Friday, January 18, 2008

Omar the Earnest

I can't help but have thoughts I know to be ungenerous about the story Bin Laden Son Wants to Be Peace Activist.

First, I welcome 26-year-old Omar Osama bin Laden's interest in fostering peace between cultures. Omar wants to be an "ambassador for peace" between Muslims and the West. It's a bit quixotic ("... planning a 3,000-mile horse race across North Africa to draw attention to the cause of peace"), but the world needs its Quixotes.

But when he starts to talk about his vision, I find the ungenerous thoughts creeping into my head.

"It's about changing the ideas of the Western mind. A lot of people think Arabs — especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Osama — are all terrorists. This is not the truth," Omar told the AP last week at a cafe in a Cairo shopping mall.

There are already people patiently at work in the West counteracting prejudices against Arabs. I don't think you will see much of that sort of prejudice if you cross this land from end to end. After all, American soldiers are walking patrols daily alongside Arabs up and down Iraq.

If Omar is principally interested in dispelling prejudices about "the bin Ladens," of course, that's another order of work. But I wouldn't call myself a "peace activist" in that case.

Speaking of prejudices that need dispelling, however, perhaps Omar could spare some time and make an effort to dispell some of those rampant in the Arab world, where his name is a boon, not a liability.

Then there's this:

Omar doesn't criticize his father and says Osama bin Laden is just trying to defend the Islamic world.

"My father thinks he will be good for defending the Arab people and stop anyone from hurting the Arab or Muslim people any place in the world," he said, noting that the West didn't have a problem with his father when he was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Sort of true. Some people did have a problem with him, but not enough of them. So why did the West start to "have a problem" with his father? Omar seems a bit mystified. Perhaps these people can answer to him:

No, on second thought, I guess they can't.

Omar is convinced a truce between the West and al-Qaida is possible.

"My father is asking for a truce but I don't think there is any government (that) respects him. At the same time they do not respect him, why everywhere in the world, they want to fight him? There is a contradiction," he said.

There is a contradiction here indeed. But it's not the one he seems to see.