02 May 2011

The Execution of bin Laden, or The end of morality

The morning arrived quicker than I hoped.  Before six I stumbled from bed, and bumbled to the porch to grab the paper.  My eyes bulged as a picture of a large group of people holding an American  flag jumped off the page; everyone's mouths were gaping, fists and fingers in the air, and abundant smiles.  What was this?  I immediately thought as I perked up.  Ideas raced through my head.  Something of some great significance has happened. Could it be world peace? The end of poverty as we know it?  The cure for AIDS, or Cancer, or heart disease, or any number of plagues on humankind?  What could have happened to have caused what appeared to be extreme jubilation?

If you're like me, that is you're a human being living on planet Earth and you have access to some type of news source, you have heard by now that what these people were celebrating in sheer ecstasy was nothing noble or courageous but the death of one man, Osama bin Laden, at the hands of US Navy SEALs.  My initial cheer turned to disappointment and then sadness.  The sadness I felt was not for Mr. bin Laden, although I couldn't help but think that somewhere his relatives are grieving, ruing the US, and sharpening their blades, but the real focus of my sadness was for the people celebrating.  After all they were rejoicing jubilantly over Osama bin Laden's execution.  Is this morally justified, to celebrate someone's killing?  Should we really be celebrating such a thing?  Some of the faces looked purely demented, filled with joy and rage at the same moment.

On Wisconsin Public Radio the news of bin Laden's death preempted regular programming so guests and callers could literally rejoice on air in a kind of communal call to unity over this killing.

Matt Rothschild declared, "I'm delighted whenever a mass murderer dies."  Delighted?  And he's a progressive! We should definitely question this reaction.  We should question it because we are humans who possess morals.  We should question this reaction because it isn't right.  Should we really be delighted when someone dies or is killed, whether they are an enemy or a friend?

Mass murderer?  Was bin Laden a mass murderer?  He claimed responsibility for giving the orders to attack the Twin Towers, while the perpetrators, the murderers, of that criminal act died in the attack.  Bin Laden was responsible for instigating, organizing terrorist attacks around the world through al-Qaeda and other terrorists sects, for example, the bombing of the USS Cole, and the Madrid train bombing.  He either ordered, instigated, and/or funded these terrorist acts, among others, that have killed thousands of civilians and soldiers.  In no way should this be condoned.   

However, sticking to Rothschild's line of reasoning then, labeling bin Laden a mass murderer for orchestrating (not conducting or carrying out) the crimes attributed to him, Rothschild, to be consistent, must be anxiously awaiting for the executions of both George Bushes who are responsible for the orders that killed hundreds of thousands of civilian Panamanians, Kuwaitis, Iraqis, Afghans, to name just a few atrocities.  He must be diabolically twiddling his thumbs hoping for the prompt deaths of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who have been instrumental in the thousands killed in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, and on and on.  Rothschild must also have been ecstatic when Reagan died as he was responsible for the heinous crimes in El Salvador, the invasion that killed thousands in Grenada and the arms shipments and CIA involvement in Nicaragua, to name a few outright criminal acts.  Who orchestrated more deaths in the world, bin Laden or any one of these US presidents over the last thirty years?  You can rest assured knowing that George H. W. Bush in his short four years as president is responsible for the ordering of more deaths than bin Laden.

Another guest on the show said that the killing of bin Laden was, "... the culmination of a decade of work of our Special Forces."  Ten years of work of resources - imagine the lives, the money spent, arms, time - spent on hunting down one man.  I don't think we can even speculate on the toll this manhunt has cost us.  But this much I know it has cost us: it has cost us our morals and our senses.

Jarret Brachman, a counterterrorism specialist and author, self assuredly announced, "Like every American, I celebrate this.  We've brought a really evil man to justice."  Unlike Mr. Brachman, I don't believe every American is celebrating.  Other people have come out and spoken against these celebrations as well.  So although the overwhelming news seems to be celebratory, there are people who oppose this type of reaction because death is a startlingly somber notion and should be treated as such.  We deplore the images of burning American bodies while onlookers chant anti-US slogans.  Yet when the US carries out similar atrocities, we parade.

Unfortunately for our nation one of those people against the celebrations is not our president.  The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize today declared, "I think we can all agree this is a good day for America."  Mr. President, I compassionately disagree.  The partying in the country and around the world is eerily reminiscent of  American effigies burning in mobs of craven faced vigilantes chanting for the downfall of the United States. 

The larger problem, and maybe the most deleterious one, after spending the countless hours, money and resources on this hunt, the accomplishment is whittled down to this: the US has created a martyr.  "He was like a hero in the Muslim world," said Sayed Jalal, a rickshaw driver in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. "His struggle was always against non-Muslims and infidels, and against superpowers."  The execution of Osama bin Laden essentially will change nothing except prop him up as a 'national' hero for anti-US sentiment.  What his death seems to have accomplished is the cementing of his place in the annals of martyrdom.  He has been declared a martyr.  Contrary to some people's thinking, this will probably lead to greater friction and strife.

Central to all of this is not the liberty or the freedom in the US, it is our very idea of justice, so perfectly illustrated by our action and reactions today, that is condemned around the world.  Looking at just a few examples from this generations' foreign policy, from Reagan to Obama, is just the tip of the covert iceberg.   As Stephen Kinzer noted, "No one in the world cares how much or how little freedom there is in the United States.  What angers them is the way the United States uses its power to crush freedom in other parts of the world."  The CIA and the military complex in America is treading a dangerous line.  While waging war around the world, US corporations have supplanted local small businesses in Latin and South America, and Southeast Asia churning record profits while condemning the local workers to lives of servitude.  The US is not in the business of creating more allies.

So while people's blood lust for vengeance has for the moment found reprieve, it at the same time spawns more twisted and wicked ways for torture to rear its devastating consequences.  For, think about this, as the death of this one man is cherished, the celebratory gestures give credence and credibility to the covert operations conducted by our malevolent foreign policy makers and military planners.  Before blaming Pakistan for sheltering bin Laden, ask yourself this: what were US special forces doing within the border of a sovereign nation?  What if, for example, this was turned around and it was George W. Bush who was executed by Jordanian, or Lebanese, or Iraqi sea, air, and land operatives?  How would you react then to see pictures of jubilant Arabs cursing Mr. Bush and denouncing America?

It's understandable that many people who lost loved ones in the crime that occurred at the World Trade Center now feel some relief.  This should never be denied as a heinous and criminal act nor should we cease to denounce terrorist acts anywhere, including those perpetrated by our own country.  But should one heinous act be the justification for hundreds or thousands of heinous acts?  Since September 11, 2001, the US has invaded two countries, one of which, Iraq, had nothing to do with the attack in New York, carried out continuous bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, performed countless covert operations, executed hundreds of targeted terrorists, imprisoned thousands of 'war criminals' without charging them nor without fair trial - they are the incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where no American is legally allowed to set foot, imprisoned Army Pfc. Bradley Manning as a political prisoner, and killed Osama bin Laden, to list just a few.  The US is not a 'good guy' in this fight any more than Iran is evil.

Those who claim this moment as a chance for the US to come together as a unified nation, to revel in the news, are chanting jingoism.  Coming together in blood baths is not morally right, it is ethically and morally wrong.  The reason to come together as a nation today should be to vilify this deed as an act of covert operations that we will not tolerate - not in our country and not by our country.  Although Gandhi's turn of words has become cliche (it is such a beautiful sentiment that it ought not become a cliche, when a phrase becomes cliche it loses its meaning and becomes neutralized), it is clearly applicable: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

The truth behind this whole story is that we the people of America are blind.  We hear what we are told by our leaders and our media - most influentially by television.  We have bought this 'persona of evil' rhetoric that our politicians are conning us with.  But our government is not transparent.  It is utterly opaque.  And in meeting rooms all around the country, warlords and power hungry egomaniacs plan future movements and atrocities that we the people know nothing about (see infecting Guatemalans with STDs as an example) but accept without question.  Because of this, we should be especially wary with our celebrations.   Here's a fact that is almost guaranteed: we don't know which facts are facts and which facts are fiction.  On that you can bank.  We don't know.

Before reacting over-zealously about a man being hunted down and killed, pause to reflect what killing bin Laden gains and what we lose because of it.  Killing in the name of vengeance does not bring about peace.  And killing a man who had billions of dollars means he won't die easily nor will his cause be forgotten quickly.  Yet it costs the United States far more.  This foreign policy, hunting down terrorists and executing them, tarnishes the American people, creates more dissension and aversion toward us, and isn't based on sound reasoning.  It is a policy based on an insidious lie: that everyone wants to live like Americans do.  That's just not true.  And no matter how much we celebrate an execution, it won't bring our dead back, but it will mean that more will die.  And that is true.

Rather than cheering our government on to commit more planned acts of violence and emboldening them to commit more human rights violations, the people of America need to stand united against all acts of violence no matter how major or minute and demand our Nobel Prize carrying president to do the same.
UPDATE on May 6th:  The cost of bin Laden: $3 trillion over 15 years


  1. You put your finger right on it. I too have been disturbed by the images of celebration veering too closely to unthinking, jingoistic bloodlust, similar to what exploded right after the attacks 10 years ago. However, I don't entirely agree that the only major consequence of this will be bin Laden's subsequent martyrization--after all, there are revolutions happening all across the Middle East at this very moment showing how much the people want to break away from ObL's legacy, ideology, and terrorist acts, so many of which were committed against his own people in faith. Only time will tell, but I truly hope that what Fareed Zakaria wrote today
    (http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/02/al-qaeda-is-dead/?hpt=T2) will come to bear fruit.

  2. Thank you for the link. Quite right about the martyrdom, there will be other unforeseen consequences, most notably how haphazard and masochistic the US looks after chasing one guy for more than ten years only to kill him while he is unarmed. It's a strange world.