Real Politik

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.

Yay propaganda?

*Except maybe Ben? Hi Ben.

5 thoughts on “Real Politik

  1. Nice slice of word flan. I was quite shocked to hear how America reacted as a nation with their street parties and so forth. It was on such a scale you would have believed they’d been granted independence a second time. Can only hope that such vindication on their part is more putting demons to rest than triumph. It is not a victory.

    Anyhoo, have a read of the Economist’s ditty on AV vote. I’m a voting yes but in all honesty it has been the ONLY worthwhile counterargument that sides with the no camp, and thus makes for a well informed read. Unlike certain flyers i’ve gotten through my letterbox…

    Peace n love.

  2. As an American, I ask that you not assume we all feel the way that American soldier purportedly did (and he totally stole that line from Carlos Mencia, which is like double-stealing). A lot of people were celebrating when the news broke, if the UW’s Greek Row is any indication, and I don’t think it’s fair to begrudge them that. Osama Bin Laden has been a name of terror in American hearts and minds for ten years. The man was a key orchestrator of the greatest tragedy ever on American soil, killing thousands of American civilians, and he gloated about it publicly. For that alone his death is a victory, to say nothing of the heartbreak and fear he wrecked in various other places.

    But ultimately, it is just the death of one man. It doesn’t change anything in the war situation, and it doesn’t mean Americans are going to start stomping about shouting, “Who’s fucking next??” We got our guy. Now we can move on to more important things, like ending the war.

    As for your concern about conspiracy theorists, I think they’re kind of unfounded. Conspiracy-nuts are going to attack this no matter how his body was handled, without regard for actual evidence, and nobody listens to them anyway. Big whoop. Would I have preferred that he was caught alive and tried in court? Yes, definitely. It would have been infinitely better in terms of PR. But do I regret that he’s dead? And do I begrudge my countrymen their celebration? Absolutely not. This isn’t about patriotism, although some people have certainly made that connection. It’s about finally bring a mass murderer to justice, and I think that’s a point worth a few hoo-rahs.

    You say a man is dead. I say he was also a monster.

    1. Morgan – I deliberately went over this to make sure it wasn’t making any sweeping generalisations about Americans. Paragraph five and six are largely given over to praising the American leader – and also, remember that America isn’t/wasn’t the only country in Afghanistan (etc). When I criticise the war, that’s a critique of British actions as well. I think you’ve gone on the defensive a little, without anything to be defensive against. When I talk about that American soldier, I’m criticising his attitudes, not his nationality.

      As for ‘worth a few hoo-rahs’, that’s a bit like saying…passing your driving test is worth talking about squirrels. Hoo-rahs are irrelevant to this killing – they’re not so much wrong as they’re a non-sequitur. (EDIT: Unless you think the hoo-rahs ARE relevant, in which case they’re wrong, because then that’s just infantile Fuck-Yeahism)

  3. @Morgan: Does death mean justice? And does the US even have the right to kill someone who isn’t a US citizen, on foreign soil, extrajudicially and without remorse? I think the answer to both questions is a resounding No. But then, I am a Scot who doesn’t believe the death penalty should be applicable to any crime because it’s just a legally-sanctioned way to avenge a death by murdering someone. I can understand why people would want to celebrate: as you say, Osama bin Laden’s name has been a powerful psychological threat for many in America. However, the fact that a human being has been killed (‘monster’ or not), and that thousands of civilians have died because the US government wanted him dead (because killing him is constructive, clearly), makes my flesh creep.
    @Aran: Really well written, and very powerfully argued; the psychological impact of the death weighed up with the moral implications of ending (and celebrating the end of) a life.

    PS: Also, on a random note: hello from St Andrews and a friend of Cat’s! :)

    1. Hello Standrewite! Glad you enjoyed my waffle (:

      I have to say, I’m not sure about the ‘killing him extrajudicially’ thing – if they had the OPTION of sedating him and bringing him to trial then yes, that would have been favourable, but as he died in a firefight I think we can maybe be charitable enough to assume that this wasn’t actually directly analogous to a death penalty.

      I agree w/Morgan that he was a monster – killing people does remove the sanctity of your own life, though you’re right that that shouldn’t lead to eye-for-an-eye revenge killing – and I can’t quite bring my flesh to creep at his death itself. But a celebratory response to that death like Gareth mentioned is pure creepy flesh all over.

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