Osama’s Body: Death of a Political Criminal and (Re)Birth of a Nation

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Abstract: Some criminal bodies are so saturated with social and political meaning; they achieve an afterlife of symbolic desecration that is both public and celebratory. While the West has a legacy of public execution and bodily display as spectacle, these events were typically meant to be sombre platforms for redemption and moral instruction. Indeed, the abolishment of public execution occurred within the rhetoric of a civilising, modern Western society that purports to treat any death as a sacred event. The announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death was followed by spontaneous public celebration, official narratives about his death and the management of his body and vivid reproductions of his body in popular culture. This paper explores the public afterlife of Osama Bin Laden in relation to nationalism and political effigy and cultural ambivalence and taboos surrounding the dead body in the West.