Iconic Extrajudicial Execution of Jesus through Osama by US?


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Whither a cyclopean global Pax Americana lacking depth perception?


Extensive media coverage is to be expected following the execution of “Osama bin Laden” — supplemented by socio-political analysis of every kind. As a media phenomenon, the following exploration focuses on the remarkable similarity between depictions of Osama bin Laden and those of the historical Jesus, as displayed in many churches and especially in Christian Sunday school iconography. Why are those depictions so similar to Western eyes?

As widely remarked, in a highly politicized and media-oriented global civilization, there is much focus on the symbolism of the face. For a politician the face is frequently the key to the recognition-factor essential for successful election. The face, and its public exposure, has become an obligatory key to identity for security purposes (Challenges to Facist Identity and Facial Identification, 2009). The worldwide movement to dark glasses as a fashion accessory is now matched by legislative measures to prohibit covering other areas of the face (Burkha as Metaphorical Mirror for Imperious Culture? 2009).

The importance of the face for collective identity was recognized in classical Greece with respect to Helen of Troy — “a face to launch a thousand ships”. That of Osama might be said to have “launched a thousand missiles”. In what sense did his face “work” to elicit that response?

There has been little serious comment on the irony of the similarity between the depictions of Osama and Jesus and what this may imply at the most fundamental levels of the human psyche. The question was only raised on Yahoo Answers following the execution of Osama — evoking a variety of responses (Why does Osama bin Laden resemble Jesus?). The resemblance has been jokingly raised by bloggers (cf Top 10 Similarities Between Osama bin Laden and Jesus).

The concern here is however with the sub-conscious impact of the conflation of these images — especially when one is framed as an appropriate focus for hate and the other as the most appropriate focus for love. Curiously Osama has been the “most wanted” for over a decade, whereas Jesus has long been upheld as the “most wanted” — for those anticipating his (promised) return.

It has been decided that that of Osama, in its disfigured condition following his execution, should not be displayed — for fear it might provide a focus for anti-American sentiment elsewhere. Is the probability rather that this would provoke challenging comparisons amongst American Christians with that of the iconic Jesus — displayed in agony on the cross with a crown of thorns — an image to to which Christians have been exposed since Sunday school? The crucifixion image is perversely echoed by one of a prisoner being tortured in Abu Ghraib — reproduced as a cover-photo of The Economist (8-14 May 2004).

The question is to what highly problematic confusion does this sub-conscious conflation of iconic images and their associations give rise? Is there a sense in which it is “Jesus” who has been executed through “Osama” — and perhaps deliberately sacrificed to enable and ensure a Pax Americana? The question is all the more intriguing in that the much-hailed “clash of civilizations” fails to address the possibility that a complex icon of such profound psycho-spiritual significance may be variously understood — thereby engendering that “clash”.

Is what is deprecated as a “clash” better recognized as a failure to bring contrasting “visions” into some form of stereoscopic focus — using both what is effectively the “Jesus-eye” and the “Osama-eye”? Is the clash a problem of parallax, projection and perception? Does removal of one “eye” then ensure a cyclopean global civilization completely lacking in depth perception? And what of any subconscious effort to remove both?

In a context so dependent on global media, such questions raise the possibility of the need for more powerful stories to integrate elements variously presented as fact and experienced as fiction.

Method of exploration

The theme, if its potential significance is to be clarified, calls for insights from a range of disciplines — as well as from the wise and people of faith. These disciplines might fruitfully include:

  • public relations, in the light of profound insights into the role of image in framing worldviews and eliciting responses
  • news management, especially in the light of its role in relation to propaganda
  • psychoanalysis, in the light of the role of symbols and how they engage the conscious and subconscious
  • politics, in the light of the role of symbols in framing and focusing political agendas
  • religion, in the light of the role of icons in eliciting and sustaining belief
  • aesthetics, in the light of the manner in which depiction can enable identification and elicit sympathy
  • media, in the light of the role played by recognizable imagery in sustaining attention
  • drama, given the role played by images in providing coherence to the story centred on iconic figures, especially with respect to martyrdom
  • mythology, in the light of the profound role played by myth in relation to cultural memory
  • face negotiation theory, with respect to the facialization of identity — a concern readily confused with fascism

In anticipation of more qualified insights into these dimension, the following can only constitute a brief and tentative exploration of possibilities. These must necessarily take the form of questions to elicit further reflection.

A key to fruitful insights is determining the nature of any parallelism in the iconic settings of Osama and of Jesus. It is to be expected that superficially any parallelism would be immediately rejected as repugnant and tasteless, even blasphemous. The question is whether there is a more fundamental framework in which such parallelism has fruitful meaning of relevance to the future through the “depth perception” enabled by the contrasting visions.

The question might be considered as having been raised through the highly controversial picture Bearded Orientals, Making the Empire Cross by the Australian artist Priscilla Joyce Bracks — widely critiqued and held to be gratuitously offensive by the highest authorities in her land. It depicts Osama morphing into Jesus (Elizabeth Fortescue, Artist defends Osama-as-Jesus, The Advertiser, 29 August 2007; Is Osama bin Christ art or is it sacrilege? news.com.au, 30 August, 2007; Brendan Trembath, Jesus-Osama piece not meant to offend: artist, ABC News, 30 August 2007). As a lenticular image, the viewer can flip back and forth between portraits of Jesus and Osama by shifting slightly “from side to side”. The socio-political metaphor is clear.

Especially relevant to any viable method is its dissociation from knee-jerk responses cultivated in various media. These might be caricatured as: Osama bad, Obama good — if you don’t agree, you must be a terrorist sympathizer. Such a framing follows from the binary logic promoted as a central feature of US foreign policy: “you’re either with us, or against us” — perhaps more appropriately written as “you’re either with US, or against US“. Such logic would be inapproriate to due process in any court of law.

Media attention is currently focused on Ground Zero commemoration ceremonies following the acclaimed death of “Osama” and the death of 2752 people on 9/11 — for which he is responsibility. It is however appropriate to recall the virtual absence of media or public attention to the deaths of some 5,000,000 people since that time, and immediately prior to it (Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: the collapse of the Congo and the Great War in Africa, 2011). This account was reviewed by The Economist under the title Chronicle of Death Ignored: five million people have died in Congo in a war that no one really understands, 28 April 2011). The question is who claims to represent the neglected dead and dying as Osama claims to have done to some degree — however his methods may be deplored?



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 May 2011.

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