Tag Archives: Osama BinLaden

Between the symbol and the reality…

17 May
A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

Image via Wikipedia

For my money the assertion by many US commentators that the world is a better place without bin Laden is triumphalist bull dust. It will take a great deal more than the death of a terrorist to make the world and America, a better and safer place.

The killing of bin Laden was symbolically significant for the US. Had he been captured and tried, the result would have been a running sore, unresponsive to any known treatment. His assassination and burial at sea serve to draw a line under the events of 9/11 in a way in which bin Laden captured alive could not. The US government was aware of this. The US government knows the political value of closure, and the political risks of taking him alive.

The symbolic value for the US is that they got the alleged mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and in getting him, restored symbolic supremacy in a way  the Iraq invasion has been unable to accomplish. What this means for the reality of the daily life of many in the US is obscure. When you lose your job and your home, and you can’t pay for your medical care, is there comfort to be found in recalling that your government got bin Laden?

Whether his death was morally right is another question, and a fraught one at that. Killing an unarmed man who apparently poses no threat in that moment – dubious. Denying him natural justice – dubious. Eichmann got a trial, and he was responsible for enabling the murder of many more human beings than bin Laden, though they were not Americans. Mossad agents hunted him down in South America and brought him back to Israel where justice publicly prevailed.The world has changed since Eichmann, and assassination is apparently favoured over the rule of law

We’ve lost our taste for lengthy, painful trials: just taking them out is so much more efficient.

Whether or not bin Laden’s assassination demeans us as human beings is debatable, and probably depends on your individual moral sensitivities. In my opinion it’s no more demeaning than our invasion of Iraq, based as it was on lies about weapons of mass destruction, Western capitalist self-interest, and the linking of that country’s regime with the events of 9/11, a link that has never been established. We are collectively demeaned by our governments’ complicities, no matter what form they take. We are also helpless to prevent them.

I understand the American need for expediency in the bin Laden situation, though it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Politically there’s far more to be gained by killing him than bringing him in alive.  On the other hand, the West continues to demonstrate that we operate by a set of rules that when turned against us we decry as illegal and terroristic, such as the US invasion of Pakistan’s sovereign territory, resulting in acts of murder. The West is at war and the enemy is terrorism, is the justification. The new rules of engagement require the forfeit of sovereignty by certain countries in the interests of entitled Western states prosecuting that war as they see fit.

Since the 2003 invasion, some 110,183 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths, with Coalition forces responsible for higher casualty rates than anti-Coalition forces for all weapons combined, as well as for small arms gunfire. That figure is regarded as an underestimate since the release of Wikileaks cables apparently adding another 15,000 lost civilian lives. But these lives are not Western lives and they were lost in what Western leaders considered a “just” war. No matter that bin Laden and his followers no doubt consider their war “just” and the lives lost in 9/11 similarly collateral damage. Is state sanctioned terrorism morally superior to the terrorism perpetrated by a band of cave-dwelling religious fanatics? Is the determination to impose Western liberal democracy on every country in the world itself a form of fanaticism?

Nothing will change in America as a result of bin Laden’s death. The gap between the haves and have nots will continue to widen. This distance never had anything to do with terrorists, or the events of 9/11. School teachers will continue to face up to 20% reduction in their salaries as part of budget cuts. Citizens will continue to arm themselves in record numbers, in spite of the 2010 FBI statistics that reveal the crime rate has dropped. Fear will continue to govern the hearts and minds of Americans, fear of each other, fear of their government, and fear of terrorism.

Those who were affected by the events of 9/11 I hope will feel some relief, and some closure. But the death of bin Laden is not going to make anybody more compassionate, generous, accepting and caring about one another. It’s not going to make the small number of Americans who hold the greatest wealth consider paying fair taxes so that others can have a shot at a decent life. It isn’t going to halt the unemployment rate. It isn’t going to house the homeless.

Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Indigenous people of Australia was a powerful symbolic act surrounded by great emotion, but in reality little has changed since the apology was made. In the same way the assassination of bin Laden will bring no change to the lives of the American people who most need it. Both acts generated a great deal of emotion, but emotion is ephemeral and without the will to enact real change, emotion is nothing more than indulgence. Symbolic acts are vital in any society but they are supposed to be representative of a reality:  they have no life in and of themselves. We seem to have forgotten that. We seem to have settled for the belief that the symbol, and the momentary emotional thrill it brings, is all we need.

Of course it was right that Rudd should say sorry, but saying sorry was a beginning, as well as an ending. Of course bin Laden had to be hunted down, but that too is a beginning as well as an ending. Symbols mark the possibility of and hope for change. When that hope is not realized the symbol is rendered ineffective and hollow.

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Anti-Muslim sentiment in a post bin Laden USA

15 May
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shares a ...

Image via Wikipedia

Whoa, hello, back home again, seriously discombobulated with regard to day and night, and with a mind teeming with intense impressions. Whatever you think about the USA, it’s stimulating.

A few days ago two imams attempted to board a plane in Tennessee on their way to North Carolina. They went through three separate security searches, and then the pilot threw them off the flight. His reason? Other passengers complained that they felt uncomfortable  with the imams sharing their journey.

I saw the imams interviewed on the news. They were surprisingly affable, given their circumstances. Puzzled, confused, and a little hurt by the treatment they’d received, they explained they were on their way to a conference when their ordinary day turned surreal.

The airline involved eventually apologized to the imams, and they were conveyed to their destination. There is speculation that they will sue. It’s un-American not to.

There were a few people I felt uncomfortable with on my flight home but it never occurred to me to ask that they be thrown off. As they were Westerners not Muslims, it would likely have been me who’d been thrown off as a potential nutter if I’d objected to their behaviour, as opposed to their appearance.

All the while, street parties and celebrations continued over the death of Bin Laden. Relics of the Bush administration such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld seized the opportunity to resurrect themselves, and appeared on Fox News claiming credit for Bin Laden’s death on the grounds that if it had not been for their waterboarding of prisoners in Guantanamo and other places, Obama (have to be carful there, more than one TV commentator consistently confused Obama with Osama in his or her reportage) would not have been able to carry out the raid that took Osama out.

Ergo, they continued, torture is a good thing and it must be brought back. I was unaware that torture had been entirely dispensed with by the current administration.

Bellagio Fountains

On the day of Bin Laden’s death, the magnificent choreographed fountains at the Las Vegas Bellagio hotel danced to the Star Spangled Banner with cannonball explosions thrown in to create an effect derivative of the 1812 overture, as the water surged hundreds of feet into the clear blue desert air. It was spectacular, and people cried and cheered and hurled their two foot long margarita glasses into the lake in celebration while screaming “God bless America!”

The very next tune to issue forth from the fountains was, to my incredulous astonishment, Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli‘s version of Time to say Goodbye.  Make of that what you will, but it wasn’t irony. They don’t do irony in Las Vegas, all those simulacra representing Paris, Rome, Venice and Donald Trump‘s penis are not ironic. “It’s just like the Eiffel Tower!” I heard a French tourist exclaim as she wandered through the Paris Hotel casino, gazing up at a ceiling painted light blue with fluffy white French clouds floating around a construction imitative of the famed Parisian landmark, on her way to the slot machines. Nope. Definitely no irony.

After a great deal of careful thought, I’ve decided the choice of song was accidental and hugely funny, to me at least.

A few isolated and subsequently vilified public voices raised themselves in protest against the undesirability of “rooting for death”, even when it’s Bin Laden’s. However these traitors were speedily humiliated and silenced. A patriotic news analyst speculated as to why Bin Laden had no wall paper in his house, and wasn’t filmed sitting in a Lazy Boy recliner, both of which are middle class American icons. If Bin Laden was so important, his reasoning went,  how come he lived without what many Americans regard as essential items?

Speaking of Donald Trump, the world’s wealthiest bleached blonde mullet gave a foul mouthed speech at the Treasure Island Casino as part of his tilt at being a presidential candidate. The room spilled over with a certain type of Republican who responds to sentences peppered with expletives such as motherf***er, c**nt, etc. and demands that the US stop building hospitals and schools in Afghanistan because the bastards just blow them up, so why aren’t we building the mother f***ing schools in Brooklyn instead?  Trump received a standing ovation from the audience, which was obviously comprised of Republicans who believe that all a man needs to carry out the top job is the ability to accumulate obscene personal wealth. Surprising that with all that wealth, he doesn’t get his roots done, instead appearing in front of all those people looking like trailer trash.

I miss the channel that does back to back re-runs of Law and Order. I really, really do.

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