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

The fact that Osama bin Laden, a man who fought his enemies with violence that frequently killed the innocent, is now dead is from many perspectives a positive development. That the world now has one less influential leader who is willing to kill and destroy as a means of engendering political change is hopefully a small step towards a more peaceful world…

But it’s a pity that the US chose to pursue a massive ‘war on terrorism’ as a response to bin Laden’s violent campaign, a war in which far more innocent people have been killed and injured than bin Laden’s initial attacks. Their deaths are also part of this story and must be counted and acknowledged in our reflections on the real costs of this so-called act of ‘justice’…

And it’s a pity that the Bush administration and the coalition of the willing wrongly linked Iraq to al Qaeda and bin Laden, and then invaded with the result of more than 600,000 dead and millions displaced. The immeasurable suffering of that nation is one of the most shameful episodes of the hunt for bin Laden, but I have seen no mention of Iraq in all the discussion. To the victims of the invasion, the rejoicing in the death of bin Laden will most likely leave a bitter taste…

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. Those innocent individuals who can no longer sleep properly because they endured sleep deprivation torture, who suffer nightmares and post-traumatic stress from being waterboarded, also have to be counted as part of the enduring costs of the hunt for bin Laden…

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 wanted terrorist or war criminal) could be captured, tried and imprisoned at the Hague. A strong international legal system guaranteed by the US, rather than the rule of force, would have been far better outcome than the disastrous decade of war on terrorism that 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 sad that so few today recognize or understand that the use of violence rarely leads to any long-term solutions, but instead, most often creates ever more violence and suffering in the long run. This event and the response to it are an opportune moment to reflect on our addiction to political violence and our belief that conflict can best be solved by killing…

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. This small death should be a moment to reflect on how many lives were lost in the campaign to finally get bin Laden and whether killing terrorists without dealing with the reasons why they fight is a useful long-term strategy. These deeper questions have been lost in all the rejoicing…

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 ocean. Apart from the denial of full justice to the victims of 9/11 who will never know now what really happened, this seems like a surrender of our own values, norms and beliefs in the rule of law. Making exceptions to human rights and legal standards of justice only succeeds in creating a world in which law and justice is ever weaker. By responding to bin Laden in a lawless manner, and treating him as he treated his victims, we simply go down and join him in the pit of immorality. We become the monster we hunt…

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 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, one wonders 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 be surprising if many 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 on land. Killing him in this way now makes him even more of a martyr to his followers and a potent symbol of resistance. It probably would have been much 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 reforming the 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 if George W. Bush was to die…

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 far less guilty than bin Laden, more ‘collateral damage’ in our war on terror. It illustrates something about our real values that their lives, and the lives of all the others lost in the hunt for bin Laden, 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 still saying that his death changes none of these things but that we will have to (endlessly) continue 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.

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About richardjacksonterrorismblog

I am currently the Deputy Director of the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Prior to this, I was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I study and teach on issues of terrorism, political violence, conflict resolution and war. I have published several books on these topics, including: Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth); Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Cases (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010; edited by Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy and Scott Poynting); Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009; edited by Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning); Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch); and Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). I am also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism.
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9 Responses to The Death of Osama bin Laden: It’s a pity…

  1. Scott says:

    I would like desperately to disagree with you. Unfortunately, I can’t.

  2. Jack Holland says:

    A very good post. I have two questions about what comes next:

    Do you think that this is a particularly ‘open moment’ for Obama to seize? He’s had the rhetorical deck stacked against him so far, perhaps this is a chance to begin to create his own narrative? Is this his ‘George Bush moment’?

    And how important is the symbolism of Obama’s proposed visit to Ground Zero later this week?

    My own thoughts on the death of OBL are here: http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/

    • Thanks, Jack. Your thoughts and comments are very welcome. I’m highly sceptical that Obama can or will re-write his own narrative. The dominant narrative is so well entrenched and institutionalised now, and there are too many vested interests in its continuation, for any real change to be possible. And, Obama has too long demonstrated his own acceptance of the core narratives left to him by Bush. The appeal to American exceptionalism in the announcement speech is a case in point. This is the thrust of my new argument in International Politics, a special issue edited by Inderjeet on the Obama foreign policy.

  3. inderjeet parmar says:

    A terrific intervention into the ‘celebration’ currently going on. You raise some very serious issues at a level deeper than most of the media, and in a more complex and rounded way. I shall cross post thsi onto my own blog (USBlog at http://ij-poli-blog.blogspot.com). Nice one!

  4. Iman El Sakhawy says:

    Thank you for this explicit evaluation to US policy. You expressed exactly what the majority in the Islamic and arab nations see with resent the American foreign policy. And I just wrote to one of my friends what has been written in your article. I am supporting your method of thinking and thank you once again for this. Please publish this aricle to the western world maybe they understand that they are not the only human on this globe…

    Iman M. El Sakhawy

  5. Meeran says:

    Thanks for your eye opening article. Hope the civilized western people come forward to make the world peaceful, tell the american hawks that they are making more enemies by interference and invasion. Tell them not breach what they preach

  6. Archana Soman says:

    A very accurate and moving analysis. I think the most salient and humbling point is that the Americans and we the rest of the world so unquestioningly believe that American lives are far more valuable and worthy than Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian (or whatever else) lives. The 600000 nameless killed in the war against terror are nameless, faceless and not worthy of mention, let alone worthy of memorials, ‘revenge’ etc. The three (possibly innocent) people killed along with Bin Laden were again not a price worthy of mention, to have been paid in the process of revenge in which no “Americans were killed”.

  7. Pingback: The Death of Osama bin Laden: It’s a pity… (via richardjacksonterrorismblog) « Iqadh – Awakening

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