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The myth of Gen Z’s love for Osama bin Laden

Noted teen idol Osama bin Laden. Credit: Getty

December 30, 2023 - 8:00am

A Daily Mail poll this week claimed that “one in five” American members of Generation Z has a positive view of Osama bin Laden. It’s just one of many sensational articles published in the wake of the 7 October attacks that suggest Zoomers are normalising — or even celebrating — terrorism.

Opinions about the conflict in Israel are changing, and it’s certainly true that college campuses have a fraught relationship with the topic, particularly when it comes to the issue of free speech. Yet claims that terrorism is trending aren’t entirely substantiated, and the salient distinction between sympathy for Palestinians and explicit support of Hamas is being ignored. 

Social media can distort the mood, and an increase in Palestinian flag emojis in usernames or Instagram infographics can make more sensationalist claims feel true. But available information shows that most young Americans condemn terrorist organisations such as Hamas, despite what the headlines suggest. One Harvard/Harris poll found that college-aged individuals generally view the 7 October attack as unjustified (63%) and terrorist in nature (52%), consider Hamas a terrorist organisation (64%), and believe attacks on Jewish people have genocidal elements (62%). 

As reporter Ryan Broderick explained last month when discussing bin Laden’s supposed popularity with a new generation, what is really happening is that click-hungry journalists are either purposefully cherry-picking trends to support predetermined conclusions or simply failing to understand the scale of newer, more popular social media platforms such as TikTok. By taking this approach, they are misrepresenting blips on the radar as far-reaching patterns.

Recently, the press has attributed these changing opinions to the likes of TikTok, which presidential candidate Nikki Haley this month claimed makes young people “17% more pro-Hamas”. The apprehension is understandable to some degree: 10 years ago, nascent trends on Tumblr were written off as “ridiculous”, and the domain of the “terminally online”. Today, many of the beliefs which gained traction in fandom communities on the platform — including the idea that sex is a spectrum, not a binary — inform both public policy and large-scale activism. 

Yet trend-forecasting and prematurely naming trends are two separate things. Again and again on Tumblr, reporters would witness a small group of people posting disturbing content, prematurely declare the beginning of a craze, and inspire copycats where there previously wouldn’t have been any. The press, then, was an essential component in certain behaviours or beliefs disseminating. 

In Broderick’s article about bin Laden’s Letter to America, he suggests something similar happened. The videos may have been sincere, but it was not a trend. The “trend” would surely not have been on the collective radar but for culture warriors prematurely reaching an apocalyptic conclusion about teens glorifying terrorism.

So what is really going on with kids and terrorism? The climate is changing, but sensationalist polling top lines do little to clarify generational shifts. Sadly, the distinction between “this is happening”, and “in the view of the journalist, this is probable with the available information” is an important one. Reporters would do well to take note.


Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit defaultfriend.substack.com.

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Paddy Taylor
PT
Paddy Taylor
3 months ago

Wow.
Well, that came across as a really juicy post facto rationalisation of something that should trouble anyone of deceny.
You give the figures in the negative, but flip them and tell me you are not horrified that:
27% of Students view the 7 October attack as justified
48% have convinced themselves that those attacks were not terrorist in nature
36% think that Hamas isn’t a terrorist organisation
and 38% somehow imagine that barbaric attacks on Jewish people – solely because they are Jews – aren’t genocidal in nature.
I’m sorry, but anyone who can remain sanguine in the face of such appalling stats – that personally I think are probably a lot higher – really needs to unclog their doom filter.
Those numbers ought to horrify any decent human being.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Young Americans exist on a steady diet of movies and TV series in which the most horrific and sadistic violence is inflicted quite casually. They are completely de-sensitised to it.

Benedict Waterson
BW
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago

Lol relatively small majorities see anything wrong with Hamas. 52% reluctantly concede that October the 7th was terrorism.
Obviously there is something deeply wrong if those percentages aren’t much higher.
Ignorance maybe.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

Until I’ve seen how the question was worded and what the various answer options were it’s hard to squeeze much information out of a stat like that to be honest

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well from the paragraph above, it doesn’t look very ambiguous to me

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

It’s been a quiet time. Anyone read the NYT piece on October 7th? I would not normally give the NYT the time of day, but the fact that this normally terminally woke mouthpiece published this, must provoke some thought and morality and logic amongst the Western Hamas supporters.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago

Let’s consider this article as a not very successful attempt to justify yourselves

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Feel free to refute the writer’s argument, rather than trying to make vapid points.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I don’t need to repeat Benedict Waterson’s arguments about only 52%.
We are floundering at the bottom, trying to swim out

Last edited 3 months ago by El Uro
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Just as well, since it’s a poor argument, and any comment that begins with “lol” can be instantly dismissed, as easily as “lol” seeks to dismiss.
Try again, with your own rationale, if you’ve got one.

El Uro
EU
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I can try, no problem.
Explain to me why so many young people took to the streets with slogans in support of Hamas and Palestine and tweets like “This is what decolonization looks like” when the victims of the 7/10 killings had not yet had time to cool down, and Israel had not yet done anything in response?
That’s enough, Steve! These nonentities and you have lost basic moral guidelines, and arguing with you is like arguing with a crocodile.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

”Lol” is a poetical expression, combining the sense that the subject has caused literal laughter, with subsidiary implications pertinent to a broadly skeptical outlook — e.g. disdain.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Perhaps past Israeli behaviour has meant that sympathy isn’t as forthcoming as it otherwise would have been?
To lose over 1000 people to a terrorist attack in October and manage to lose the moral high ground before the year is out takes some doing let’s be honest

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The honest answer is that no matter what Israel does, it always “loses the moral high ground” in the eyes of people like you.
So why should Israel care about your opinion? For the Israelis, you are a nobody, condemning Israel for the fact of its existence and hypocritically hiding ordinary anti-Semitism under calls for proportionality, restraint, and appealing to “context” in the Hitler’s sense of this word.

Last edited 3 months ago by El Uro
Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

You’re correct that Israel doesn’t need to worry about my opinions, however seeing as they’re almost totally reliant on the Americans for weapons and security you’d think they’d be doing everything to ensure they keep public opinion over there on their side.
Attitudes such as yours are also part of the reason public sympathy for Israel isn’t as high as it should be. Lazily accusing anybody who is vaguely critical of Israel’s response as antisemitic is frankly pathetic. The state religion of that country is of no interest to me and shapes my opinions in no way whatsoever, I’d be critical of any regime that had killed nearly 10,000 children in just two months

Andrew D
AD
Andrew D
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I’m sure that children have died, as sadly they do in all wars, although I doubt that they were individually targeted (unlike those who died at the hands of Hamas on 7 October). But what’s your source for 10,000? (rhetorical question I suspect)

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

If you’ve got different or more accurate figures then by all means share them

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You know just as well as I do that accurate figures cannot be obtained because of Hamas’s stranglehold on the area and all information. Yet you choose to believe a known terrorist group that has a clear incentive to inflate and exaggerate the death toll, and I do not.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

Yet the previous times the figures from Hamas have turned out to be broadly accurate. Seeing as not even the Americans or Israelis seem to be disputing them I’ll assume they’re fairly close to the truth until somebody can prove otherwise

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

The source is Hamas’s propaganda apparatus. The very organisation that doesn’t care one bit about Palestinians (we know this, because Hamas leaders have repeatedly said so), and which has a complete stranglehold on any and all information. I wouldn’t even trust Hamas to accurately report the current weather!

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

So we should have let Hitler win because German babies died at the hands of bomber command?

starkbreath
starkbreath
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

‘Lose the moral high ground’, bullshit. The far left has been antisemitic for ages, October 7 just gave them a chance to show how much.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  starkbreath

It wasn’t the far left I was referring to, it was the bulk of the electorate. Do you think the American politicians will still support Israel unconditionally if it starts costing them votes in elections?

starkbreath
SL
starkbreath
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Only Democrats have to worry about that, serves them right for sucking up to the wokies.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Do you honestly believe these kids know anything about Israel pre Oct. 7?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Probably no more or less than those who unquestionably support Israel to be honest. Most Americans know little of the world beyond its borders

David Morley
DM
David Morley
3 months ago

The fact is that we have now reached such a level of polarisation that one side is capable of believing almost anything of the other. The gutter press and social media then stir it up further and it gets swallowed whole.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago

The writer goes no where – this is a Huge thing, and the ‘why’ of it happening is oddly twofold and more. The obvious is Woke – like BLM, it demands the outrage against the oppressors and devotion to the cause of the oppressed – even though the the positions of the ‘oppressed and oppressor’ are mostly created by the agenda based Media. It is knee-jerk Neo-Marxist post-modernism, which has 100% captured education and information and MSM + Social media.

But the second thing – diametrically opposite, is the Right is discovering the USA (and the West) governments are completely on the side of the global monied, and against America and the citizens.

As ‘The Salty Cracker’ (a mouthpiece of the extreme, Redneck even, hard Right) puts it about government:

”They hate you – they want you dead!”

I would recommend ‘Judge Napolitano (A very recognized and trusted man) interviewing Jeffery Sachs, PhD – a vastly worldly man who travels the world fixing economic disasters, he is a high consultant in the UN and USA and all the world, a man more worth listening to than almost any other. This is the name of this episode

”Prof. Jeffrey Sachs: US Foreign Policy is a Corrupt Scam.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlKuQ3r3Mwk

He will explain the $5-8 Trillion spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan war, which killed and wounded large amounts of US young men, killed a million Middle Easterners, destroyed the region, destabilized the governments which now has leaked down to the Saehal, and was borrowed so is destroying the economy (he explains this is a debt of $10,00- on every household in USA) did NO Good to anyone at all, and Vast harms to the whole world, and this is the punch line:

Except it made the politicians wealthy, and the .01% very wealthy. That is it – Harm to every one in the world, profit off the blood and suffering to the Politicians and Money class.

This is leaking out everywhere – this primal rage against the absolute corruption of the political system is rising no matter how much the MSM and social media tries to keep the lid on the pot.

The Ukraine War, the Palestine war – Just more of the same, horror shows where blood smells like money to the elites.

The writer needs to look wider… Watch some Judge Napolitano on youtube – also just out on his show, with two high CIA opps men – ”should the CIA be closed and shut” (answer, yes, but also – who ever tries, even the top man in USA, will just be assassinated, so no one will)

These things are percolating out – even on the left, it is a spirit, mood, zeitgeist forming. This is part why the youth are out marching – an ‘Uneasy Feeling’ is present in the West of what really is going on.

P.S. Hi all you sheep, how is it going…

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
3 months ago

Click bait article.

A poll (no details provided of sample size, question, method, or partisanship of polling organisation) has said something that can be twisted into an outrage piece. It duly is and now there is mileage in articles refuting the outrage pieces (whilst leaving in enough to outrage some.) Everybody’s been paid for their 1,000 words. Job done. Nothing like a war somewhere else to keep the mortgage paid.

Meanwhile the overwhelming majority of Gen Z continue to be preoccupied by getting laid, drunk or high like Gen Z,s have always done.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
3 months ago

Such is the digital ‘mirror stage’ of secondary identity formation performed by the Internet, this generation of left-wing reactionaries will go along with whatever the virtual herd decides. Nothing seems to be off-limit when life resembles a computer game for these youngsters.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago

Before this whole HAMAS thing ossifies into some sort of Biblical myth do we know:-
1:Precisely how many babies were beheaded ?
2: Were they beheaded post- mortem?
3: Were any eaten?
4: How many women were raped?
5.How many men were sodomised?
If these figures can be established then at least the historical record will be clear and unambiguous.

Last edited 3 months ago by Charles Stanhope
A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago

Where have all my comments & their replies gone?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Into the SIN BIN.
Normal procedure for any provocative remarks.

starkbreath
starkbreath
3 months ago

Nothing to see here, people. Denialist tripe.

William Brand
William Brand
3 months ago

TikTok is Chinese government propaganda. The company is required by Chinese law to feed its users propaganda which is designed to weaken our country. Gen Z gets its news from this web site. It’s hard not to install it on ones Android pc. Even the Fox web site stuffs it down one’s throat. It needs to be banned by law, but Biden has probably been bribed to allow it.

William Brand
William Brand
3 months ago

Israel is fighting a stupid war. They fight a military war, but HAMAS is fighting a political war and HAMAS is winning in the court of American opinion. Generation Z just sees dead Arabs on Tic Tock. Israel could permanently loose its source of logistical support America. Israel used bombs when it should have used its control over Gaza’s water supply. Thirsty Arab civilians would have surrendered within a week and Israel could have had a free fire zone against tunnel rats once Gaza civilians were loaded on ships and deposited on the coast of Africa.

William Brand
William Brand
3 months ago

Lefty Jews have been betrayed by their Woke friends. All that marching for civil rights earned them nothing. Their only allies are Christians who see that they have a crucial role in the imminent Apocalypse. All the signs of Christ’s return are appearing. The big one is the establishment of Israel. If you do not believe in Christ’s return, the logical answer is to genocide the Jews as the stone around the worlds neck as predicted in the Bible.

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago

 That our generally right-leaning media periodically embarks on suchs screaching, pearl-clutching paroxysms isn’t really new. That some of the new, allegedly more evidence-based, reasonable and thoughtful outlets – such as Unherd – generally follow suit is, I’m afraid, true too.

We saw it in the Scotish Referendum debate (all those ‘vile Cyber-Nat’ fairy-tales), Brexit (from both sides), Labour under Corbyn (where ‘Momentum’ types were accused of abusing everyone, of being foreign agents, vandals and useful-idiots of the despot-de-jour – and every one of them an anti-semite) and now we have it taken as read that anyone who chants the nicely scanning ‘From the River to the Sea’ is a card-carrying member of Hamas and absolutely, positively must be calling for genocide.

The hand wringing about the Bin Laden ‘was right’ videos was just another sorry case of this – the Guardian (now very much a right leaning outlet in geopolitical terms) went to the extent of removing his ‘letter to the West’ from their website, such was their panic over the possibility of some people finding some truth in some of his claims (which IMHO they were absolutely right to do).

So I’m pleased to read this at Unherd and look forward to a similarly decent analysis of whatever it is that next triggers the snowflake tendency in our Establishment media. a  

Katja Sipple
KS
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

“Generally right-leaning media?” Have you any evidence for such a bold claim?

Numerous surveys have shown that most journalists are left of centre. https://staging.unherd.com/thepost/why-are-journalists-so-left-wing/
I’d really like to see the sources that support your statement, but I am rather certain that they won’t be forthcoming from somebody who describes the Guardian as right-leaning!
As for those chanting the nasty slogan calling for the elimination of Israel, which you seem to endorse, it is my conviction that most of them are too stupid to know what they’re shouting. I have challenged quite a few of these so-called protesters, and they wouldn’t even be able to find their own house on a map let alone the River Jordan! I suppose it’s rather difficult to find something you cannot even name!
I abide by the old Roman principle: ignorantia legis non excusat!

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

There have been numerous studies showing that the regime media is dominated by left wingers. His take is nonsense.

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

There have been numerous studies showing most journalists think they are of the left, but whether they are is a different matter. If you believe Hermann & Chomsky’s Propaganda Model (and you should), then this is readily explained. They wouldn’t be where they were if they gave any credence to views further to the left than those of their Centrist / Liberal mindset. And that, of course, says nothing of their editors and proprietors too.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

 If you believe Hermann & Chomsky’s Propaganda Model (and you should)

We shouldn’t.
Chomsky is a classic example of an idiot who knows nothing except linguistics, but is confident that he knows everything about everything. Something like Gary Lineker from the academy.
But you can believe him, many people have their own set of prophets (I don’t).

Last edited 3 months ago by El Uro
A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

You don’t believe him or Edward Herman (who did most of the work) because he started work studying something else? That’s a bit lame. I think their model accounts very well for our media as it existed in the 80s when they proposed their model – and does so now. We have plenty of debate in our media, all constrained within very narrow bounds – so the Guardian & NYT type journos can call all believe they’re left wing – but only as far as that’s allowed in our corporate media landscape. They well know how any transgressions of those boundaries will be punished.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Peter Turchin have a perfect explanation of what’s going on in his book “Ages of Discord”. In short it’s simple – too many educated young people pretend on the bigger piece of the same pie.
It’s happened not the first time in the human history. French Revolution is a perfect example. A lot of educated people supported it. A little of them avoided guillotine 🙂

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

So a legacy/mainstream media that includes The Times, Telegraph, Mail, Express on one side and a paper that couldn’t bring itself to endorse the Labour Party in 2019 isn’t ‘right leaning’? The Guardian is centrist at best – like the NYT in the states it’s ‘of the left’ only with respect of those aspects that bother the PMC/laptop class. You know – all the identitarian stuff, multiculturalism, immigration being spiffing because they like cheap curries and inexpensive plumbers – the kind that really doesn’t like the local working classes – that isn’t and they aren’t the left.

As for your ‘conviction’ about what people mean by slogans then that’s nice for you, but it isn’t an argument anymore than it might be my conviction that you are the kind of person who would happily be marking off sniped, un-armed civilian shot by the IDF on your hand-made wall-chart during the Great March of Return a couple of years back.  

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

The Guardian is mostly Neoliberal woke leftist propaganda and class snobbery. Explain in detail how it is’right leaning’?

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago

I specifically referred to the geopolitics when I spoke of the Guardian – and there’s not been a Western involved war since 2010 they’ve not supported – Libya, Syria, Ukraine – they’re well on board.

See this for something specific.

https://www.declassifieduk.org/how-the-uk-security-services-neutralised-the-countrys-leading-liberal-newspaper/

As for neoliberal – as that’s essentiallay the offspring of Thatcher & Regan’s wettests of dreams, it’s hard to see how that could reasonably be considered something of the left, but that’s where were are these days.

Benedict Waterson
BW
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Well they certainly don’t see themselves as ‘right-leaning.’ In fact, ‘right’ just = ‘bad’ for guardianistas.
But maybe to the extent the left have been colonized by neoliberal ideologies like mass immigration, open borders, global economic integration, bourgeois id politics, they are a ‘left which has become right,’ see Fazi’s last article on here..

Tony Price
TP
Tony Price
3 months ago

The Guardian is not, fortunately, the entirety of the media; it is an outpost to the centre/left of the large majority of the UK newspaper spectrum, which is otherwise almost entirely owned by right-leaning, tax-exile, super-rich proprietors.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
3 months ago

Err – that would be the neoliberal and class snobbery bits. Elite is probably more accurate than right wing though.

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Wonder what would happen if I marched on Harvard with a sign reading; straight, white men, from sea to sea.

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If Harvard had been confining a couple of million of those straight, white men in an open air prison for decades with rationed food & energy not sufficient to support their health and routinely bombed and shot them without recourse – then I’d be marching with you, Jim. But as they’re not then I’ll give this one a miss if it’s alright with you.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Lol… deliberately said. ‘Open air prison’ conditions created by the people who voted Hamas in. Let the people live in poverty and filth while Hamas build tunnels and fire rockets constantly at their neighbour.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

A majority of Palestinians are under 18, and there hasn’t been elections in Gaza for 17 years. Therefore a majority of Palestinians alive today have never voted for Hamas

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Of course this willfully ignores the reasons why Israel controls the border, or why Egypt does the same thing. Why are we not condemning Egypt? Hamas doesn’t lift a finger to provide any civil services to its residents. It leaves that to the UN and its 30,000 workers there and $1.6 billion budget.

David Morley
David Morley
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

That some of the new, allegedly more evidence-based, reasonable and thoughtful outlets – such as Unherd – generally follow suit is, I’m afraid, true too.

Sadly true – and presumably because some of its readers lap it up, and suffer indigestion if too many facts, or even questions, are included.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Gravity – that force very much trying to fling us off into space is now…….