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The story behind Osama bin Laden’s watery grave

US forces “eased” bin Laden’s body into the Arabian Sea. AAP

Osama bin Laden has long been a focus for conspiracy theorists with many claiming that he did not in fact play a role in the 9/11 attacks on the United States. That catastrophe was, so the theory goes, the US Government attacking itself as a pretext to launch wars of conquest in the Middle East.

Such theories are of course bunk. But the US Government appears to have given the conspiracy theorists grist for their paranoid mill by deciding to dispose of Osama bin Laden’s body at sea.

Does the burial of Osama bin Laden at sea comply with Islamic custom and the sharia as he would have interpreted it?

I don’t think his burial in the sea had anything to do with Islamic custom. In Islam the body of the deceased needs to be buried in the ground a maximum of 24 hours after death.

There is no provision for burial at sea. It seems to me that it was a US attempt to perhaps avoid making his burial place a shrine for Muslims, pilgrims and terrorists. It has nothing to do with Muslim tradition and everything to do with practicality.

Would have there been a shrine to Bin Laden if he were buried on land? Isn’t that against Sunni custom?

In the strict understanding of Islam in the jihadi tradition to which bin Laden belonged there is no veneration of the dead and no shrines and this was actually seen as distracting from worshipping God.

But in reality it would have been a place of pilgrimage for devotees of bin Laden, that’s just a practicality of life.

Is it true no country would take the body?

I don’t know where the body is at the moment. I would not be surprised that Middle Eastern countries would not be very keen to accept his body because obviously that in itself would create a security risk for the country because of the very fact that wherever he is buried that location is going to become a magnet for his followers.

Won’t the burial at sea fuel conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories have a long tradition in the Middle East. That comes with the territory, that comes with the history of having been colonised and then being at the receiving end of American foreign policy and the creation of Israel and various defeats that Arabs have suffered at the hands of Israel and others in conflicts.

Conspiracy theories are rife in the Middle East and Arab world. But in relation to bin Laden’s body, there will be some conspiracy theories but for the most part, bin Laden was yesterday’s news in the Arab world.

Arabs don’t care about bin Laden, Arabs are more concerned with questions of human dignity and political representation and that is now being played out in Arab streets. Bin Laden is not a hero there. I don’t think we need to worry too much about conspiracy theories that might make the rounds of the Arab world.

Did the US learn from the shambles that was Saddam Hussein’s trial and decide it couldn’t take the same risk with bin Laden?

I have no inside knowledge on how the attack went down. But I can imagine that arresting bin Laden alive would have added quite a few layers of complication to how it would be handled afterwards.

To begin with, who is going to put bin Laden on trial? Would it be in a US jurisdiction? Would it be an international court? Where would it be held? Guantanamo Bay or not? Would he have access to legal advice and protection?

All these issues, all these complications would have come up if he was arrested alive. Having him dead relieves everyone of all the complexities.

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