She sings. He bombs. She's a crowd-pleaser. He's not. She's easy on the eyes. He's happier gouging them.
These two--Osama bin Laden of al-Qaidastan and Haifa Wehbe of Lebanon--have absolutely nothing in common save a birthday, that entirely meaningless tyrant of coincidental suggestion (James Earl Ray, Chuck Norris and Sharon Stone are also blowing flames today, some of them not from earth). The color-coordination between the two in those pictures is also entirely coincidental. But chances are Haifa won't be pulling a Marilyn Monroe for Osama in this last week of Arabesque at the Kennedy Center, and Osama, if he's still alive and unattached to his dialysis machine, won't be mailing Haifa a Hallmark card ("This mujahideen has been a lifelong fan..."). Still, as the calendar's irony has it, they make for curious tea-leaf reading in the Middle East's thickening tales of divergence.
Osama bin Laden was the only son of a brief marriage between a Yemeni born, Saudi construction scion and a Syrian bride. But he was one of 50 sons born to Mohammed bin Laden and his more than 12 wives. Mohammed divorced his wife shortly after Osama's birth on this day in 1957. Osama grew up with his mother's second husband, an employee of his biological father.
Haifa Wehbe was born in 1976 to a Lebanese father and Egyptian mother, one of four sisters in the tiny oak-shrouded and, compliments of the Israeli army, frequently bombed out town of Mahrouna in South Lebanon.
Bin Laden was the son of wealth and privilege. He was sent to Jeddah's most prestigious school (Al Tagher Model School). He had the jobs of his choice, would have had the women of his choice had he chosen that path. Wehbe was a daughter of war, born in the second year of what would be a 15-year civil war, not counting four Israeli invasions (1978, 1982, 1996, 2006).
He ends up a terrorist, the Number 1 wanted man in the world. She's a risen star of pop culture, once managing the 49th spot on one of those wonderfully decadent lists (AskMen.com’s 2006 list of 99 most desirable women).
Irony of ironies: In one of his declarations of wrath against the American people, Osama justified his terrorism as retaliation for Israel's bombing of Lebanon. "I cannot forget those unbearable scenes of blood and severed limbs," he said, "the corpses of women and children strewn everywhere, houses destroyed along with their occupants and high-rise buildings burying their residents, rockets raining down on our land without mercy."
Our land? Every Lebanese would dispute Osama's opportunistic pluralism, wishing him to stick to his lands, or crags, as the case may be. And without diminishing the truth of Israel's devastating attacks, how were those images of limbs and buried residents any different than the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? That's not the biggest irony. This is: Bin Laden never experienced those bombs. Haifa Wehbe grew up under them. The privileged opportunist chose to use Lebanon as a rhetorical stepping stone for his vengeful bloodlust. The artist took the path artists generally do, when they seek to countervail destruction: creative expression.
Not that there's a simplistic moral here. It's bad enough anyone's personal history has to find itself in any way intermingled with Osama's. But think about it. A shared birthday is the least of it. Who among any of us hasn't seen our life upended these last eight years from its fateful intermingling with Osama's? Not that it's with his life that we've intermingled, so much as with cultish obsession with the opposite of life.
Happy birthday Haifa. And Osama? Well, to paraphrase Wordsworth, we could only wish that your birth had been but a sleep and a forgetting.