Bin Laden Provides Fodder for Jokes

His picture appears on toilet paper. Gun shops are selling his face for target practice. And in the border town of McAllen, Texas, a company is making and selling pinatas with his likeness.

More than a month after the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the demonization of the terrorist leader Usama bin Laden is well under way.

There are anti-bin Laden songs "(Hey Mr. Taliban, Taliban banana, Air Force come and it flatten my home)," and a video game in which the player unloads a gun at a bobbing, weaving bin Laden behind a liquor store counter and is invited "to put bin Laden out like a cheap cigar."

With the touch of a button, barbs and black humor fly like shrapnel across the Internet. A Web site offers browsers their own private bin Laden "Wanted" posters.

E-mailed jokes also are hurtling through cyberspace. A sampling:

Q: How do you play bin Laden Bingo?

A: B-52...F-16...B-1...M-16.

All this reflects a need among Americans to vent their rage over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, scholars said.

"Terrorism is faceless. Every once in a while we have to put faces on it," said Edward Turzanski, a political scientist at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

But some researchers question whether centering the national ire on one man is a wise course.

Demonization can backfire, said Warren Haffar, director of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.

"Often times, these people stick around and we have to look at them, deal with them in a different capacity," he said, noting that the United States spent years demonizing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "Now we're trying to reconstruct his identity in a way that is positive."

Some scholars also say demonizing bin Laden runs the risk of oversimplifying the turmoil that's troubled the Middle East for decades.

"He's the latest poster boy, but what if we lose our poster boy, what if he is captured or killed?" asked Clark McCauley, a professor of social psychology at Bryn Mawr College who is also with the Solomon Asch Center for Ethnopolitical Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania.

"A lot of Americans will say it was a success, let's stop messing around, go home, we win. But the problem is considerably deeper than one guy, and we're going to be in a lot of trouble."

Not all scholars agree.

Demonizing an enemy is fairly harmless, said Dr. Neil Kressel, a specialist at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J., on terrorism, anti-Semitism and Mid-Eastern affairs.

"You feel very angry so what do you do, you shoot at a target of bin Laden," he said.

And he doubts the pillorying of bin Laden will spill over to Muslims and Arab-Americans.

"I have never seen a war waged with as much effort to keep that from happening as this one," he said. "If it was ever possible to keep from demonizing people as a group, they're doing it now."

Vilifying the enemy through jokes, songs and cartoons is nothing new.

Saddam Hussein was portrayed during the Gulf War as a maniacal Hitler and Hitler himself was depicted in cartoons shown in cinemas during World War II as a fat pig.

The most serious cartoonists' barbs in the 1940s were reserved for the Japanese, who were shown as bucktoothed, myopic monkeys or murderous gorillas racist images that had to be undone as Japan became a post-war ally.

John W. Dower, in his War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War notes that the campaign worked both ways. Japanese publications depicted Americans as burglars, unshaven capitalists and racists prone to lynchings, complete with claws and fangs.

"But we've had a generation of emphasis of multiculturalism and diversity, it's a very different America now," said Kressel. "We may not be as effective in fighting our wars but we're more effective in fighting them in a wholesome manner."