No body. No photograph or DNA evidence – at least, not yet. [Update: The White House now says there was a DNA match between the body and tissue taken from bin Laden's dead sister's brain.] Conspiracy theorists are an ingenious bunch, but at the moment the White House is making this ridiculously easy for them. Gideon Rachman says he gives it 24 hours before conspiracy theories about Osama bin Laden begin circulating, but they are already flowing vigorously. The Taliban says he’s still alive, for example.
The Islamic world is amazingly receptive to what I call “counterknowledge”. Let’s start by reminding ourselves that most people in Muslim countries have their doubts about 9/11, and millions them believe unquestioningly that it was plotted by the CIA. One of the most important features of what sociologists call the cultic milieu is that political and religious extremists happily exchange conspiracy theories, irrespective of their origin. We’ve seen this in the popularity of the far-Right Russian Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Arab world. We’ve also seen young, Left-wing disciples of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore happily draw on 9/11 “truther” theories constructed in the American fascist underground.
Sir Christopher Meyer, our former Ambassador to the Washington, said this in response today’s news: “I can’t conceive the US president would go out to make a statement to the world that Bin Laden is dead without being able to produce evidence that he is dead. I think we will see some evidence – DNA or photographic – to prove there is not still some phantom Osama bin Laden riding the Tora Bora mountains.”
Spot on. It’s inconceivable that America would announce the death of its deadliest enemy without offering evidence that would convince any reasonable person; I’m surprised that it hasn’t been produced already. Moreover, why did it allow bin Laden’s body to be dropped into the sea? Is the US really so sensitive to Islamic burial practices that it is prepared to hand conspiracy theorists such a gift?
The death of bin Laden is something in which President Barack Obama can take pride, and I have no doubt that it will benefit him politically. But the American Right is in a strange mood at the moment, as its obsession with Obama’s birth certificate demonstrated. That particular controversy boiled on for years, thanks to the President’s odd reluctance to publish the relevant documents until last week. He can afford no such delay when it comes to proof of the death of Osama bin Laden.