In Plato’s Cave

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The above image is taken from the second of the five videos released to showcase Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad by the US Department of Defense after the 2 May, 2011 operation of US Navy Seals that was to kill or capture him. It was told that the footage was found among the treasure trove of data collected from his compound. This is a remarkable image. The body, which is supposed to be terrorism personified (let’s call it terrorism-body, for more than being of a terrorist, it represents much that is terrorism and the War on Terror), is hidden from view by a blanket wrapped over it and a winter skull cap on the head. Its rear side view doesn’t reveal much; only a side glimpse of a face with a beard and a hand on remote control being its revelatory organs. For all that is hidden, this is its only manifestation: a terrorist Muslim’s body that has its hand on the trigger.

The concealment of the terrorism-body, however, is not without narrative. On the contrary, it is all narrative ― a narrative played on the television and in front of it, without a break. It is this TV that as a matter of fact makes the body visible by showing its attributes. It is of the same man holding the remote in his hand (the TV screen in this picture maybe blank, but in the complete footage, Osama was watching something about himself through US media ― as they told us, he was fond of watching himself). TV’s role here is kind of a mirror to the terrorism-body. The arrangement of things are like in Plato’s cave. But, the body and its mirror are surrounded in an alien place, which exudes an atmosphere like that of an ordinary TV and electric goods workshop in Pakistan. The place is nothing like a terrorist’s den. We were prone to seeing gun-wielding Osama in mountains and caves surrounded by armed men, and so, we are now told, was Osama. In a small monitor in front of him, he was seeing himself exactly in such surroundings. Add to that the US congress in session, President Obama in one clip, and then bin Laden’s image pasted on a twin tower story in an Arabic TV channel ― every box of the Osama terror narrative ticked. Between the terrorism-body and its tele-narrative is the room that looks alien, an out place not belonging to the terrorism-body, and in that respect, its non-place. While the phenomenon of terrorism is being played out at a non-place (not the place of its actual happening); its narrative doesn’t belong to it either. It is from afar and beyond. Precisely for this reason, it works as a narrative multiplier.


Seymour Hersh’s story is the latest in the multiplicity of the terrorism narratives. No, I am not about to refute or approve it here. In fact, all these stories are beyond refutation or approval. In the instance of Osama bin Laden’s capture by the US Navy Seals team, we already have two predominant narrative arcs; one official and the other non-official, to which Seymour Hersh has added his own.

In official US narratives, the operation was entirely self-reliant from beginning to the end. The lead to Osama was an intelligence breakthrough from a courier intercept. Then satellite monitoring and moles on ground further solidified the evidence. Pakistan as an unreliable ally was kept out of loop and on the May 2nd, the night of the operation get Osama, the country was caught unawares. It was left to speculation whether they harbored him or not ― although; the White House gave Pakistanis a clean chit. US Navy Seals team emerged heroic following their successful stealth mission that ended up killing Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was portrayed as resisting till the end, firing back upon the Seals, but as a coward hiding behind his wife. He was still a man on mission, as a treasure trove of material found five days later in his compound suggested. His burial at sea with proper ritual, as claimed by the US, was a closure of sorts to the wound 9/11 struck at their heart; restoring dignity to pride.

Seymour Hersh’s is an opposite of the official narrative. The most shocking claim of his story is that Osama was being held as captive by the ISI since 2006, when they lured him into that compound custom built for that purpose. The lead to him was not through a courier intercept but a direct walk-in into the US Embassy by a disgruntled ISI officer, who spilled the beans for the reward on offer. In the subsequent operation, Pakistan was on board and cooperated fully. It offered assistance on ground to make the operation a success. It was all meticulously planned and coordinated;  not exclusively of the US doing. There was no treasure trove to be found and Osama’s corpse was torn apart and thrown mid-air on way to Jalalabad rather than given a sea burial. What the US administration told its people and the world was all deception and lie. Hersh’s narrative while not denying the closure to Osama saga doesn’t offer it in a way the US administration wanted it conveyed. It asks questions of it that may have the potential to open another wound. It is not surprising then that the Pentagon press corps is in unison in decrying Hersh.

While saving Pakistan of one embarrassment, in the veneer of ignorance and incompetence, in failing to protect its borders, this tale plunges it into another embarrassment, that of willfully safeguarding world’s most wanted terrorist for a good bargain later. Pakistan is least bothered.


Late Syed Abbas Athar ― an Urdu newspaper editor famous for his headlines that included idhar hum, udhar tum (we here, you there)– a phrase wrongly attributed to Bhutto amidst the 1970 election deadlock that resulted from West Pakistan’s refusal to accept East Pakistani (now Bangladesh) majority’s right to form government at the centre ― wrote four columns for daily Express (Urdu daily) on Osama bin Laden’s capture within few days after the May 2 operation, before cancer treatment took the better of him. Not much discussed or quoted elsewhere, these articles ― first , second , third , and fourth ― appear to be unremarkable expressing bewilderment, and in a denial mode. But, they were ingenuous for an outside observer, who didn’t have any inside story to offer. Thinking out loud for adequate linguistic expressions to describe as he saw the events, he too offered a narrative, more significantly, a narrative with closure. But, the closure that his narrative arc offers is an ending in unreality of what was unreal from the very beginning. The two realities, for him, didn’t match: the grandeur of 9/11 operation, with all the technological sophistication at bin Laden’s disposal; of which it was said that his was the most advanced network spread over 42 countries, whose threat ranged the entire world; and the miserable condition of this hemmed in compound where he was captured. He didn’t look like the man possessing of such power to strike at the twin towers. One reality negates the other as unreal. Abbas Athar wrote in the first column, before drawing attention to evidence from the conspiracy theories floating in the US about 9/11, “I have written before many a times, and I still believe it firmly, that Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda like organization let alone any other country of the world (unless it is not US itself) can carry out 9/11 like operation. 9/11 is that puzzle which only America can solve.” The Osama connection, they couldn’t establish and what was presented before the world was just “bullshit” ― Abbas using vocabulary from the US lingo; and 5/2 bullshit occurred in the same manner that was the 9/11 bullshit imposed upon the world by the US. The condition in which Osama was found, “this could have been done by 10-12 Punjab policemen, experts in fake encounters.” Abbas, an old leftist of the PPP leanings, was surprised that no columnist had the temerity to call Osama a martyr, except Abdul Qadir Hassan. Abbas himself called him a martyr, for he was defenseless in front of his wife and children when killed.

As a headline craftsman, Abbas Athar was at his best in giving names to the operation and plethora of stories coming out of it. From terrorism-body under wraps to the grist mills of narrative, the enormity of distance made it possible for all sorts of narratives to emerge and lay claims on truth. This exercise, Abbas named after Punjabi proverb, jhotto jhot chutali (you can make forty four out of one by adding one falsehood after another). A book can be written out of it, titled: jhotto jhot chutali, he mused. More remarkable was his name given to 2nd May operation: Operation 9/2/11. Only an Urdu/Punjabiyite can understand the true gist of this naming. 9/11 stays a constant in it and ‘2’ is added from 2nd May, where ‘5’ of the month is discarded. ‘2’ from 2nd May was enough to render unreality of 9/11 all the more glaring, by conjoining its own unreality to it. It completes the farce; fraudulent from inception to end. They came there and ran away with it as the meaning of 9/2/11 suggest. 9+2=11 is a quick math and perfect math, except 9 only splits 2 into half to make 1 and 1, 11. Nau dou giyara hona (9/2/11) is an Urdu/Punjabi proverb, which means: someone came, made his fraud or theft and ran away in an instant. As Abbas wrote: “this is the title in which from the mysterious drama staged on 9/11 in America to innumerable falsehoods, culminating at Abbottabad, being played on the world theatre, can be buried folded or allegedly killed to be disposed off into the sea.” This is how the unreality of 9/11 met its closure. It is unreal, not that it didn’t happen, but in the unfolding narrative, truth is being denied to it. As real gimmick (gimmick made out of reality), its truth will remain secret and not to be told to the world.

“Operation 9/2/11 is reality or fiction, whatever it is, will not be understood by anybody except the sea in which a mammoth ruse, ‘truth like falsehood, and a falsehood like truth’ of present history has been drowned.” Thus concludes Abbas Athar. Now we know from Seymour Hersh, it is not even in the sea.


Francois Laruelle’s sixth theorem on “the Secret and Communication” states:

The secret is truth when it no longer needs to go out of itself and be for itself, when it is itself by staying in itself. It is inalienable within a presence or a transcendence, within an alterity or a nothingness. The secret is index sui prior to any indication, it has never emerged into the light of a logos…. The secret is non-positional (of) itself, unreflected upon; it never reaches a consciousness, or vanishes when it does.1

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  1. Francois Laruelle, “The Truth According to Hermes: Theorems on the Secret and Communication” in Parrhesia 9 (2010), p. 20. Originally published as François Laruelle, “La verité selon Hermès: Théorèmes sur le secret et la communication,” Analecta Husserliana 22 (1987), pp. 397-401. []

One Reply to “In Plato’s Cave”

  1. The banality of evil, was that Hannah Arendt ? The seeming impotence of Osama, an elderly possibly under house arrest Osama is no more incongruous an image with the power he earlier wielded than that of Gaddafi, Libya’s joy, hiding in a road culvert.
    Abbas Athar was a clever and witty gentleman, and also a very silly one. 9/11 is an open book now; all is known; it was indeed organised and financed by Osama.
    That there will always be those who choose to believe in a different reality is unsurprising; a similar phenomenology is evidenced by those who were sure that Hitler was alive and living in Argentina, or wherever, that Elvis was alive, that the U.S.A. lined up its warships in Pearl Harbour so the Japanese could do a good job of sinking them, and, of course, that the Holocaust, the European one that murdered Jews not all the later ‘me too’s’, was a fraud, or, another version, that its effect was vastly exaggerated. A person can and must chose what to understand as their reality, to the extent their ‘understanding’ fails to reflect what indeed takes place, reality, it misguides, a person misapprehends what is taking place in front of his/her face.
    The hard thing is that we all misapprehend some part of reality, from the personal and intimate around us through our more casual contacts to the far removed that we read about or see on TV.
    That, of course, requires we have the humbleness to accept the possiblity that our understanding of reality may indeed be incongruent with the truth.

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