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The New York Times Obit For Osama Bin Laden

May 2, 2011

On days like this we turn to the newspapers for obituaries that are written of the ones who have shaped the world for good or evil.  This is a day for newspapers akin to the times when the death of Stalin or Hitler were announced.  There is no where else that so many words of this nature can be shared than within the pages of a newspaper.  Radio and television can talk endlessly about the death of Osama bin Laden, but it is only the long-form spaces of the printed page where an obit of the type The New York Times penned can be printed.

On days like this we understand better why newspapers still matter in our world.

 I do not have a word count on this obit, but word counts of New York Times obits amuse me.

From the lengthy obit of Osama bin Laden I ripped a few paragraphs.

Long before, he had become a hero in much of the Islamic world, as much a myth as a man — what a longtime C.I.A. officer called “the North Star” of global terrorism. He had united disparate militant groups, from Egypt to Chechnya, from Yemen to the Philippines, under the banner of Al Qaeda and his ideal of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.

Terrorism before Bin Laden was often state-sponsored, but he was a terrorist who had sponsored a state. For five years, 1996 to 2001, he paid for the protection of the Taliban, then the rulers of Afghanistan. He bought the time and the freedom to make Al Qaeda — which means “the base” — a multinational enterprise to export terror around the globe.

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Bin Laden began traveling beyond the border into Afghanistan in 1982, bringing with him construction machinery and recruits. In 1984, he and Mr. Azzam began setting up guesthouses in Peshawar, which served as the first stop for holy warriors on their way to Afghanistan. With the money they had raised in Saudi Arabia, they established the Office of Services, which branched out across the world to recruit young jihadists.

The men came to be known as the Afghan Arabs, though they came from all over the world, and their numbers were estimated as high as 20,000. By 1986, Bin Laden had begun setting up training camps for them as well, and he was paying roughly $25,000 a month to subsidize them.

To young would-be recruits across the Arab world, Bin Laden’s was an attractive story: the rich young man who had become a warrior. His own descriptions of the battles he had seen, how he lost the fear of death and slept in the face of artillery fire, were brushstrokes of an almost divine figure.

But intelligence sources insist that Bin Laden actually saw combat only once, in a weeklong barrage by the Soviets at Jaji, where the Arab Afghans had dug themselves into caves using Bin Laden’s construction equipment.

“Afghanistan, the jihad, was one terrific photo op for a lot of people,” Milton Bearden, the C.I.A. officer who described Bin Laden as “the North Star,” said in an interview on “Frontline,” adding, “There’s a lot of fiction in there.”

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