Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 19:46 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 19:46 | SYDNEY

Bin Laden hyperbole watch


Sam Roggeveen


4 May 2011 14:58

David Penberthy at The Punch goes waaaaay over the top:

There is probably no other person in history who altered human behaviour and undermined our presumed freedoms and collective quality of life on the same scale as Osama bin Laden.

Because we have to take our shoes off to get through airport security? Anyone with a passing knowledge of 20th century history would have to regard Penberthy's statement as a vast exaggeration. Has he never heard of Hitler and Stalin? Oh, wait:

Bin Laden easily ranks among the greatest evil-doers of the modern era, alongside Hitler and Stalin – not in terms of the death toll from his deeds but the pernicious ripple effect of his actions throughout the world.

Really, no. Bin Laden was a very bad guy and we should be pleased he's no longer a threat to us, but he surely doesn't belong in that class. Penberthy is right that body counts alone can't measure evil, but they do tell you something, and ignoring them totally so you can shoe-horn bin Laden in among the 20th century's greatest monsters distorts history. And why does Penberthy's list end at Hitler and Stalin, anyway? Shouldn't Mao get a mention before we get to bin Laden? And what about Pol Pot, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, North Korea's dictators and a few dozen others?

But wait, says Penberthy. Those were all really bad eggs, sure, but at least they played by Queensberry Rules:

The defining hideousness of what bin Laden did was his determination to turn civilians in social settings such as offices, public transport, hotels and nightclubs into his battleground of preference. Past tyrants still placed some store on the art of soldiering and the importance of winning set-piece battles. Bin Laden’s preferred quarry were people who were working, commuting, taking their kids to school, going on a holiday with their friends.

I really don't think this needs a detailed rebuttal, so I'll just settle for another short, incomplete list: the Gulags, Year Zero, the Cultural Revolution, the Rwandan Genocide, the Great Leap Forward, the Ukrainian Famine, the Holocaust.