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A mass murderer becomes a TikTok hero

The glorification of Osama bin Laden reveals the failure of both parents and schools

A collection of newspapers shows headlines reporting the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on May 3, 2011. Associated Press/Photo by Musadeq Sadeq

A mass murderer becomes a TikTok hero
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For more than 22 years, the majority in the West has rightly considered radical Islamist Osama bin Laden to be an evil terrorist who financed extremist Muslim jihadists and orchestrated the devastating attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001.

However, in a confused world largely driven by social media clicks and “influencers,” CNN reports that some young Americans are now sympathetic to the infamous chief of modern terrorism. They are glorifying him as a hero and claiming his actions were justifiable. Many TikTok users with large followings have been encouraging their followers to reevaluate Bin Laden’s image and actions. In particular, these young and immature keyboard zealots have naively claimed that Bin Laden was seeking to “resist” the evil of American support for Israel.

How did this saga begin?

Some TikTok users came across Bin Laden’s infamous “Letter to America”—an open letter that he reportedly issued one year after he orchestrated the murderous 9/11 attacks. In this letter, Bin Laden tried to justify killing Americans and declared his Islamic reasons for attacking the United States and its allies, precisely because of their support of the Jews. He also criticized the United States for rejecting the Islamic Sharia in its governing system.

The letter went viral when TikTok users shared it and encouraged large numbers of followers to read it. Many TikTok users declared they had made a discovery into the supposed reason behind the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict. Simplistically, they concluded that America and Israel are the oppressors while the Palestinians are innocent victims. Since Bin Laden’s letter was written in Arabic, all accessed the translated English version found at The Guardian, but when hundreds of thousands of TikTok users began to glorify Bin Laden and refer to the translated letter, The Guardian removed the letter from its website without explanation. This generated even more curiosity among TikTok users, who located the letter and reposted parts of it in videos. TikTok then removed the videos promoting the letter as they violate its rules against “supporting any form of terrorism.”

This entire episode is a tragic development with many dimensions—none of them good. Two observations are worth noting.

First, it is evident that uncontrolled social media consumption by young Americans leads to grotesquely misguided ideas and creates propagandists and sympathizers for terrorists. We saw this recently with Hamas sympathizers and now with fanciful dreamers glorifying Bin Laden. This development clearly highlights a lamentable failure of parenting. Many American parents seem to have fallen under cultural pressures, and abandoned their basic responsibilities to raise their children properly and with respect and dignity. Young Americans are now learning from their keyboard peers and from evil ideologues.

Parents gave away their sacred duty to teach their children to discern right from wrong.

Parents gave away their sacred duty to teach their children to discern right from wrong and basic lessons of history, in this case the unmatched role the United States has played in world affairs and the unique good America accomplished in many ways. When American children don’t learn at home how evil Bin Laden was, we end up with a TikTok drive to glorify a terrorist as a victim. Bad ideas can only grow in soils of ignorance. If parents don’t teach their children how to love and cherish their country, we end up with ignorant keyboard influencers who destroy lives.

Second, it is also abundantly clear that our education system is cursed with twisted ideologies, including Critical Theory and postcolonial theory. In the former, the world is simplistically seen through the lens of oppressor-oppressed, and Bin Laden is not identified as the oppressor here. In the latter, the Western nations are portrayed as merely the bad colonizers who have done no good whatsoever in the world. Here, too, Bin Laden’s image is not a terrorizer of innocent people, but a “resister” of bad Westerners.

Since these sick ideologies are openly taught in our schools, they give way to other poisonous ideologies like Islamism, especially as our educational system shields Islam against any critical evaluation by labeling any reasonable and rigorous assessment of it as Islamophobia. In this confused educational system, Bin Laden’s “Letter to America” becomes celebrated, although it is a textbook of harmful claims and radical Islamism. In his vicious anti-Jewish rhetoric, Bin Laden declares, “The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you [America] are the leaders of its criminals.” He threatens, “Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily.”

Let’s be clear. Bin Laden was an evil terrorist and a mass murderer—not a victim. The tragic development of glorifying him on social media must carry a loud warning for every good American. We should diligently fight for our children, by carefully exposing the harms of social media consumption. There is malicious ignorance and fanciful lunacy circulating in our midst. Poisonous ideas must be exposed and defeated. We cannot afford to lose this fight.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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