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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 November 2007, 15:06 GMT
Why we dream of Osama Bin Laden
By Pejk Malinovski
BBC Radio 3

Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Undated photo
Bin Laden is thought to be in the Afghan-Pakistan border region
When I first came to New York about a year after the 11 September attacks, I had a dream about Osama Bin Laden.

The al-Qaeda leader was sitting two seats over from me on the plane. His face was oddly wrapped up in his turban so at first I did not notice, but the man sitting between us, gently poked me and whispered: "I think that guy is Osama Bin Laden." I saw that it was, and I was horrified.

Later in the dream we landed and there was a kind of classic Western-style lynching scene, all the men from the plane rounded up Osama and killed him. This seemed equally horrifying to me.

Sometime later I heard a friend of mine, an American writer living in Denmark, giving a reading.

Thinking of this in psychoanalytical terms, Bin Laden is the monster lurking at the edge of the village
Dr Rajenda Persaud

One of the things he read was an actual dream he had had, also about Bin Laden.

"We're walking through K-Mart with the shopping cart and we come up to the check out and Osama offers to pay for me and pulls out his credit card. But then I look at his blue visa card and at the bottom, where it says Osama Bin Laden, so I realise that it is a really bad idea to pay with that card."

Bin Laden 'fired'

Soon after the reading, I started finding and recording dreams about Bin Laden. I was curious to see what effect this "war on terror" was having on our collective unconscious.

Smoke, flames and debris erupts from one of the World Trade Center towers o 11 September 2001
Bin Laden came to global prominence after the 9/11 attacks

I put the word out to friends and friends of friends and I spent many nights googling and trawling through blogs, collecting the dream, one after the other, like pearls on a thread, driven by this profound and comical idea of the world's most isolated and sought after man appearing all over the West, in the most intimate of places - our bedrooms.

I was curious to find out what kind of portrait would appear if I brought these shards of nightly visions together.

As I found more and more dreams, one thing became clear to me - most of the dreamers seemed a lot less fearful about this man than the governments wanted them to be.

Many of the dreams were mundane and intimate encounters, one dreamer owned a sandwich shop, and Bin Laden was one of his workers.

Bin Laden keeps showing up late, and he does not call in sick, so eventually the dreamer has to fire him. Not because Bin Laden is a feared terrorist, but because he cannot sustain a business with this kind of worker.

"Absolute evil"

Another dreamer is hunting for Bin Laden on a safari in Kenya. Surrounded by blood-thirsty pensioners, he grapples with the fact that he is actually Bin Laden's lawyer, and client confidentiality prevents him from revealing his whereabouts.

It seemed to me that the dreams expressed a need to re-humanise this "creature".

That most of us secular Westerners have a hard time accepting this idea of "absolute evil" which, of course, is a very religious idea.

And the "war on terror" - a notion propped up by so many linguistic absurdities and rhetorical acrobatics, that the dreams in contrast, seem fairly sane.

I interviewed Dr Rajenda Persaud for the programme, and he concurred that religious people are more prone to this type of black-and-white thinking, because they believe in the idea of pure "evil" or anti-Christ.

"Thinking of this in psycho-analytical terms, Bin Laden is the monster lurking at the edge of the village," Dr Persaud said.

"Historically, for hundreds of thousands of years, before the 20th Century, our brains were wired up to think of the enemy as things like saber-tooth tigers, so therefore the enemy really was 'not us'.

"As we were huddled together around the campfire in the village, worrying about what lurked outside, the enemy at the gate helped to define us. Provided a kind of binding function," Dr Persaud said.

Between the Ears: Dreaming of Osama is on BBC Radio 3 from 2130GMT on Sat 24 Nov


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