Monday, 2 May 2011

an argument against the words "success" and "achievement"

Is it just me, or does anyone else see something hypocritical in the way that everyone is celebrating Osama bin Laden's death? This is not to say that I am disregarding the huge impact he has had on the Western world, and the sheer hatred (and rightly so) that some of the American people particularly have against him. 9/11 happened under his dictate, and for that, then we should view him in the same capacity that we view Hitler - he's a tyrant, and not just a tyrant, but a man with some seriously terrifying ideologies.

I am of the opinion that one shouldn't celebrate a death. Perhaps celebrate certain ramifications of his death, but not the death itself. However, I wasn't there, I doubt that it was a peaceful capture, and there is a certain horrible inevitability that the soldiers involved in that raid would not have let him live. Of course they wouldn't. They would have felt a loyalty to their country and to the thousands of people affected by the devastating events of 2001, and there's something praiseworthy in that loyalty.

But think about it this way: after 9/11, say, bin Laden could well have been celebrating himself. (You can read along with me! See Tony Blair's comments on the BBC).

"My heartfelt gratitude to my loyal soldiers and to all of those who so brilliantly undertook and executed this operation. We should never forget that the occupation of our holy sites by US troops was the worst ever form of blasphemy against our people. ...
The operation shows those who commit acts of violence against the innocent will be brought to justice, however long it takes. So this is a huge achievement in the fight against the Western powers."

BBC 1455 update: "Americans have come bearing signs: 'We got him. God Bless America.'"

"We got him?" What is this, a comic book? I suppose it is; who'd a thunk that a good old-fashioned fight between good and evil would exist in this modern day and age? Except it's not so easy to see who is good and who is evil. In computer games, it was obvious. You knew you were meant to kill the zombies, the orcs, the aliens. In the Lord of the Rings, Sauron has a bleeding great evil eye and scary black horseriders. The symbolism is impossible to miss. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Queen takes away Christmas. Come on. No child is physically (mentally?) able to imagine anything superlative to this in terms of sheer EVIL.

But we don't live in fiction, and we don't have black/white, ugly/pretty divides to help us know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. For his supporters, Osama bin Laden was a good man, a holy man, fighting the good fight against the violent and oppressive occupying US forces. Obviously, for those of us on this side of the divide, it's something completely different.

I am in no way a fundamentalist. I haven no sympathy with the opinions and ideologies of bin Laden or his supporters. I have a laissez-faire, fairly leftish attitude towards much of politics. But occasionally, I get riled. And I find that the triumphalism on this day is sick and frankly, pointless.

I'd like to echo my friend Paul Virides' blog post (which you can find here): this changes nothing. I doubt that this will be a step towards anything good in the War on Terror. Terrorism will continue, there will be backlashes and violent reprisals, the US will not withdraw troops from Afghanistan. We need to stop feeling so virtuous and consider the terrible violence that Western troops have wreaked in Iraq. (It is like World War 2: the Blitz eclipsed the absolute devastation that British planes inflicted on German towns. Hitler's extremist anti-semitism eclipsed Britain's own racism at the time. British society was widely anti-semitic at that time, too, by the way. The difference lay in the extent of it).

Everyone is human, and the human race is capable of terrible, terrible things. People will die. There will always be war. This death changes nothing. We should stop celebrating, because there will be another fundamentalist ruler soon. We should stop celebrating, because it doesn't in any way avenge the deaths of 9/11, and the personal cost to those wives and families of US soldiers.

 The Facebook page 'Osama Bin Laden is DEAD' has reached over 320,000 likes. One comment reads, 'I hope he suffered'. That is sick. Anything, absolutely ANYTHING said against this man can be reversed. There were people in Afghanistan saying after 9/11, 'I hope they suffered'. Had we been privy to that, the Western world would be rocked to its core, wailing about the sick and twisted nature of that sentiment. And yet we are turning this phrase on its head, using it and, what's more, feeling righteous about using it.

I am disgusted by the opinions expressed by some of our political leaders in the media coverage. And also pained to see Obama - who I championed for vehemently - crowing so soon after this rare CIA/Special Forces success.

I'll leave you with Brian D. McLaren:

"'Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?"


  1. To a large extent I do agree Catherine. But this does change things, it changes a lot. This was America's big objective an now it is complete then this could completely change the direction everything in that area moves. It is also a very important psychological victory, and they are often the most important. I do think that celebrating any human beings death is very wrong but the world is certainly a better place without people like him. What would you say if you were Obama? Would you give the go-ahead? Also I think that, with the greatest respects intended, your comparsions to the Second World War are a little naive. You say the difference lay in the extent. But the extent of differences is very important indeed.

  2. he used his wife as a human shield. the resulting words of achievement and success from media etc come from what people do consider to be a genuine triumph of good over evil. I think thats why it displays like a celebration of his death.