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.  


G. said...

If I wasn't living with the feeling - by the way supported by many declarations published and recorded after May 2nd. - that a tremendous amount of people celebrate a successful revenge other than the beginning of peace, I would probably agree with you.

Unfortunately, for the time being, I cannot.

Still, on point #2, you are absolutely right.

Unknown said...

I second G. on that thought: why do you try to bleach it white? In 2001 americans cried for revenge. Now they celebrate it. There is not even a hope of having a peace, except probably for some peace of the mind for those close to the victims of 9-11.

Americans have lost a lot of their freedoms to "War on Terror", and won't get them back any time soon. One free country less in the world.

Kristopher said...

1) Conceded.

2) Disagree on the basis of the general concept of martyrdom, a concept which still remains compelling to many today. No, I find a slide into obscurity and isolation, the image of what realistically could only be a grey, impotent Osama hooked up to a dialysis machine, maybe in a cave, that would emasculate his cult much more.

3) Probably. The US government and media says Osama was responsible, I don't have any reason to doubt the US government and media. Again, though, saying the killing of the physical Osama equals the killing of the legend or concept is like saying the Twin Towers are no longer potent symbols because they have been destroyed.

4) Yes, but it still seems to happen again and again. Much like the death penalty fails to deter people in the heat of passion or suicidal fanatics. It's a noble thought that persistence pays off. Unfortunately pursuing someone to the ends of the earth tends also to harden the opposition. Some Chinese wise men and philosophers and military strategists, often in the same person, have said good things about this.

5. A nice thought, but economic inequality and countless other things are also in the picture. One man completely isolated and shielded from prosecution by some corruptive arrangement in a US client state is not what has been keeping the poor across the region down. Maybe Osama could order a few hits now and then from a phone like mafiosi do in federal prison, but he wasn't a great power. He was like Saddam at the end.

antyx said...

"why do you try to bleach it white?"

I don't. Quite the opposite, in fact: I recognize that real people are not white and fluffy, and will cheer at the misfortune of their enemy.

"There is not even a hope of having a peace"

Sure there is.

Giustino said...

I remember the first half of the 1990s as years of economic recession and civil disorder, not triumph and growth. My father lost his job. In New York you had the Crown Heights riot (1991). Farther away, there was the LA riot (1992), the Waco stand-off (1993). This was capped with the Oklahoma City Bombing (1995). It was only in the second half of the decade, with the dotcom bubble, that things really perked up. Which is why I think that the concept of "decades" is mostly BS.

The Eighties were not coherent either. The first half was a kind of sludgy, lethargic hangover from the Seventies with worse music. The second half was a time of materialistic abandon. We transitioned from having LPs to cassettes to CDs in the span on a few years. We got big screen TVs, a multitude of channels. My father even got his first "cell phone": an enormous box with a phone attached to it. The future was so bright, you had to wear shades ...


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