Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bogotá's Own Osama bin Laden

Bogotá's own bin Laden, ready for action.
You thought he'd been hunted down and killed in Pakistan. But Osama's still alive and well, and quite cheerful, living in Bogotá's red light district.

bin Laden, full of fun and games.
I'd heard about this man, read about him in the newspaper, and even glimpsed him once or twice with his long beard, Arab headress, and camoflauge uniform, not to mention the wooden machine gun. Who wouldn't be intrigued?

But I felt trepidation. After all, this was a guy who modeled his appearance after the leader of al Qaeda, a man who's come to symbolize evil and hate against the United States for our generation. And here I was, a U.S. citizen in his country.

Today, we encountered him while passing thru the Santa Fe neighborhood during a bike tour. And Bogotá's Osama bin Laden, who doesn't seem to use any other name, turned out to be a friendly, good-natured guy. He gladly posed for photos with us, even using his wooden gun as a prop. He explained that, like the more famous bin Laden, he'd been born in Saudi Arabia. but then grown up in Cali and lived for the past 15 years here in Bogotá's Santa Fe neighborhood, the site of the city's main red light district. Here, he is his own crime patrol and apparently lives off of tips from neighbors, like the one we gave him.

Off on patrol thru the red light district.
"He's a real good guy," a bystander told us, "a real gentleman."

But, after al Qaeda's Sept. 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C., which killed thousands of civilians and destroyed the World Trade Center, he started dressing like the other bin Laden, which can only be interpreted as a kind of tribute. Yet, Bogotá's bin Laden expressed only friendliness towards us tourists.

The 'other' bin Laden never had this much fun.
Bogotá's bin Laden didn't denounce the U.S., but he did give his own pro-bin Laden version of history. Bogotá's bin Laden pointed out that the other bin Laden had worked with the U.S. government back when the Americans needed Islamist allies to throw the Russians out of Afghanistan. Yet, the U.S. government, he said, had taken away bin Laden's fortune. I imagine that the U.S. government did its best to sieze the other bin Laden's fortune once he began attacking U.S. interests. But the bin Laden family are still billionares.

'Take that! you evil westerner!' Fortunately, it's all pretend.
The Bogotá bin Laden's ideas also veered into conspiracy thinking.

"The CIA and George Bush planned the 9-11 attacks," he added, echoing a story bouncing around the Internet with absolutely no evidence behind it.

When we pedaled off, Bogotá's bin Laden warned us to be careful. After all, Santa Fe is not Bogotá's best neighborhood. That's thoughtful advice we probably wouldn't have gotten from the original bin Laden.

Related posts: The Red Light District's Guardian Angel

Not Such a Glamorous Profession

A Profession Like Any Other?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Might'n he be glorifying guns a bit or seem scary to some children?!?

Miguel said...

yes, probably, altho residents of Santa Fe seem to be used to him. But a foreigner who passed thru there at night in a taxi was spooked by seeing 'that Arab in the red light district with the machine gun.'
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