As Osama Bin Laden shuffles off this mortal coil to make his appointment with his designated 72 maidens, a curious phenomenon is taking place. In retrospect, I should have seen this coming.
My curiosity was initially set off a tweet by an American academic (who runs the Texas in Africa blog) who noted that the majority of her students believed Osama was still alive and well.
She started receiving feedback from her followers backing her up- one Kenyan tweeter said she barely knew anyone who believed he was genuinely dead.
The more I read about the story, the more I realised how widespread the theory is. From Saudi Arabia to South Africa, the doubters are out in force.
Paradoxically, this disbelief is rooted in something we need a lot more of in the world: skepticism. From the dawn of time, human beings have proved themselves to be comically gullible about everything under the sun.
We believe things too readily, irrespective of how ridiculous they sound. As such, I like to see expressions of skepticism. In principle, it is a force for good and lord knows we would be better off if it was a more permanent feature of our discourse.
But this is a clear example of malfunctioning skepticism. Proper skepticism would entail weighing the evidence and then coming to a conclusion based on how likely/reasonable the explanation being provided is.
Yet what we are seeing here are people doubting out of reflex for a variety of stupid reasons. The amount of twisted conspiracy theories I’ve seen about this are amusing, if only for the sheer absurdity of most of those stories.
And yet the true story is relatively straightforward: a wanted fugitive was tracked to a country most people believed he was hiding in from the beginning. A group of heavily armed men were sent to kill him on the orders of their commander in chief and duly did so.
What is so unlikely about that story? To the best of my knowledge, Osama Bin Laden’s body is as allergic to bullets as the rest of us. And let’s face it- the odds were against him from the beginning. What is surprising is not that he ended up having an uncomfortable encounter with hot lead- what is truly surprising is that he lasted so long.
Of course people tend to be suspicious of their governments, and there is always the feeling that they are hiding something. However, it seems to me that is only part of the problem. Perhaps another aspect of it is that people don’t want him to be dead because it ends what was an entertaining story in the first place.
After years of eluding capture and endless stories about his whereabouts, the abrupt end was almost anticlimactic for those who like their global politics to bear a strong resemblance to dodgy Latin American soap operas.
But assuming there is a cover-up raises even more questions: What is the point of pretending to kill Osama Bin Laden if he is still out there? How would the government manage to have a successful cover-up of such an event considering how many people it would involve to pull it off?
But ultimately, this disbelief is misguided because it is immune to reason. No amount of evidence would convince the conspiracy-mongers, and- as with Princess Diana, Tupac, Elvis and countless others- they endeavour to keep alive those who are certainly dead. Here in the real world, the truth is sometimes brutally simple and straightforward.
As someone once said, “Reality is the thing that never goes away even if you stop believing in it.”