Baghdadi Dead; the Role Looking for an Actor

(CNN) ISIS leader al-Baghdadi believed to have been killed in a US military raid, sources say.

Baghdadi had to be neutralized for the same reason a serial killer is taken off the street. We feel elation, even when the FBI estimates that between 25 and 50 serial killers are currently active in the U.S. It’s elation, yet absent the boon of finality. What kind of person was he?

Quoting the (Daily Telegraph) How a talented footballer became world’s most wanted man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an early impression of Baghdadi is of an unimpressive character:

“I was with Baghdadi at the Islamic University. We studied the same course, but he wasn’t a friend. He was quiet, and retiring. He spent time alone … I used to know all the leaders (of the insurgency) personally. Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda) was closer than a brother to me … But I didn’t know Baghdadi. He was insignificant. He used to lead prayer in a mosque near my area. No one really noticed him.”

(Cairo Review of Global Affairs) A Portrait of Caliph Ibrahim says otherwise. Quoting,

“…He said Al-Baghdadi always had a serene smile on his face and was “calm and self-possessed.” This person, who had also been in Osama Bin Laden’s coterie, said that Al-Baghdadi reminded him of the late Al-Qaeda leader. The same source told me that Al-Baghdadi is extremely charismatic and that, sitting in a room with him and listening to him talking, “it is very difficult not to be influenced by him, his ideas, and his beliefs.”

Paradoxical? Are we discussing the same person? Was this a person of

  • Unrecognized charisma, until fate thrust him to the fore?
  • Insignificant personality, yet with seeds of “greatness”, whose personality dramatically altered, after maturity, to become charismatic?
  • Artificially acquired charisma, obtained by donning a mantle, or role?

This double vision has precedent. Descriptions of Osama Bin Laden include the same metamorphosis, the nobody who becomes the charismatic leader.

We don’t have to conclude that both Baghdadi and Bin Laden contained the suppressed seeds of twisted “greatness.” Anyone who’s seen good Shakespeare has seen the alternative, artifice. The great actor who was “half a man” off the stage is no myth. And if you aren’t into Shakespeare, there’s (People)  Peter Sellers, a great actor who was, at best, one sixteenth  a man in real life. But on stage, a good actor assumes the greatness of the role.

The alternative: Baghdadi and Bin Laden were good actors. The Salafist and Wahhabi sects are  a case of convergent evolution, with different origins and similar-to-identical practices. Physical emulation is a core principle — how to eat, eliminate, clean, groom, dress,  etc. It’s   analogous to the costuming of the stage actor, and the copying of mannerisms with accomplished acting.  Combined with the elaborate  social  functions of a religious  leader, this is a complete Method Acting description of a part.

The elaborate prescriptions of fundamentalist Islamic sects have created enduring roles for lethal actors.  The elimination of Baghdadi is a job well done, worthy of  congratulation. But before we get too happy at the death of an actor, consider this:

It’s hard enough to kill the actor. But how do you kill off a role? Auditions are already scheduled.





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