Jezebel Turns Osama bin Laden’s Daughter into a Killing Machine

Though one expects a whopping media event like the death of Osama Bin Laden to produce speculative stories on an industrial scale, it is to be hoped that the speculation is at least based in reality. Blogs engage in wild speculation, but serious media blogs are still behooved to be based on facts; otherwise, we might as well read slash fiction.

None of this quibbling for Anna North at Jezebel, who ponders the future of Osama bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter, Safiyah, in a recent post. By ponder, I mean indulge in wild speculation with lashings of Orientalist and Islamophobic tropes.

The post, which has united commenters in disgust (one of whom, notably described the post as being written in  “Islamophobinese”), is boldly titled, “The Future of Bin Laden’s Daughter.” The article is inexplicably illustrated by a black and white photograph of a girl’s eyes. The eyes actually appear to be blue (Safiyah’s are likely to be brown), so already the indications are clear that a creepy agenda is ahead.

The first few paragraphs repeat what is known: her age, that she witnessed OBL’s death. From then, the fate of the children is discussed. North misquotes Canadian paper, The Star, stating that some want the children to be sent to madrassas in Pakistan, which would turn them into “jihadis.” What the article actually said was that the notorious Lal masjid had offered the children places, in what is almost certainly a bid for attention. By not making this clear, North perpetuates both the stereotype of madrassas as sinister hotbeds of nascent terrorism (rather than the actual meaning of the word: “schools”) and also the idea that there is a clamour in Pakistan to radicalize these children.

Safiyah’s very name is a cause of suspicion to North, who mentions the OBL quote that he’s named her after a woman who killed a Jewish spy, hence her very name is a “connection to jihad.” A bit of Islam 101 would have revealed that Safiyah (RA) was actually a Jewish convert to Islam and a wife of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), hence the popularity of this name amongst Muslims.

Anyway, enough facts! It’s time for some pop culture references, however tasteless they may be when discussing a bereaved teenager. You see, Safiyah’s life is just like the film Hanna, about a girl who is raised and trained as an expert killer. Despite the fact that there is no evidence at all of Safiyah being trained to kill. At all.

However, we are not in a place of facts, truth, or evidence, so North happily states that the whole life imitating art should have Safiyah undergoing super-secret training and then avenging her father’s death, because as we know, the only Arabs/Muslims in films are Reel Bad ones.

From that “if my granny had wheels, she’d be a bus” level of reasoning, North finally concludes it is the role, nay, the “job” of the U.S. to stop this happening.

Right. So the U.S. is now duty-bound to prevent something happening that happens in films, not real life—something that there is no evidence to indicate will happen. There is also the whole issue of national sovereignty and how much right the U.S. has to interfere with the lives of foreign citizens in foreign countries who have not actually committed any crime against the U.S. or anyone else. Admittedly that last issue has often been hazy in practice, but history does not show U.S. intervention to be hugely positive, let alone worthy of encouragement in a supposedly progressive blog.

Therein lies the source of disappointment. From decidedly unpromising beginnings, Jezebel has attempted to improve its coverage of Muslim women, even featuring the work of several MMW writers. Yet someone saw fit not only to write this dreck, but allow it to be published. While recent kerfuffles would indicate that the “New” Jezebel is not massively concerned by reader criticism, such emphatic criticism should surely not be ignored. Until then, in a reversal of the usual statement: skip the post, read the comments.

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  • Joseph Shahadi

    Okay, I’ll say it: Jezebel is a terrible site.

    More often than not Jezebel features shallow, undergraduate-level analysis and the comment threads that follow often approach the level of satire. The policy of that site to feature the writing of women of color (including friends and colleagues of mine) every so often has made no dent whatsoever in its overall racial and ethnic tone-deafness. Although I have to note that under most circumstances it makes it exponentially more difficult for those same women to critique Jezebel, which is why I am so happy to read this post on MMW despite the ridiculousness that inspired it.

    Even given its usual limitations Jezebel has sunk to a new low with this speculative fiction about Bin Laden’s daughter masquerading as critique. The real question for me here is: how does a post like this pass muster at Jezebel? I certainly hope that someone with the ear of Jessica Coen et al fills it with some What The Fuck over this.


    I’m with Joseph on this one Jezebel doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to dealing with issues intersecting race, gender, religion, etc. It does a terrible job moderating comments so alot of racist insensitive stuff winds up on there along with a dose of cluelessness followed by stubborn pride over said cluelessness. It should just stick to stick to its day job snarking/gossiping on celebrities.

    With that said I also had a “WTH” moment with the abovementioned scaremongering article and that bit about the name Safiyah?? She didn’t even provide any “proof” (not that I believe any exists) of where she got that misinformation from about the name! And she acts like she has the power to predict the future and can tell what this kid will wind up becoming; what’s supposed to be her solution then? Kill the kid now before she turns into a future “mass murderer”?/sarcasm.

  • Dina

    “Safiyah was a Jewish convert to Islam and wife of the prophet Mohammed pbuh..”

    I would like to add from a historical and non-religious perspective that first and foremost Safiyah was a woman abducted, displaced, widowed and orphaned by enemy troupes and essentially raped in war (there is no “consent” when agreeing to sleep with and/or be married to the leader of the army which eradicated your family; also there is little “freedom in religion” when to choose faith wisely can likely be a question of life or death). Just sayin.

  • Too Strong

    Who really forces you guys to read those damn, shallow and insipid blogs in the first place?
    Are you all compelled to do so? It’s like watching Glen Beck and complaining afterwards, or listening to Limbaugh and then throwing a fit. Why did you tune in, in the first place? These are all pea-brained idiots garnering for attention, don’t feed them.

  • Krista

    @ Too Strong: We’re a media criticism blog. That’s what we do. You’re not “compelled” to read MMW if you think we’re just wasting our time. The point of this blog isn’t to complain but to critique, so that folks who might have also encountered articles like the Jezebel one that Lara reviews here can get another perspective on it.



    Please read this thanks!:

    @Too Strong

    Yeah I usually read Jezebel occaisonally for entertainment value. I normally avoid their “serious” articles but got sucked into reading this one unfortunately (my fault I know).

  • Seffi


    You’re not ‘just sayin’

    We don’t know enough about what it was to be a woman in those tumultuous times and no doubt people had to make decisions and judgements under pressure….but you’re being anachronistic and maybe it isn’t the best way to win friends when you call our Prophet a rapist. I pretty much don’t care for any opinion you have after that.

  • Lara A

    Salaam alaikum all

    Joseph – Sadly, I doubt there will be any comeback. When you consider that Jessica Coen published and defended a piece by some anonymous male, claiming that sexual harrassment was all the rage in Paris and that this was a good thing..! She should’ve been sacked for that, but the kingdom of Gawker is fuelled by pageviews, so she probably got a huge bonus instead.

    On reflection, are there any blogs that get it right on race aside from the actual race blogs? I’d love to get my dose of fluff without a side order of fail.

    RCHOUDH – Indeed. In fact the top Jezebel trick is to post dubious stuff on the weekends and let the mods have to sort it out, which they often struggle with or completely mishandle.

    It’s a shame because Jezebel really was something quite interesting when it started out.

  • Lara A

    Btw, thank you RCHOUDH and Steffi for your responses to Dina.

    Dina – The site moderators may wish to add to this, but speaking personally, you’ve got the rest of the internet to insult Islam, I’d rather you didn’t make such statements here. They are offensive to many of our readers and derail the discussion.

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    Thank you too Lara!

  • Humayra’

    The Jezebel article probably has Safiyya bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib in mind. She was one of the aunts of the Prophet. Safiyya was present at the Battle of Uhud, and is said to have run after the men who fled from the battlefield, brandishing a spear and rebuking them for leaving the prophet of God in the lurch.

    At the Battle of the Trench, the Meccans and their pagan allies laid siege to Medina, and the Muslim women and children were put in fortified buildings for their own safety. Safiyya is said to have seen a man from one of Medina’s Jewish tribes wandering around one of these fortified buildings. Some of this Jewish tribe’s leaders were thought to be secretly dealing with the besiegers, so Safiyya apparently feared that the man would betray the location of the Muslim women and children and endanger them. So, she reportedly killed him.

    It is possible that Bin Laden’s daughter is named after her, but who knows. It is the name of a number of famous women, including several female Companions, Safiyya bint Huyayy (a wife of the Prophet), hadith transmitters, and medieval royal women, and it is an old Arabian name.

    As for Dina’s comment and the responses to it: There is much about ancient history which is (to say the least) highly problematic for those who value women’s ability to make choices about their lives. There is also a lot of denial in online Muslim forums about issues such as the marriage of Safiyya bint Huyayy. It is as if some Muslims think that sweeping issues like this under the carpet and branding those who raise them as “attacking Islam” will make the issues go away. They won’t.

  • Krista

    Moderator note: The historical conversations are getting off-topic, given the media criticism purpose of MMW. I appreciate the perspectives offered, but let’s keep the discussions here focused on the main content of Lara’s post. Further comments about Islamic history will not be posted, as per our Comment Moderation Policy.