By Behrouz Saba—New America Media
As a boy, when I was growing up in Tehran in the early 1960s, I was proud to watch each American TV series twice a week, once in English on the American Armed Forces Television, and then again, dubbed into Farsi on the Iranian station. Among my favorites were Combat!, The Fugitive, and Bonanza, but my absolute favorite was The Untouchables.
The American gangster series, in gorgeous black-and-white, was based upon putatively real events of the Prohibition era and the exploits of Elliot Ness as a gangbuster. Yet Ness, played by Robert Stack, was of little interest to me. I was fascinated by the bootleggers, whose aging bosses exited black shiny cars like heads of states and issued to their young lieutenants orders to kill.
On Saturday, the killing of Muammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and his grandchildren reminded me of those films and how the world has come to resemble the Roaring Twenties—minus the prosperity—with oil instead of liquor as the desired liquid. Sunday night, before going to bed, came the news of the hit on Osama Bin Laden.
Even as I write this piece a few minutes after the announcement, the neocon reprobate Richard Perle is gloating on the BCC, to be followed by another lackey who speaks with great admiration of “America’s reach.”
The Untouchables’ fight against bootleggers did not stop gangsterism. Quite to the contrary, its self-congratulatory, largely symbolic, and ineffectual efforts have endowed us with a legacy of gangstas who now infest every slum in the world. Indeed, Ness and his boys constituted a gang of their own, just as every police organization justifies its existence in rivalry with criminals.
The gangsters of the 1920s and their minions were not so mournful to celebrate martyrs. Yet the desperate millions who idolized bin Laden as their savior thrive on martyrdom and revenge.
The Bin Laden hit was quintesstial gangsterism, a sleazy offering by the suspect Pakistani intelligence, a lifesaver thrown to President Obama at a low ebb when he is being challenged by the likes of Donald Trump, a source of pride to a financially spent and morally rudderless America.
Osama Bin Laden was wealthy, spoke a remarkably literate Arabic, and was “civilized” by many measures. His vengeful successors are not going to live up to these standards by any means. His second in command, the lunatic Ayman al-Zawahiri, is alive and well. Should he be dispatched in a “surgical operation,” there will be more lunatics to replace him than there are baby gangstas awaiting to join the ranks of the Bloods or the Crips.
This hollow victory will not address the dire straits of millions of Muslims in Southwest Asia and North Africa for whom an American fabricated “Muslim Spring” is a mere palliative instead of a solution. It will not make us any wiser about our public servants, who in fact serve their wealthy masters and consider us as no more than a nuisance. It will not begin to address the problems of a world as it plunges deeper into poverty and chaos, no longer looking to state leadership to save it.
Upon hearing the news of the assassination, crowds gathered outside the White House to wave American flags and to shout “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” Then came voices that spoke of “closure” for the 9/11 families, as if the death of a single misguided soul can make up for the thousands of lives and families shattered.
When I watched American TV in Tehran, I laughed and considered it a great sport, little realizing that in time American influence in Iran would alienate the majority of Iranians, send me into exile, and lead to wars that would engulf the entirety of Southwest Asia.
I am watching American TV still, with President Obama posing as Elliot Ness and an Arab dying in a hail of bullets instead of Irish or Italian bootleggers. This reality TV show, accentuated by a late-night presidential address, only augurs a more contentious world whose fractious and fearful components target each other to the delight of vested business and political interests who thrive on all the blind, masochistic zeal.
Celebrating death, even that of our worst enemies, will not make us any wiser or more secure. This macabre jubilation only moves us away from realizing that the imperial ambitions of our political and corporate leaders have consequences that make each of us a target, while leaving them untouchable.