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Opinion | Keep the Curtain Closed on Bin Laden Death Photos


05 May 2011 04:59Comments


Decision demonstrates cultural respect, political wisdom.

[ opinion ] President Barack Obama is smart not to release photos of the remains of Osama bin Laden. This decision comes amid a great deal of speculation about the photos and a CIA statement saying their release is imminent. But according to a leak posted by CBS News from the president's interview on 60 Minutes, to be aired this weekend, the issue has already been put to rest.

"In an interview with Steve Kroft for this Sunday's 60 Minutes, President Obama says he won't release postmortem images of Osama bin Laden taken to prove his death," the statement said.

Disrespecting the dead, no matter the identity of the deceased, is taboo in Muslim and Arab culture. At best, it comes across as crass and offensive.

Critics of the administration of George W. Bush used to complain that he made no effort in bridging such cultural gaps with the Muslim world. I remember when his administration released gruesome pictures of the remains of Saddam Hussein's sons, who were killed in a U.S. raid in Iraq. Even the staunchest opponents of Saddam, those who cheered on as the United States launched its war, were shocked to see the photos. "What is this? Don't they know about taboos in Islam?" said one Iraqi advocate of the invasion. Some of my American friends who were supporters of Bush expressed similar discomfort. In the words of one, who considered joining the army to demonstrate her approval of the war, "It says we're vulgar."

Besides, what would releasing photos of Bin Laden's remains accomplish? Absolutely nothing. The gruesome images will circulate around the globe, and conspiracy theorists will insist they are fake while supporters of the raid will flinch at the sight of a disfigured corpse. And most people in the Muslim and Arab world will find the photos offensive to their cultural sensibilities, even if they were glad about the demise of the al-Qaeda leader.

The reaction to Bin Laden's death has been split along political lines. Countries like Iran jumped on the opportunity to call for the United States to permanently withdraw from Afghanistan. Pakistan, embarrassed that Bin Laden was caught hiding within its borders, is entertaining conspiracy theories that he was not killed after all. As are many Bin Laden supporters around the world.

Releasing the photos will not change any of that. Not releasing them, however, sends a concise message: This is not about America parading a trophy, or humiliating Muslims. This is about America pursuing justice against its most wanted man.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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