global spectrum before 9/11, and while he was building the al Qaeda network, the West not only knew about it but also appreciated his help.

However, after the anti-soviet campaign ended and 9/11 happened, the West started portraying him as an enemy. When he was working for western interests, he was an ally – but as soon as he turned against them, he was considered the most dangerous man alive.

Does this not show an agenda wriggling its way through western media reporting?

Does it not bring into question the credibility of the international media?

If they have the power to influence whatever they want, whenever they want, shouldn’t that be considered more dangerous than an individual?

9/11 was a tragedy of great proportions – it shook the world and shocked everyone. And Bin Laden’s role in it was pretty clear as leader of the al Qaeda. I do not mean to insinuate that reprimanding him and treating him as an enemy is wrong; he has the blood of countless people on his hands and he should have been punished the way he was. But this just goes to show that the international media can make anyone a sinner or a saint, depending on what narrative they follow.

Pakistan’s image got tarnished after 9/11, not just because of our own doing but also because that was what the West wanted – to pin all this on a scapegoat. And to do this, they used their trusted media to disseminate their version of Pakistan.

Even Saddam Hussein’s case can be discussed. Saddam was another ally of the West, particularly the United States, who meted the same fate, because he was no longer useful to their narrative. All these instances have a logical strain of ideas – if only one wishes to venture into it.

These cases show that no matter how close an ally you are to the West, when their agendas change, nothing can save you from being targeted. With the West and their media, what is for granted today, may not even exist tomorrow.

Fazal Gilani

Fazal Gilani

A former news reporter for Samaa TV who is currently working as a freelance journalist. He has a Masters degree in Mass communication from GCUF. He tweets as @Gilaniism (twitter.com/Gilaniism)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • 19640909rk .

    Very well known that USA was totally dependant on Pakistran establishment and ISI to carry on the Jihad against USSR. They bankrolled Pakistan and that is it.

    Even to this day, there was a report that CIA agents responsible for middle east have no knowledge of Islam or difference between Shia and Sunni.

    Most likely Osama was projected as a positive figure by ISI and American establishment hooked on to it. Even during Afghan war in 2002, Osama was cornered, but Musharraf was able to get him out of the situation through his influence.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Of course, one nation has fallen rather rapidly in the eyes of the West from foremost non-NATO ally to international migraine, and I guess that too is their fault.Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    author did not say it is not fault of Pakistan, author only showing that yesterdays heros where todays enemies.
    Yesterdays hero was killing others for same cause with your own weapon,
    todays enemy is still killing for same cause but is killing you now?

    who has changed, the person killing or the person who has been supporting or opposing him.

    Do you think only today’s killer to be punished, don’t you think that yesterday’s financier/supporter of this killer also should u punished?

    That is what is justice and true journalism.
    Show the mirror always.

    If you were so serious about terrorism, you should not have used him in the first place come what may.Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    very very good article.
    I think it is same all over the world,
    yestedays heros are always seen as todays villans.Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    The media is powerful. Thanks for reminding us.Recommend

  • abhi

    What you say is correct but the example you have taken is not quite correct. When Laden was not spreading terror he was treated differently.Recommend

  • Malik Abdul Rehman

    muricans do that all the time,tell me a single thing they feel content with at a given time let alone Osama last time i heard they were complaining about mcfries….I mean what could possibly be wrong with a hand full of fried potatoesRecommend

  • Waqar

    This is true but we need to look at ourselves too. Bin Laden and his past his history. The fact that some people in Pak look to him as a martyred hero is the present. I feel this article simply tries to “pin all this on a scapegoat” i.e the West.Recommend

  • cautious

    “But this just goes to show that the international media can make anyone a
    sinner or a saint, depending on what narrative they follow.”

    Perhaps – but one article about OBL doesn’t mean that the West was trying to make him a hero and author would be hard pressed to demonstrate that the West ever considered Saddam a hero. It’s also clear that after 911 OBL deserved all the negative press .. same goes for Saddam after his invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.Recommend

  • Neo

    This article is lacking common sense.

    Osama Bin Laden declared Jihad on the West and blew up two American embassies, killing more than 200 innocent Africans. That certainly qualifies as a terrorist act. What else would you call that? A militant act?
    It is quite ironic that you mention Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was turned into a Sunni martyr by the Arab media after he was executed -despite the fact that this brutal dictator slaughtered millions of people, tortured and raped countless, in his lifetime -.Recommend

  • Neo

    This article is lacking common sense.

    Osama Bin Laden declared Jihad on the West and blew up two American embassies, killing more than 200 innocent Africans. That certainly qualifies as a terrorist act. What else would you call that? A militant act?
    It is quite ironic that you mention Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was turned into a Sunni martyr by the Arab media after he was executed -despite the fact that this brutal dictator slaughtered millions of people, tortured and raped countless, in his lifetime -.Recommend

  • shah

    how does this help Pakistan ? Terrorists inspired by Alqaeda have wrecked havoc on the country for last 12 years and you are still confused by the past ?Recommend

  • shah

    how does this help Pakistan ? Terrorists inspired by Alqaeda have wrecked havoc on the country for last 12 years and you are still confused by the past ?Recommend

  • UzairH

    Fazal, I agree with your central premise that media can and does twist the narrative to suit its own interests or of those it serves. That happens almost everywhere. In Pakistan our media had a large part in the ouster of Musharraf, but ironically it also doesn’t like the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif and until recently has had a soft spot for the terrorists destroying Pakistan.

    You mentioned Saddam, and that was a good example to support your thesis. The Western media largely ignored his human rights abuses until it became convenient to paint him as the dictator he was.

    However, I am struggling to understand how someone with your education (journalism) can either display such naivette or else practice obfuscation to such as an extent as you do regarding Osama Bin Laden. In the latter case it would be deliciously ironic that you are using a widely read electronic newspaper to spread your own agenda of falsehood while decrying such media manipulation.

    Your entire argument about OBL is stated by you as him being a hero to the West when he was fighting the Soviets, and then suddenly being branded a villain by them when started targetting Western citizens. This argument is less than childish for anyone in possession of the most basic historical facts. Firstly, there is a HUGE difference between waging a war on the battlefield, as was being done in Afghanistan, and in bombing embassies and office buildings full of civilians in countries not even in a warzone. If OBL had engaged US troops on the field of battle he would not have been the cowardly murderer that he was (rightfully so) branded.

    Do you not see a difference between random acts of terror versus engaging in a war of freedom? Related to my first point, if OBL had been doing bombings in USSR then he would have just as much a terrorist as he was later called. The Afghan Mujahideen war waging a proper war, not killing civilians mercilessly has became the norm with the Taliban and TTP and other groupe in vogue (Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and lately IS).Recommend

  • Rahul

    Every country has its interests to protect and those interests can change based on new information or new circumstances. Osama was a tool that the USA used in the war against the Soviets, Pakistan army was another tool they used. Pakistan cannot complain because they went into this with their eyes open. They were the beneficiaries of western policies. It was Pakistan that decided to keep nurturing the Jihadis for their covert purposes. Nobody forced Pakistan to shelter Osama for 8 years.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    They bankrolled him, he attacked them. If I, and I am talking about a lowly single guy whose “weapon of choice” is most probably an old hockey stick, ever feed a dude and clothe him, and he then comes at me , he will get the hockey stick in the face.
    So what is to be accepted from the USA? just mosey along and leave the bearded guy be? AFTER he attacks your country?Recommend

  • Sexton Blake

    There is no hard evidence available that OBL was responsible for 9/11 or that he was picked up in Abbattobad. All we have is US hearsay. Perhaps the truth may come it in 50 years or soRecommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht.

    Trust a hindu to jump in head first. Anywhere, any debate. Recommend

  • mazhar

    plus how many people has open trials and brought to justice for 911. atleast OBL was a prized trophy and if caught the US could have got all the pleasure in the world to show his body to the world and get all the praise. but US actions unfortunately for them creates lot’s of open ended discussion.Recommend

  • mazhar

    plus how many people has open trials and brought to justice for 911. atleast OBL was a prized trophy and if caught the US could have got all the pleasure in the world to show his body to the world and get all the praise. but US actions unfortunately for them creates lot’s of open ended discussion.Recommend

  • Parvez

    As Henry Kissinger correctly said……..America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.Recommend

  • Parvez

    As Henry Kissinger correctly said……..America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.Recommend

  • amoghavarshaii

    NO, laden was spreading terror only that the barrel of the gun was other side.
    Why did US hire laden in first place, it was not USs war, it was not ladens war either, they fed him with wrong information muslim worlds power just to use him, when he continued on same path and turned against them then only when US got hurt did they realise there past mistake. But US authorities who supported laden then where not punished for that crime?
    Laden should not have been encouraged in the first place, once in they should have ended it properly?
    world is suffering for past mistakes of a few countries !!!!Recommend

  • Gopeet

    Nope, wrong in triplicate. America has an illegitimate child. And it
    defends it. And will do so at all cost…With Security Council vetos.
    Even equipped the baby with a nuclear arsenal. Baby is called Israel.Recommend

  • abhi

    Some time I wonder if really there was a guy named Osama Bin Laden. I am also not sure if there exited so called ‘Twin Towers”. I think it is just a story cooked up to attack Pakistan.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Did @BlackJack mention religion in his argument? Yet you attack his religion. Why? Instead of such ad hominem attacks, why on’t you point out what part of his argument you disagree with.Recommend

  • Gp65

    excellent comment.Recommend

  • Sid

    Isn’t it whats happening in Pakistan ? First allow all madrassah to create extremists. And when these extremists turn their guns on you (TTP), u label them “bad terrorist” and try to eliminate them. Wait till LeT and JuD turn their guns.
    If there is a lesson from learned from Osama’s example it is this “terrorists are not strategic assets forever”…..when your agenda is over you will be the target……Good luck!!Recommend

  • Sid

    You can blame USA as much as you want. Who asked Pakistan to be a fool in participating in a game where it has nothing to gain ? The story on the other side of coin is that Pakistani Army under Zia-ul-Haq agreed to play the game to get rich and with a wishful thinking to use those mujahideen in Kashmir. Their greed for money and Kashmir led to the economic and social bankruptcy of Pakistan.
    If Pakistani leaders have been wise enough to focus on it’s development rather than finding dumb and insidious ways to snatch Kashmir from India for past 67 years then probably Pakistan would have been far more economically and socially stronger than India.
    Still……by rule of deniability there is almost no hope for Pakistan to learn anything. even the Peshawar carnage did not open your eyes to what you have created. Some of you are still in denial that this is your own creation and want to blame it on India. Recommend

  • siesmann

    Wow!!
    1.Al-Qaida stated right after that he died
    2.His wives who were there ,and still living ,say the same
    3.his son’s body was found at the location.I m sure Pakistani government must have run DNA testing if it wanted to refute
    4.The investigative report by Pak Government confirmed it.
    5.A doctor who helped trace him is in jail
    6.Pakistani-Government and Army says he was killed there.
    7.Whole world(except some conspiracy theory weavers like you)agrees.
    -It doesn’t need another 50 years for truth to come out that is already out there.Recommend

  • siesmann

    You presume that Pakistan has no stake after Soviets attacked Afghanistan.Red army right on the border ,and Arabian sea not far off,Pakistan was on their list next.If US had its personal interest at stake,Pakistan had its very existence at stake.
    And it were the stinger missiles that devastated the Russian’s aircover and helped defeat them.And these ungrateful cowards then decide to attack USA/West,with ample help from Pakistani establishment in sustaining them.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Is Pakistan and Pakistanis any different?Hating america,and at the same time eagerly vying for getting help from same USA.And tell me of a time in its entire history,when Pakistanis were content with anything?Recommend

  • siesmann

    If yesterday’s hero wants to be a villain today,he needs to be treated as such.Recommend

  • Mike

    Indians get in to comment cause they dont want to faceup there own issues too like the Genocide of the Sikhs & the attack on the Golden Temple.India today is beset with the independent movements in Punjab – Khalistan, Kashmir, Assam, Najaland, & the entire South. A multinational state ruled by the caste system presided over by the Brahamans.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Yes Hindus are born with horns and tails and have not yet evolved into human beings of your kind.Recommend

  • RASH

    amoghavassha bin ladan was alloy of west not of pak and when he turned his back to them at that time they declared him their enemy and in all this situatio pak`s role was very minor
    what india is doing he is also nurturing giving aid weapons to ttp and your media is not showing this because now ttp is doing your task and when in future they turned their back to you you will also do the same as west is doingRecommend

  • Hasan Jawaid (USA)

    I guess author hasn’t come across the expression ‘All is fair in love and war’. Without going into the semantics of war, don’t we see this too often in our current local and geo-political landscape – establishment butting heads with political parties, political parties interfering and influencing judiciary, and media playing sides running its own agenda – everyone with their own goals. Being so familiar with all this, why do we then become prey to the political and power temptations that west or US sets up for us? Without pitying OBL, Saddam, TTP, or militant wings of political parties who have fallen victim to their own agendas and greeds, I don’t think any sane human being would ever sympathise with such hellish and atrocious human kinds who brought nothing but miseries and destruction to the region that was already bleeding and crying out loud for love, peace, and harmony. On a similar note, let’s see what Allama Iqbal’s thoughts were over such heartless human beings:

    “Taaweel ka phanda koi saiyaad lagadey,
    yeh shaaq-e-nasheman say uttarta hai bahut jald”Recommend

  • Prashant

    “When he was working for western interests, he was an ally – but as soon as he turned against them, he was considered the most dangerous man alive.”

    Is not it logical to describe Osama as an enemy when he was fighting the US and bombing their embassies in Nairobi/ Dar-es-Salaam, attacked USS Cole at Aden and eventually mass murdered Americans on 9/11?

    Also, how does Pakistani media project Hafiz Saeed’s and Maulana Massod’s, are not they created by Pakistani state agencies and considered heroes by many in Pakistan?

    Pakistan, of all nations should refrain itself from giving lessons on morals.

    “These cases show that no matter how close an ally you are to the West, when their agendas change, nothing can save you from being targeted.”

    Be realistic Mr Author, this is international diplomacy, there is nothing called deeper than Oceans and taller than sky…….Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Author needs to study some more. :-)Recommend

  • nust

    The West just keeps changing the names – Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS. The nexus is the same – to play hero.Recommend

  • http://www.vimeo.com/javedkalhoro JAVED ALI KALHORO

    I think Osama remained warrior for the west until he twisted his loyalty to the cause of peace.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Unfortunately he remains a warrior(a martyr) to Pakistanis even now.Off course his ideology was peace-9-11 was best example of peace (and of peaceful religion)Recommend

  • siesmann

    Pakistan would have been under Soviets today,hadn’t USA intervened.Recommend

  • Prashant

    You forgot Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Muslim brotherhood, Hamas, the Islamic revolution of Iran and so on….. the Muslims are killing Muslims and non Muslims alike but they have no role to play and neither the intellect to judge that they have been pitted against each other by the infidels whom many of these love to hate so much.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Check the calendar mate, the world has moved on and so is India, it’s 21st century.Recommend