Bin Laden is dead, but why rejoice?

The US military has killed the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Despite the fact that I am not a hand-wringing liberal staging the occasional ‘bed-in for peace’, I am quite shocked and disgusted by the popular reaction in the US – or at least the popular reaction being shown by the media.

Yes, he was a callous, heartless leader who created a network of terror and sheltered behind Islam as a supposed means of justification for his acts. He was responsible for the death of thousands, so he is hardly a person to be missed, but to throw parties on the street because of his death seems like irrational exuberance.

There is of course the sense of revenge. The American public feeling relief that they finally “got” the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on the USA a decade ago.

But the numerous deaths, both military and civilians, on both sides of this war don’t deserve this reaction – running into the street and cracking open a Budweiser “because we won the war…”

Ask any of those people, what have you won today? Tough to answer isn’t it?

Unfortunately for those drinking in the street, al-Qaeda is not a traditional enemy in the form of a nation state, organised with a single leader and obeying the strategy and ruling of a government. This is not World War II all over again.

This is a war of ideology. And the death of Bin Laden does not mean that the “war” is over at all, in fact it may even serve to generate more intense hatred of the American values that led us to this place.

It’s too simple to argue that this is about the Muslim v Christian world, or the consumerist society of the west v a more traditional emerging society, or an oil-dependent America v oil-producing states. All these are factors, but at the end of the day when the actions of a nation state (or small group of allies) produce a situation where a group of nations are at war with an ideology, it is a dire place to be – almost an Orwellian cliché.

President Bush created the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and yet how can it ever be won? Should Islam be banned and dismantled because the terrorists all appear to be Muslim? Should nations harbouring terrorists be considered to be at war with the allies? Should every critic of American society be ‘taken out’ because they don’t have the same values in their society as in the US – and their small group of supporting nations?

All these descriptions of Muslim terrorists could equally apply to white supremacists – who happen to be already in the US, and are US citizens, and can arm themselves quite legally utilising the second amendment to the constitution. The war on terror and the demonisation of Islam are quite convenient ways to make this ideological battle simple enough for the evening news bulletin.

I don’t feel sympathy for Bin Laden. He was a killer. But I wish the leaders of the democratic states that profess their desire to fight a “war on terror” could find a better way to do it than through bombing places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden turned up in the capital of Pakistan – allegedly a friend in the war on terror – so where does this leave the bombing campaigns of the past decade?

How about spending a few billion on encouraging enforced student exchange programmes? Every US graduate should spend a year at a university far from home, preferably somewhere they can learn about how a different society works just from being engaged with the people. And this would work best if it was reciprocated, so the US welcomed, and funded, foreign students at their own universities.

It may take a decade or more to see some more enlightened attitudes, but then we have just had a decade of bombing the Middle East and what has been the result? Only greater instability and a wider fear of terrorism.

The liberals echo John Lennon by chanting ‘Give peace a chance’ and are mocked by the hawks who feel that the western ideals of democracy and personal freedom need to be spread – almost as a crusade. But regardless of whether hawks or doves are right, the present approach has only created a situation far worse than it was ten or twenty years ago.

We are now two decades on from the Cold war, but attitudes don’t seem to have thawed. Isn’t it time for some radical thinking on foreign policy – particularly from the USA? Or will we just keep on engaging in decades more of ‘regime-change’?
Central Mosque, Abuja

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3 responses to “Bin Laden is dead, but why rejoice?

  1. Laura Jones

    We simple Americans are pleased to hear the long awaited news of his death because it represents two key things for us; justice and keeping one of the primary promises of what is means to us to be Americans.

    We have built our nation on many promises and ideals and one of those has been that any foe who dares to attack us will pay the ultimate price. We believe in this justice, it is part of the glue of what makes us a single people. We don’t care if you do not understand it, it makes us a cohesive unit at the end of any day. It brings to mind a statement a German colleague made to me some years past. He wondered it odd that Americans were actually happy when others had good fortune. Why? We did not win something collectively, only the one person won, but we were all happy. He found it fake, we Americans found him seriously selfish. It is important to understand this to understand how we see the events of 9-11. We Americans, each of us, lost someone that day. It’s personal, very personal. We believe at our very core that we have a duty to each other as Americans. As any American abroad can tell you, a countryman abroad is your sudden and fast friend.

    Not many are “drinking beer” in the streets partying, but simply sharing the collective joy of justice delivered to someone who committed a mortal sin against our family and left us with a gaping unhealed wound. We can be at peace now, after 10 years of knowing this blood of our brothers hung heavy on us all. If you cannot feel that weight, you cannot understand. It cried out to us from the earth and the air every day since. It is the essence of what made those aboard UA 93 put in nose into that Shanksville field. We won our honor back today.

    You also mischaracterize the war we are in several ways; Osama was in Afghanistan so the bombings made absolute sense – where ever did you get the idea he wasn’t? We are also not in a religious war or an ideological war, we are in a war with a group of people who seek to remove modernity and the value of the individual from the face of the earth and superimpose a limited totalitarian rule on everyone. No rights, no freedom, no choices. You miss the reality that most governments around the world, including in the Middle East, disavow and actively fight against all the Al Qaeda stands for. There is little comparison to the Klan to be made, which is a powerless and decrepit group of no consequence anymore – we got rid of them.

    Perhaps, as you say, a group can arm itself here. We have seen scant evidence that it is a realistic solution people actively use to protest our government. We have ample evidence it is a realistic solution people have used to free ourselves from tyranny others may impose – it works for us and is irrelevant to the subject at hand, simply just another reason you apparently don’t like America. I would point out to you we did NOT bomb Pakistan as a nation, we only went after our target, which leaves your argument truly irrelevant.

    Worst of all, you strike a tone that implies we Americans somehow deserve the fate of 9-11 because we do not seek to understand and accept other cultures. We don’t travel enough. We don’t understand. That is complete tripe. We developed the Peace Corp. still active today, we provide more financial aid to struggling people around the world than any other nation. The American people deliver personal financial aid in massive amounts when tragedy strikes. We are generous and understanding, we have compassion, but we do not suffer fools. We do not accept the subjugation of women and the misuse of children as “cultural” differences. We reject it entirely. If people wish to read that as culturally insensitive, then so be it.

    At the end of it all, we did not start this war. What would you have had us do, send exchange students after 9-11? Kiss our enemies and hope they didn’t do it all again? Buckle to their terror and change our society to accommodate their demands? No, a thousand times no. Al Qaeda asked for this – all of it. It’s a fool’s errand to try and place blame for the retaliation since on others. War is a nasty business – nothing good about it – but survival demands it and this war was declared on us, not by us.

  2. And the above reply is precisely why it’s probably all going to happen again.

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