The Burial of Osama: Obama is Creon, but is there an Antigone?

Before I begin, let me make clear that I have never admired, supported, cared for, sympathized with or liked #OBL and those who pursue a path of violence which no rational person could believe would lead to a positive result.

The true refutation of OBL’s ideology of jihad as an act of violence regardless of its consequences is the revolutions in different Muslim countries. There, people did jihad with a purpose through means which Islam permitted. As Issandr El Amrani pointed out, OBL has been irrelevant for some time in the countries on whose behalf he claimed he was fighting. As Mona Eltahawy wrote in the Guardian:

What had become more mesmerising to young people in the Middle East and North Africa: change via revolutionary fervour that has blown apart stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims, or the hate-filled al-Qaida message that falsely promised change through nihilistic violence?

The vast majority of commentary in the USA on OBL’s assassination has been jubilant. I understand why and I don’t think that Americans are uniquely subject to this character flaw. What concerns me here is the ridiculous, insulting and immoral way the US government has treated the corpse of OBL.

The United States claimed that it buried OBL at sea, according to Islamic tradition, because it could find no country which would accept the corpse.

As @Zeinobia rightly pointed out, the burial at sea may have been compatible with the shariah of Vikings, not Muslims. The Grand Shaikh of al-Azhar in Cairo doesn’t think it met “Islamic requirements.”

But I’m not concerned with that either. My objection to the handling of the corpse is how it represents the usurpation by the United States of the last shred of sovereignty Pakistan might claim and the complete abdication of this sovereignty by the Pakistani government.

Why could not the United States leave the corpse where it fell? If Pakistan decided to feed it to wolves or cremate it or honor it with a state funeral, then that is Pakistan’s business. If the United States needed to confirm the corpse’s identity, couldn’t it have taken samples and then left the corpse behind? Could it not trust the Pakistani government to confirm the identity?

Regarding not being able to find a country which would accept the corpse, since when does the United States ask other countries for permission do to things? Particularly Pakistan, where the United States regularly assassinates people via drone attacks without specific authorization from any Pakistani authority?

Why could not there have been some lab aboard the ship to conduct whatever experiments and testing US intelligence demanded? Afterwards, the ship could have deposited the corpse in a Karachi dock and let Pakistanis decide what to do.

Or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? What a poor excuse for a government! Bury the corpse along with all the other people you execute for crimes ranging from sorcery to stealing bread to objecting to your ridiculous monarchy and its crimes against humanity.

We, the United States, can have military bases in democracy-movement-repressing Bahrain, but we can’t tell it to accept a corpse?

You may be saying, “This is a lot of verbiage over a corpse which belonged to a person whose actions deprived him of the right to consideration.” Frankly, if the US government said this, I would not object. My problem is the hypocrisy of saying that it respects Islamic customs while not respecting Pakistani Muslims to handle the corpse appropriately.

I wish somebody would compose an Antigone for this story. Creon punished Antigone for burying her dead brother Polyneices, who died in a rebellion against Creon. Obama is Creon, but Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia aren’t courageous enough to be Antigone.

Update: Michael Moore’s tweets hit part of what I’m talking about:

I’m not opposed 2 dumping him in the sea, I agree no monument 4 a mass murderer, I just don’t need the added BS of “according 2 Mulism law.”

Yes, and to repeat, whenever I’ve gone 2 the funeral of a Muslim friend in Detroit, we all hop in a chopper & drop the body in Lake Erie.

Update #2: Unrelated, but fascinating: What happens when you’re buried at sea?

Update #3: Svend White wrote Osama bin Laden’s messy (and debatable) demise and we exchanged comments.

Update #4: Why won’t the U.S. government publicize the names of the Muslims who provide it religious consultation on Islam? Maybe we could learn a lot from them.

Compilation of @Whitehouse Statements on #Burial of #OBL #UBL

These are excerpts from whitehouse.gov transcripts of press briefings dealing with the killing and burial of Osama bin Laden.

May 2, 2011, 12:24 AM EDT White House Press Briefing

And what is the U.S. going to do with bin Laden’s body?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.  This is something that we take very seriously.  And so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.

May 2, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT White House Press Briefing

Q    John, can you tell us about the burial at sea?  Where did it happen?  When did it happen?

      MR. BRENNAN:  The disposal of — the burial of bin Laden’s remains was done in strict conformance with Islamist precepts and practices.  It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements.  We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strict conformance.

      So it was taken care of in the appropriate way.  I’m not going to go into details about sort of the where, but that burial has taken place.  It took place earlier today our time.

      Q    And why?

      Q    When was that decision made?

      MR. BRENNAN:  I’m sorry?

      Q    When was that decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?

      Q    Can you explain why —

      MR. CARNEY:  One at a time.

      Q    Was it thought through years ago?  Was this part of the plan all along?

      MR. BRENNAN:  The COAs — the course of action and the subsequent decisions that would have to be made have been developed over the course of the last several months.  Senior officials, and there was a working group that was working this on a regular basis, if not a daily basis, over the last several weeks, looking at every decision and based on what type of scenario would unfold, what actions and decisions would be made. It was looked at from the standpoint of if we captured him, what will we do with him?  Where would he go?  If he was killed, what will we do with him, and where would he go?  And it was determined that it was in the best interests of all involved that this burial take place, again, according to Islamic requirements, at sea.

      Q    Why at sea?

      Q    Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?

      MR. BRENNAN:  It was determined that that — there is the requirement in Islamic law that an individual be buried within 24 hours.  Went inside of Pakistan, carried out the operation, he was killed, he was removed from Pakistan.  There were certain steps that had to be taken because of the nature of the operation, and we wanted to make sure we were able to do that in the time period allotted for it.  Going to another country, making those arrangements, requirements, would have exceeded that time period, in our view.  And so, therefore, we thought that the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.

      Q    John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?

      MR. BRENNAN:  We consulted the appropriate specialists and experts, and there was unanimity that this would be the best way to handle that.

     Q    There are reports that he was wrapped in a weighted white sheet.  How secure is that?  Are you confident the body is not going to —

      MR. BRENNAN:  Burials at sea take place on a regular basis. The U.S. military has the ability to ensure that that burial is done in a manner that is, again, consistent with Islamic law, as well as consistent with what the requirements are for a burial at sea.  And so that burial was done appropriately.

     Q    Is there a visual recording of this burial?

      MR. CARNEY:  We’ve got to get other people a chance here.  Mara.

      Q    Just a quick question about the burial and then something else.  Was there an imam there?  Was there a religious —

      MR. BRENNAN:  It was done appropriately with the appropriate people there.

      Q    There’s been some reporting that the burial — that the U.S. offered the body to the Saudis for a burial, but they declined.  Is that true?

      MR. BRENNAN:  We, after we had confidence that it was bin Laden and that he was dead, we took the steps that we had agreed to in the interagency that were necessary to ensure that that burial entity was the most appropriate thing to do.  And so we touched base with the right people.  I’m not going to go into any details about who we might have consulted with in the aftermath of his death and before his burial.

May 3, 2011, 2:45 PM EDT Press Briefing

Aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the burial of bin Laden was done in conformance with Islamic precepts and practices.  The deceased’s body was washed and then placed in a white sheet.  The body was placed in a weighted bag; a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker.  After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, and the deceased body eased into the sea.