Osama bin Laden is dead

I set aside finishing the site and this new blog while I was looking for a job. I’ve since found full-time employment (I’ll be starting at the World Bank on May 13th), so I hope to polish everything soon and get back into a writing routine. Since I returned to the US last July I’ve occasionally jotted a few thoughts down regarding something I’ve seen or done or read, but until today, nothing moved me to write more than a few sentences. What I’ve copied below is just a few short paragraphs I sent earlier tonight to a friend who asked me in an e-mail whether I went down to the White House yesterday after hearing President Obama’s announcement about the killing of Osama bin Laden (OBL). It’s completely unedited, so my apologies for all the run-on sentences and any other problems with the writing.

No, I didn’t go to the White House. Total disinclination to do so at midnight aside, the news did not in any way stir within me a desire to celebrate. Don’t get me wrong – I firmly believe the world is better off now that OBL is dead. I’m pleased we finally found him, grateful the operation didn’t cost any American lives, and distressed by what the circumstances reveal as fairly blatant complacency (at best) if not complicity by the Pakistani military/intelligence community/government/some or all of the above. I’m made uncomfortable by the magnitude of joy being expressed and the mood that justice achieved through black ops and assault helicopters is what makes our country great. I fear for the lives of Americans – friends and strangers alike – living overseas, especially those stationed in Central Asia and on the Arabian peninsula. Perhaps most profoundly, I worry that too many will permit this event, in their own minds, to vindicate a decade of often ill-conceived and counterproductive warfare that has heaped ruin on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and accelerated the bankruptcy of the United States. I have always rejected the notion that Al Qaeda specifically and violent/radical Islam more generally represents an existential threat to us, and for the media to conflate OBL with Stalin and Hitler not only far overstates the power of terrorism, but also seriously distorts our national memory of a world plagued by totalitarians who actually could have destroyed our way of life. 

This all comes in the context of my frustration with what I can only characterize as a culture of war that has become an inextricable part of modern America. The almost desperate need for absolute power in the international community, the insistence that every outcome on the planet can somehow be determined by the right blend of power projection, the widespread comfort with violence and warfare as principal tools of policy, and the utter failure by many to see ourselves and our revolutionary story in the unfolding Arab Spring – these things all trouble me in an increasingly profound way.

I hope beyond hope that the families and communities directly affected by 9/11 can find some measure of peace from all this, that OBL’s death boosts our extraordinary soldiers’ morale through the (hopefully short) remainder of these hellish wars, that the racist and paranoid and cynical “Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-who-wants-to-sell-America-out-to-the-terrorists” theorists are muzzled forever, and that we can understand both the national strength and weaknesses this decade-long, hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars manhunt has exposed. OBL was a murderous combatant and an exceedingly evil man, and eliminating him was just. But celebrating this “victory” with chants of “USA, USA, USA!” and rounds of the national anthem? Let’s just say it’s not for me.

Published by Michael

Exploration is key to finding realistic solutions to the world's problems. With an urgent need to find common ground with people around the world, I seek out and contemplate the new and different.

2 thoughts on “Osama bin Laden is dead

  1. Michael, very interesting post (thanks for the shout out as well!) I think it is especially interesting that we reach several similar conclusions despite a difference in how we reached them.
    In considering these issues, I am trying to separate the idea of condemnation of terrorism from the idea of the “War on Terror,” which is a nebulous, unfairly appropriated and deceptive string of bungled policy choices with often deplorable results. I guess I am trying to be conscious not to allow my cynicism and resentment of many American policies regarding terrorism to cloud my conviction that those who employ the tactic should still face retribution (multilaterally, I hope.)
    As far as a culture of war and the idea of terrorism or extremist Islam being threatening to our way of life, you are right – that is poppycock. It isn’t something that has the power or resources to seriously debase the world order. Maybe if we regard them primarily as threats to individual lives and not the culture and security of states, we’d reach a more reasonable conclusion.

  2. America’s pretty fucked. I don’t even try to convince myself otherwise anymore. It’s better this way: some moments, I’m actually pleasantly surprised.

    Aftermath of OBL’s death was not one such occasion. The reaction was predictable, cliched and, ultimately … understandable, given how the political game is played and how Americans are wired to think. That’s the scary part.

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