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Lest we forget monstrosity that introduced Osama to the world 20 years ago

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On the eve of the General Election, August 7, 2017, most of us were down with election-fever that perhaps few, very few of us recalled that on this day 19 years ago, between 10:30 a.m. and 10:40 am suicide bombers in trucks laden with explosives parked outside the embassies of the United States in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were almost simultaneously detonated where hundreds were killed and thousands wounded.

The memories and scars of that monstrous visitation have refused to go away and will remain etched in our collective soul as a nation for many years to come.

To most of us, what comes to mind when we read or hear the word terrorist is a dangerous thug, usually of below average intelligence, not well schooled and often a product of ill breeding. This naïve narrative evaporates completely when your spotlight is trained on Osama bin Laden.

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born on March 10, 1957 in a wealthy family of Mohammed bin Laden, by Laden senior’s 10th wife of Syrian extract, Hammida Attas. He was brought up in aristocracy in the family residences in Medina and Jidda.

He was said to be mild mannered in demeanor and soft spoken as a student at King Abdul-Aziz University. Khaled Batarfi, a soccer playing buddy of bin Laden on the streets of Jidda where they both grew up remembers his solemn friend praying seven times a day (TWO more than the mandated by Islamic convention) and fasting twice in imitation of Prophet Mohammed.

His idea of entertainment would be assembling a group of friends at his house to chant songs about the liberation of Palestine.

One cannot begin to contemplate how a crusader for a higher justice can keep the cause he acts for unbesmirched by the stigma of the innocent blood he so willingly sheds. To Osama and his ilk, the solution to this quandary would be unflinchingly simple; he would sacrifice his own life along with that of his victim on the altar of his implacable credo. The irony here being that this self immolation would absolve his deed from the odium of brutality.

Blood-stained history clearly shows the murderous fallacy of such deadly narcissism. There is no scruple amongst the perpetrators of the un-heroic or the ignoble savagery in the outrages of terrorism as we experienced on August 7, 1998 here in Nairobi or the September 11 attacks in America only three years later. No transcendent utopia can in the least iota condone or mitigate an act of pre-meditated, sustained savagery against defenseless fellow humans.


Osama’s charge was no revolutionary fight for freedom as his Palestinian question or the jingoistic Persian purity was designed to make us believe. His was a case of unregenerate barbarism that must redefine our understanding of man’s capacity for evil in the 21st Century.

Al- Qaeda is as idea, an ideology personified by bin Laden. One can only hope that after his lifeless body sank beneath the waves nineteen years ago, bin ladenism and the recipe from which it is baked, may as well sink beyond our collective consciousness as humanity so that we never again suffer the horror of his evil enterprise.

As we remember our brothers and sisters who lost their lives and others who were maimed for life, may we bear in mind that terrorism remains a clear and present danger morphing into new forms every waking day. The subversive allure of Osama and others of his creed casts a long shadow; from Milton’s Lucifer to Melville’s Ahab; ‘ready to strike the sun in the face should it insult me’.

Our proud and angry selves have found in a rage of angels an apt metaphor for this unique enigma: That born to be free, in the name of liberation, we shackle ourselves to that which must deprive us of what was already inescapably ours, had we been courageous enough to see it.

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Dr Kabare Karanja is Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Management Science at JKUAT
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