Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Cheer With Them

From The New York Times, via.
So, Osama Bin Laden is dead. A few points to make.

1) May 2nd, 2011, will be remembered in history as the day the 2000s ended. It may be superficial and anthropocentric, but we do tend to think of near history in terms of decades, with each one having an overall mood. Decades don't end at the stroke of midnight on a year ending in zero, though. The 90s began with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and turned out to be a decade of triumph and growth. The 2000s, along with the century, began on 9/11. It was a decade of fear, uncertainty and doubt. The events of the last few months - the natural disasters, but also the end of the worst of the financial crisis and the Arab Spring - are momentous enough to be remembered as a particularly eventful season, but the bullet in the brain of Bin Laden is the bookend. I don't know what the next decade will be like, but my hope is that it will be the decade when we focus on practical solutions to immediate problems.

2) The question of whether or not Osama Bin Laden was actually killed then and there is irrelevant. If he'd died earlier and of natural causes - at least now there is public certainty that the ringleader is gone, and his followers have been denied a figurehead and a trickster legend. If he is still alive, hiding in a cave (or a Gitmo jail cell), and will never be heard from again - same difference for the rest of us. The murder of the concept of Osama Bin Laden is important to the world. The murder of the person is important to far fewer people.

3) Similarly, I can find no use in conspiracy theories that question whether Osama Bin Laden was in fact the person behind 9/11. The "inside job" people are obvious nuts; but I have seen some incredibly earnest and internally consistent arguments that this act of terror was not executed by this particular bunch of hateful individuals; it was, in fact, executed by a completely different bunch of hateful individuals who just happened to be standing next to them at the time.

4) For all that the US and its allies have behaved quite badly over the last decade, an important point has been made. Osama Bin Laden's stated political goal was to gain victory over the US by luring it into unwinnable wars and bankrupting it, like the USSR's Afghanistan debacle. On the face of it, he's gotten a long way towards succeeding: neither Afghanistan nor Iraq can be "won" in a satisfactory way, and the US has ramped up massive debts in the process. Yet the Great Satan has had the last laugh. At the end of the day, the message is: if you hurt us this badly, you will never be able to hide. You will never be able to get away with it. We will spend any amount of blood and treasure to hunt you down, and we will never stop. This is a vital point, a great discouragement to masterminds everywhere. In the same way that Israel has never stopped looking for and executing Nazi officials, the rest of the West will never stop looking for and executing terrorist leaders. The more inevitable we make a bullet to the brain and a watery grave (a more effective deterrent than a public trial and execution, despite the need for the supremacy of law in a free society), the longer and harder people will think before embarking on quests of destruction driven by personal hatred. By and large, the revolutions that succeed without a zealot at the top are the benign ones.

5) And finally. People have compared the cheering in the West at the news of Bin Laden's death to the cheering in the Middle East at the news of the 9/11 attacks. To some, both are equally unpleasant. But there is an enormous difference. Ten years ago, they cheered because they finally had a hope for war. Today, they cheer because they finally have a hope for peace.

So cheer with them.

 EDIT: The Economist's Democracy in America correspondent echoes a similar sentiment:

Were the crowds outside of the White House celebrating bloodshed, or were they celebrating a perceived end to the bloodshed caused by Mr bin Laden (however wrong that assumption may be)? Were they rejoicing in a man's death, or rejoicing in the fact that this man can no longer cause death? [...] But I say the celebration didn't feel wrong because the one I observed did not have the jingoistic feel of so many post-9/11 gatherings in support of the troops, or the war, or the other war, or whatever. The revelers were not pumping themselves up for some future aggression. Sure, it was "America, fuck yeah!", but it was not "America, fuck you!" There was a satisfying sense of closure to an era of mass discomfort caused by our fears and our reaction to those fears.  


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