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Death of bin Laden

So Osama bin Laden has been killed. Ok. Now what?

In the short term, an orgy of ghoulish US nationalism, as the media drools over the bloodied corpse,  a body that, we’re told, the US now has in its possession, to be (no doubt) lovingly displayed at some future date.

Bin Laden was a mass murderer and no friend of the Left. Still, what does it say about our era that that the decade’s biggest news story centres not on a new scientific discovery nor a medical breakthrough nor the extension of healthcare nor the provision of public housing but rather on the celebrations attendant upon a public enemy being gunned to death?

Will the wars come to an end? Of course not. Bin Laden never played any role in Iraq nor in the Afghan insurgency. As for the new quagmire in Libya, well, that’s a pretty good example of how the the killing can continue without any reference to al-Qaeda whatsoever — Gaddafi is to that war what bin Laden was to the other two.

And terrorism? If al-Qaeda was an organisation out of a James Bond movie, with bin Laden personally directing worldwide mayhem from his cave, today’s events might have made a difference. But, of course, that was never the reality. Instead, al-Qaeda functioned as a free floating brand, a label to be grabbed by anyone who wanted it. Bin Laden’s death changes nothing in that respect — would-be suicide bombers are scarcely deterred by the prospect that they might be killed.

What about justice? Perhaps the relatives of 9/11 victims feel better today. Perhaps they have found some closure. Perhaps. But over the last decade, we’ve seen, in the course of the War on Terror, hundreds of thousands of people killed, with some estimates putting the death toll from Iraq alone as high as a million.  Who will bring justice for them?

Indeed, in the face of all that death, it’s hard to celebrate one more corpse — even if it belongs to Osama bin Laden.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. Robert Fisk was fantastic on Al Jazeera, reminding us that Bin Laden merely created Al Qaeda but did not lead it. In fact, its utility was always its adaptability to any grievance arising out of radical Islam – people could wake up one day, declare their intent to die and kill on behalf of Al Qaeda, without any membership, approval or permission. They still can, and they will. Perhaps even more so now.

  2. Osama bin Laden is as much a celebrity as the royal family and the people strutting their stuff on the Logies red carpet (was it red?) last night with one important difference: we want him him dead.

    Not only is delighting in bin Laden’s death distasteful and deeply troubling, it’s utterly pointless. There will always be bin Ladens (and leaders like Bush and Howard and Blair and the rest) until we examine the reasons, many of them valid, why some in the Middle East hate the west.

    I cannot recommend Robert Fisk’s ‘The Great War for Civilisation’(all 1300 pages of it) highly enough. It’s wretched reading but provides frank and compelling insights into the Middle East and how the west’s meddling has served to make things worse.

  3. I think the overriding aspect of the death of Bin Laden – an aspect that almost needs a blog in itself – and indeed the wars of the past decade, has been the junking of the rule of law and the promotion of the rule of war. If the September 11 attacks had been treated as a criminal act for which the justice system was responsible instead of an act of war, then the past ten years would have passed very differently. The rule of war, as an extension of a whole lot of tendencies in the US administration has not only slaughtered thousands of blameless people who would otherwise be still living their lives, but obliterated the possibility of discussing what justice is. Justice has been replaced by a frankly unadorned grasping at power masked as vengeance and so forth, and a formal justice system replaced with Guantanomo, Abu Ghraib, rendition, and targeted assassinations. The US seems to have an endless desire to populate the world with Evil Masterminds – Bin Laden, Saddam, Kim Jong-Il, Gaddafi – and of course Evil Masterminds don’t require investigation, trial and so forth. They are so obviously bad and unredeemable and responsible for everything we don’t like, that we are quite justified in treating them as Hollywood villains.
    I don’t think any traumatised individual ever receives ‘closure’, a repellent concept with its overtones of doors shutting and forgotten pasts. Anyone who thinks that the death or destruction of the person who caused the trauma will end it, is actually still traumatised. Trauma doesn’t get ‘closed’ just redescribed so it can be thought about differently

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