Osama bin Laden is dead.
Some have responded by cheering his death, jumping for jingoistic joy as they thump their chests screaming, ‘USA! USA!’. On the other side of the spectrum, radical websites have mourned his death as the loss of a ‘martyr’.
I’m afraid I cannot sympathize with either of these two extremes. The fact of the matter is, contrary to what both bin Laden and his one-time nemesis Bush propagated, we don’t live in a stark black-and-white world. We live in a very colorful, very multi-faceted world. Because I refuse to see everything in black-and-white, my position is neither one of sorrow nor one of elation.
It is not one of sorrow because I never viewed bin Laden as someone representing the teachings of my faith. He was a reactionary who lacked wisdom and who had no long-term vision. His response to the political grievances that he felt was a visceral rage expressed in the language of a false, pseudo-jihad – an understanding of ‘jihad’ that he himself invented, and not one that the trained scholars of Islam shared with him. He helped formulate and propagate ideas that caused more bloodshed in Muslim lands, and more civil war, than any Western invasion in the last decade. Suicide bombers claiming allegiance to him cheerfully bombed men, women and children in bazaars in Baghdad, in shrines in Karachi, in skyscrapers in New York, and in markets in Kabul.
Bin Laden was already largely irrelevant in the Arab and Muslim world anyway. What good did all of his fiery rhetoric ever do for the Palestinians he claimed to have been fighting for? And what impact did he have amongst the Arab masses as they all rallied together (and continue to do so) against their brutal dictators? From the alleyways of Benghazi to the maydans of Cairo, and from the mosques of Damascus to the streets of Sana’a, not one protester waved the flag of Osama or chanted slogans of al-Qaeda. It was the people who brought about real change, not Osama with his anti-American rage and calls for violence.
Yet, I cannot cheer his death either. Why?
Firstly, because the intentional taking of another human life is not a cause for cheering. Yes, sometimes life needs to be taken (as in the case of a State executing a murderer), but it is not appropriate to rejoice at this act.
Secondly, those who looked up to bin Laden for inspiration were not motivated to become suicide bombers and radical terrorists because bin Laden managed to brainwash them. The grievances that all such radicals recite are political and social. Bin Laden was but a figurehead, and his death will actually feed into the whole martyrdom mythology that these movements weave around themselves. As Jeremy F. Walton, professor of Religious Studies at NYU, wrote on his blog today,
“I do not mean to denigrate the persistent grief of the families of 9/11 victims, or, for that matter, the pain that countless Americans continue to experience when they recall or witness the indelible images of that infamous Tuesday morning. But make no mistake: last night’s celebrators, and all those whom they represent, have no comprehension of the political history, quotidian violence, and post-colonial frustration over increasing global inequities—to gesture to but a few factors—that made Osama bin Laden and his network possible. Political theorist Mahmood Mamdani, for one, has vigorously argued that a reckoning of the American role in the creation of jihadist violence during the Cold War is indispensable to understanding al-Qaeda itself. Acknowledgement of this neglected political history is even more crucial in the wake of bin Laden’s death.”
Therefore, the real question for me is not whether we should rejoice or not. The real questions are far more profound and difficult to answer.
Now that we have killed bin Laden, will his death extinguish his ideas and truly make the world a safer place?
Now that we have killed bin Laden, will the anger that millions of people around the world feel towards our foreign policy simply dissipate into thin air?
Now that we have killed bin Laden, will that justify the trillions of dollars that we have spent on our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the hundreds of thousands of dead since 9/11?
Now that we have killed bin Laden, will our infamous ‘War on Terror’ finally come to an end, and will we discontinue drone attacks in far-away lands and draconian policies back home? (And on that note: can we finally travel with our toothpaste and without having to be sexually assaulted by TSA officials?!)
Now that we have killed bin Laden, will the hysteria being propagated by the Right and the Islamophobia that is rampant across Europe and America subside?
Now that we have killed bin Laden, will we start concentrating on far more important domestic and international issues?
I guess the bottom line is: now that we have killed bin Laden, has status quo really changed all that much?
I don’t have answers to all of these questions, but these are the questions that need to be asked before we rush to celebrate his death.
It took America – the most powerful and technologically advanced country on earth – a full ten years to find this one man. How great it would have been if we had managed to capture the perpetrators of 9/11 ten years ago! But our own reactions to 9/11 created a whole list of new issues, both domestic and international, that the killing of bin Laden will not solve. And to make matters even worse, in that decade a new generation, a young generation, has come of age – a generation for whom 9/11 evokes barely a memory. For this young generation, the death of bin Laden does little to solve its own problems.
If we have learned anything from the Arab protesters across the Middle East, it is that change has to begin from within, and the best way to fight for the change that you believe in – even if that fight be against powerful regimes – is through nonviolent means. Killing your enemies doesn’t solve problems; working proactively and productively to gain the world’s sympathy when clear injustices have been committed does.
The death of bin Laden should mark a new beginning – I hope that it actually does.