Big Up from Aribinda

Friday, December 19, 2008

So, What Do the People Here Think about Osama bin Laden?

This blog was written 19 December

Isn’t that what it boils down to? If you do not conform to a confused, extreme set of conditions based on a heavily nuanced dogma, Osama says your life is forfeit.

One day, lying on my cot under my hangar, I remembered I needed to speak to Saga (don’t know if I am spelling his name correctly!) about my panier order. Panier is French for basket and it is what many people here, including yours truly, use to protect young trees from all the animals. His sons had also recently told me they didn’t know what Barack Obama looked like, so I wanted to give them a Time magazine in which Barack was featured.

I went down and showed his son Idrissa the magazine. It soon drew a crowd of people eagerly wanting to see what Barack Obama looks like. We discussed his victory some more, how long he will be president, etc. Then I told Idrissa I would like to see his father and he led me into the courtyard. There, in the shade of a small dwelling on 3 plastic mats, sat 5 Muslim brothers talking. I went and shook all their hands, bits of greetings in 3 or 4 languages. They welcomed me warmly and I was made to sit on the mat close to Saga and another of his companions.

It was a pleasant day and the gentlemen were exceedingly friendly. Not a one besides Saga spoke any French, so he interpreted by speaking Mooré. He introduced one gentleman as a Peul, another as a Mossi, and of course he is Fulse. He was just celebrating the fact that all the ethnicities, for the most part, get along very well in Burkina Faso. I started by discussing tree protection when Idrissa came back with the Time magazine. Very quickly the conversation turned to Barack Obama and joy consumed the men as they viewed pictures of the newcomer president.

Saga became enthralled with the magazine and all the other men were very interested as well. They carried along in rapidly paced Mooré, a language that I cannot follow. We discussed Barack some more, myself detailing his ascension, when he actually takes office, how long he will be POTUS, etc. The men were excitedly discussing this as Saga continued to flip through the magazine, examining the strange ads, admiring the bizarre English text. He finally arrived at an article that dealt with the brain and what makes us good… or bad. One flip of a page and the bottom margin was lined with people, on the left the Good (Gandhi, Mother Theresa, MLK, Jr., and my man, the Dalai Lama), and on the right the Bad (Augusto Pinochet, Stalin, Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Pol Pot). The only face they recognized was Osama bin Laden. Saga instantly brought Osama up with the others and they started a quick discussion. Saga asked me whom the others were and I tried to detail for him a little of each of these remarkable people.

At this point, two other brothers joined the fray. One reclined on the mat, a lighter-skinned fellow, probably Peul. The other may have been Peul as well. He sat in a chair and leaned his head back facing us. A red and white checkered cloth, resembling the design, I believe, of some kafiyehs, loosely adorned his head. They had the air of being devout. I had seen the lighter-skinned gentleman, a very nice fellow, praying many times before and whenever he would greet me it was only in Arabic. Saga and the others continued to argue/discuss Osama bin Laden. Then he asked me what I didn’t like about Osama. I told him he ruthlessly kills babies, women and children, among many others for no good reason whatsoever. I tried to explain to them he was partial to Wahhabism, a skewed form of the original interpretation of Muslim texts. However, Osama also probably likes to infuse Wahhabi and Qutbi fundamentals, creating one heavily nuanced and Draconian Islam to fit his world view. I told them, based on his criteria of Islam, he would probably want to kill you gentlemen, and he would not believe your devoutness.

Let me explain here I am no expert. But I have read extensively about Osama bin Laden. The latecomers to the powwow, still in their same positions, seemed to be arguing for Osama bin Laden. The others didn’t seem convinced, almost thinking Osama is not a good person. Saga said he agreed with me, said he was not with Osama. I was thankful, of course. The discussion then drew to a close as the other brothers were left to think about the exchange. I talked tree protection issues with Idrissa and Saga for about 10 minutes. Then, I got up off the mat, shook everyone’s hand (they were all very friendly, even the two who seemed to extol bin Laden), and walked the short walk back to my house.

Of course, for some people here, who don’t have jack, and I mean nothing, religion is what they turn to. That’s what happens in a lot of cases for poor, destitute souls, the world around. I have seen quite a few T-shirts in Burkina Faso, particularly in my area (a heavily Muslim area), that lionize bin Laden. One screen print depicts Osama on horseback, clutching a 2 foot scimitar in his right hand, appearing as ever the warrior. I have seen others, ones which I care not to describe. I still remember when I met some Japanese volunteers. Their first words were al-Qaeda when I told them where I lived. Oh, là-bas, il y a beaucoup de Muslimas. Then they all looked at each other, shaking their heads, a few saying al-Qaeda. I still think about how those Japanese volunteers just jumped to a fearful conclusion, one seeming so discriminatory and generalizing. Disgusting, and I know that sometimes I do generalize. Generalizations are terrible and
I just hope I never make generalizations that disturbing.

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