The Death of Osama bin Laden: It’s a pity…

By: Professor Richard Jackson
Secretary, British International Studies Association (BISA)

Editor, 
Critical Studies on Terrorism
Department of International Politics

Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth,

Ceredigion, Wales SY23 3FE, UK

The fact that Osama bin Laden, a man who fought his enemies with violence that frequently killed the innocent, is now dead could be a positive development…

But it’s a pity that the US chose to pursue a massive ‘war on terrorism’ as a response to bin Laden’s terrorist campaign, a war that has killed and injured far more innocent people than bin Laden’s initial attacks…

And it’s a pity that the Bush administration and the coalition of the willing linked Iraq to al Qaeda and bin Laden, and then invaded with the result of more than 600,000 dead…

And it’s a pity that so many people, including many innocents, were kidnapped, rendered and tortured for information on bin Laden’s whereabouts, and in the end, normal methods of intelligence-gathering found him anyway…

And it’s a pity that the US did not respond to the Taliban’s offer to hand over bin Laden to trial in Pakistan in 2001, and that they did not take the opportunity to strengthen international law and the ICC, so that bin Laden (and any other terrorist or war criminal) could be captured, tried and imprisoned at the Hague. A strong international legal system guaranteed by the US would have been far better than the disastrous decade of war on terrorism than we have had instead…

And it’s a pity that so many are celebrating using violent means to fight a violent group, and that it will most likely lead to a continuing, maybe even intensifying, cycle of violence. It’s a pity that so few recognize that violence rarely leads to any long-term solutions, but instead, most often creates ever more violence and suffering in the long run…

And it’s a pity that some think we should just celebrate his death without thinking about the context in which it occurred, the history of suffering he and his enemies engendered, the inherent moral and strategic problems with the way it was done, and the likely future consequences for so many…

And it’s a pity that the US and other Western states view ‘justice’ as killing a man extra-judicially and then disappearing his body in the sea. This seems like a surrender of our own values and principles, and it helps to create a world in which law and justice is ever weaker…

And it’s a pity that targeted killing is now a core tactic of counter-terrorism, especially when the Israeli experience clearly demonstrates that it does not work to reduce terrorism, kills many innocent bystanders, and leads to more recruits for the terrorist groups…

And it’s a pity that bin Laden came to be seen as the personalization of evil, the mastermind who could be blamed for causing most of the world’s terrorism, and who therefore needed to be eradicated at all costs. Solely focusing on one man meant that the history and context of real political grievances which lead to bin Laden’s rise was silenced and erased; terrorism was about one evil guy, not decades of US foreign policy, entrenched grievances, structures of oppression and daily physical, structural and cultural violence. Now he’s gone, I wonder who will take his place as the next personification of evil…

And it’s a pity that it happened so late that it will have no positive effect at all on terrorism or counter-terrorism, or on bin Laden’s mythical status as the man who stood up to the Western world for more than a decade…

And it’s a pity that they dumped his body in the sea, which will most likely add to his mythical status. It won’t surprise me if a lot of his supporters refuse to believe he is really dead. They may also be further angered that his corpse was desecrated by not being given a proper burial…

And it’s a pity that killing him in this way now makes him even more of a martyr to his followers, and a potent symbol of resistance. It would have been better to de-mythologise him and exorcise his power by putting him on trial and showing him in prison – an ordinary man growing old, rather than some kind of super-terrorist who eluded the world’s greatest superpower for years…

And it’s a pity that all the resources and efforts put into killing bin Laden over ten years was not instead put into strengthening international law, dealing with political grievances, supporting peace constituencies, resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, genuinely promoting political participation and democracy, and reconsidering oppressive and unjust foreign policies which provoke violent resistance…

And it’s a pity that so many Americans are on the streets celebrating and so many political leaders are crowing about it as a major victory. It will be a further humiliation for some in the Middle East, and they may rightly feel that the celebrations contain no acknowledgement of the suffering they have experienced from US invasion, counter-terrorism operations, drone attacks, rendition, etc. I wonder how we would react to celebrations in Iraq at the news of Bush’s death…

And it’s a pity that no one is talking about the other three people killed in the operation, one of whom was bin Laden’s son and another an unknown woman. They may turn out to be innocent people, more ‘collateral damage’ in our war on terror. It illustrates something about our real values that their lives are so unimportant that they won’t be discussed or mourned in all the euphoria over killing bin Laden, the evil mastermind. And it’s a pity that Obama said ‘no Americans were harmed’ in the operation, as if American lives are more valuable than others. This way of ordering the world into worthy and unworthy victims, people to be mourned and people to be erased, is what keeps the cycle of violence ever turning…

And it’s a pity that it will not lead to the end of the war on terror, the culture of fear, and all the intrusions into daily life of militarized forms of counter-terrorism. It’s a pity that in response to bin Laden’s initial attacks, we irrevocably changed our way of life and undermined our own values, and that political leaders are already saying that his death changes none of these things but that we will have to (endlessly) continue to be vigilant in the fight against terrorism…

It’s a pity that this event will do nothing to end the sheer stupidity and shameful waste of ten years of war and violence.

Professor Richard Jackson

Penglais, Aberystwyth,

Editor, Critical Studies on Terrorism Department of International Politics

http://richardjacksonterrorismblog.wordpress.com/

4 thoughts on “The Death of Osama bin Laden: It’s a pity…

  1. Pingback: La muerte de Bin Laden... una pena [ENG]

  2. Chichi Bodart

    Am glad that there are people like you that are thinking and writing this way..

    Reply
  3. Maria Steffen

    A very emotional piece, thank you for putting these words together. It was both sad and scary to see these events unfold and I am glad that there are questions being raised and valid ones at that.
    It’s all to easy to fall into the crowd and only see things in black and white, I think it’s important as a society we stop, ask the question and not accept every piece of information fed to us.

    Reply

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