bin Laden

Well, I wasn’t expecting that. And with the exception of a very few people, nor was anyone else.

To be honest, I suspected Osama bin Laden was already either dead or decommissioned some time ago; given the increasing irrelevance of al Qaida anywhere other than the headline-generation meetings of right-wing Western media houses and political parties, it was an easy mistake to make. Whether we’ll find ourselves wishing he’d just faded away into obscurity with the passage of time remains to be seen… but we can say with certainty that he’s now achieved a sort of immortality, albeit not the one promised to mujahadiin who lose their lives in the course of a holy war.

Whosoever decided that burying the guy at sea without releasing some sort of concrete proof to the media that they got the right guy deserves a hearty slapping, however, for handing conspiracy theorists the world over a shiny new toy to play with. To clarify: I’m pretty positive that the Yanks have bagged the real bear (because claiming falsely to have done so would have been so easily disproved by a YouTube video starring one bearded nutbag and a copy of that morning’s newspaper that even Dubya wouldn’t have attempted it, though I bet he’d have liked to), and I know how Occam’s Razor works. But so does any politician or high-level covert ops planning team, I’d wager, and they also know that Josephine Average is a sucker for projecting patterns into the spaces between data-points. A few stills or seconds of video would have gone a long way to quelling some of the kneejerk questioning that’s currently ricocheting around the internetosphere; as ghoulish as it was, the “leaked” footage of an addled and burned-out looking Saddam Hussein left little doubt that they’d strung up the real McCoy. (The question of whether hanging Saddam or shooting bin Laden is the morally right thing to do is a debate for another time, but suffice to say I’m not sure it is. Democracy and the rule of law must be universally applied, no matter how repugnant or obviously guilty the accused may be, or the very concept of democracy is undermined. There’s been a lot of that in the past ten years, too.)

Repetition for the easily excited: I’m as convinced as I can be that they got their man, but I’m not surprised a lot of folk are demanding more substantive proofs of such. (Postmodernism isn’t a creed or philosophy, it’s a ubiquitous and unavoidable cultural condition; we are all hostile to metanarratives that make us feel uncomfortable and/or confused, and the notion that “[any] government [other than {my preferred government}] can be trusted” was an early casualty in all but the most easily swayed.)

It’s no mark of particular intelligence or insight on my part to say that bin Laden’s death has in no way “made the world a safer place” (in the short term, quite the opposite), ended the threat of Islamic terrorism (or any other sort), secured world peace, prevented cruelty to kittens or located Elvis. Much as the methodology jars with my own pacifism, I’m not sad to hear bin Laden is dead; he was without a doubt a very nasty shit indeed, guilty of orchestrating terrible atrocities, and I recognise the need for closure in the US; the psychic wound of 9/11 has festered for a long time, after all, and little less than a trophy head was going to stand a chance of resolving that lesion. But looking at footage of folk around the White House chanting and celebrating what – based on the effort, expense, timescale and collateral damage involved – is a deeply Pyrrhic victory, I’m put in mind of the revulsion we all felt when we saw bin Laden’s supporters doing exactly that on a certain September 12th, nearly ten years ago. As is often the case (in my universe at least), old Friedrich has wise words for the Zeitgeist:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.

Probably worth mentioning that “an eye for an eye” is a tenet of Islamic law, also. The United States in particular – but by no means exclusively – has had a decade of gazing into the abyss. It’s time to step back from that ledge.

4 thoughts on “bin Laden”

  1. “what – based on the effort, expense, timescale and collateral damage involved – is a deeply Pyrrhic victory”

    Whether or not it’s a Pyrrhic victory depends on how you count the costs.

    If you include all the costs of the Afghanistan invasion/occupation, and all the collateral damage involved, then I agree that it’s a Pyrrhic victory (and it’s far worse if you include the Iraq invasion, which actually detracted from finding bin Laden, arguably for no gain to US security).

    But, given that a previous administration had already committed to the (reputational, financial and diplomatic) costs of the invasions and Guantanamo, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad decision for the US to go ahead and carry out this raid.

    If it was purely an act of vengeance, it would be questionable, but it’s not like bin Laden had renounced violence and retired – he was presumably still actively plotting to do more attacks.

    Burial at sea without releasing any photos/video does seem odd. But even if they posted a full hi-def video of the whole raid within hours, or put bin Laden’s plastinated corpse on display at Ground Zero, conspiracy theorists in the Islamic world would claim it was faked.

    It’s not really clear what they could do to avoid that, except take him alive. I’m sure they would have done that if they’d had the chance. If I had to bet on a conspiracy theory, it would be that they do have him alive in a black jail, and the “burial at sea” story is an attempt to cause the rest of the network to adopt inadequate countermeasures. But I don’t really think that he had enough direct influence for it to be worth their while doing that.

  2. I’m a little surprised by all the people dancing in the streets. It might have made sense if someone had caught the guy back in 2002 or so, but now it’s definitely an anti-climax. It does show that the Obama administration is a hell of a lot more competent than its predecessor, but so does the way the tornadoes in Alabama were handled.

    I’m not sorry he’s dead, and I’m not sure any good would have come from holding a trial. (I recognize that there’s something immoral about that.)

    BTW, I understand there are photos, albeit “gruesome” ones. They also did a DNA test. The burial at sea is an odd note, though. I would have expected some sort of forensic examination of his body, at a minimum.

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