A man is dead. That isn’t meant to be a good thing. My instincts seethe at the triumphant whoops that greet the news, like a kazoo at a funeral. The Last Post in a major key. But today, Osama bin Laden died, and maybe that is a good thing?
Maybe I should look past all the doubts and suspicions. Put my distaste for patriotism in second place, forget all my smug political analyses, put a sock in all my inclinations to jump straight over hope into cynicism. Osama bin Laden didn’t create the war in Afghanistan single-handed. He didn’t fly the 9/11 planes, or originally conceive their deployment. But it seems reasonable to say that, without this hideous evangelist of hatred, a lot less people would have died, and the world might have wanted less for peace.
It certainly hasn’t been handled perfectly. I won’t be the only one who saw the headline ‘body buried at sea’, and instantly thought oh no you bloody well didn’t. I understand that a martyrdom-laced portrait of the corpse could have been a terrible idea, but conspiracy theorists shouldn’t be fed. There’s going to be forum servers all over the internet sagging under lengthy claims that the whole thing was set-up, that they didn’t really kill him, that he was killed two years ago but Obama kept him on ice until he needed a ratings boost – we can but hope that nothing will be well-enough founded for Fox News to run with it.
Nor should pleasure at the man’s death, if pleasure it can be termed, be allowed to fuel the fires of war. We killed Osama, we are invincible – today Pakistan, tomorrow…North Korea? Tehran? NO. This has to be used as an ending. A chance to withdraw troops, and build bridges, and quell the mood of (inter)national hysteria which leads to stupid people calling anyone in a turban a terrorist. Let’s end that popular myth. Let’s use bin Laden’s blood to draw a line under the image of the turbanned Jihadi, and make it an image of the past, a stereotype like little black Sambo that we shudder to think was ever common currency. An American soldier I spoke to once justified the ‘War on Terror’ thus: you blew up two of our buildings, man, we’re gonna blow up two of your fuckin’ countries. The ‘success’ (and listen to those inverted commas clang down) of today’s shooting mustn’t be used to prompt the question okay that’s two countries down, who’s fuckin’ next?
But still, this can be a good thing; and hope comes from the response of the man best placed to determine the public mood. The President of America’s response could have done with a sprinkle less God-Bless-America and introductory pathos, but it was mature and appropriate in tone. It would have been so easy for him to seize the jingoistic moment and use it to embrace the America-Fuck-Yeah voters who think their leader should be a Sergeant-Major, not a statesman. Instead, President Obama found time for messages such as:
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al-Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
This is to his credit, and if he gets a little approval bounce as well, I won’t begrudge it. Who knows, maybe the right decisions will be made. Maybe this will help to close the chapter of history which has led to thousands of deaths (in the towers, on the battlefield, Allied, civilian, Iraqi, Afghani. A Man Is Dead: that shouldn’t be a good thing). Maybe those who cherished those who died can take a little comfort from the zealot’s death. Maybe today, when the corpse of – let’s assume – Osama bin Laden was bundled hastily into the waves, a little bit of hatred, and nationalism, and divisive tribalist pride went down with him for good. Dammit, we can dare to hope.
But let’s not get too excited: a man is dead.
UK people! Knowing the friends I have, I doubt anyone reading this is of an anti-AV mindset*, but just in case it’s slipped anyone’s mind, THERE’S A BIG REFERENDUM COMING UP, which if y’all do the right thing might lead to a FRACTIONALLY LESS TERRIBLE VOTING SYSTEM. I stupidly forgot to sort out a postal vote, so I’ll be watching sadly from the sidelines – so I’m leaving it up to all you crazy bastards to GET OUT THE VOTE like a vote ain’t never been got out before. Yes to AV, people. It could mean your vote might have a vague point in future elections, like in a, y’know, democracy.
*Except maybe Ben? Hi Ben.