On the opposite end of the spectrum, the prize for the day’s most stomach-turning obituary goes to Al Jazeera English, which gave its piece the subhead “With his long beard and wistful expression, bin Laden was one of the most instantly recognizable people on earth.” You can’t help but notice that the tone of this piece throughout is disturbingly neutral. For instance, it states that bin Laden was “allegedly” behind the September 11 attacks. Here are the first few lines of the piece:
In his death on May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden kept a promise made in a 2006 audio message.
Alluding to the United States’ hunt for him, the al-Qaeda leader stated his determination to avoid capture: “I swear not to die but a free man.”
His death ends the largest manhunt in history that began a decade ago involving thousands of US troops in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers in the rugged mountains along the border.
Whether reviled as a terrorist and mass murderer or hailed as the champion of oppressed Muslims fighting injustice and humiliation, bin Laden changed the course of history.
As for biographical timelines and other graphics, not many have stood out so far, but it’s only Monday. The Associated Press has put together an interactive timeline of both Osama bin Laden’s life and the information-gathering leading up to Sunday’s raid in Pakistan, but it is slightly confusing to navigate. CNN, though, keeps it simple with a very detailed, text-only timeline of bin Laden’s life and the major world events that shaped his ideology, as well as his connections and relationships to world leaders. Here’s an excerpt:
1994 — The Saudi government officially strips bin Laden of his citizenship, freezing all the remaining assets he has in the country. His family disowns him as well.
That same year, Bin Laden is the target of an assassination attempt. Afterward, he strengthens his personal security detail.
In the following months, officials believe he funds and directs a series of attacks, including a failed attempt to kill Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and a 1995 suicide bombing at the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. Authorities now believe that this marked the early days of a growing alliance between bin Laden and other militant Islamic groups, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and its leader Ayman al- Zawahiri.
Finally, for level of detail and pure skill in storytelling, you can’t get better than the New York Times obituary, posted late Sunday night at a whopping seven (web) pages. Written by Kate Zernike and Michael T. Kaufman—who himself died in January 2010—put together a very comprehensive look at bin Laden’s early life, his changing views, and the magnitude of his impact on world events. Like the Star-Ledger piece, it quotes liberally from interviews with bin Laden himself from the past few decades as he entered America’s consciousness, and it delineates very clearly his shifting allegiances with leaders throughout the Middle East over time. A detailed a piece as it is, it wisely skips over giving an account of the actual events of September 11, focusing instead on what readers might not already know. But it ends on a properly grave note—chilling, even—a sharp contrast from the “USA! USA!”-chanting crowds of Sunday night:
Bin Laden had long eluded the allied forces in pursuit of him, moving, it was said, under cover of night with his wives and children, apparently between mountain caves. Yet he was determined that if he had to die, he, too, would die a martyr’s death.
His greatest hope, he told supporters, was that if he died at the hands of the Americans, the Muslim world would rise up and defeat the nation that had killed him.