I find myself puzzled by the response to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Listening to President Obama’s speech, I immediately wondered how this would affect the war in Afghanistan and our relationship with Pakistan. Since it seems to me clear that the terrorist threat has less to do with a specific network called Al Qaeda, more to do with fanatics around the world, I wondered about their response.
I then turned on CNN and was bewildered. Why were all these young people in New York and Washington, and at the Mets – Phillies game celebrating? And why the wild chants of USA, USA! What were they thinking? What were they feeling? Why were they so enthusiastic?
Bin Laden was not a nice guy. He was a master of destruction. He inspired his supporters and his enemies to wage war, torture, attack human rights and civil liberties and the like. He was a global anti-democratic force. Without him, globalized terrorism and anti-terrorism are less likely. But the Arab Spring is much more consequential in this regard, I believe, as it points to promising alternatives for people around the world. Democracy is “in,” fanaticism is “out.” The heroes of Tahrir Square are the real answer to the “Clash of Civilizations.” This confirms for me ideas I had soon after 9/11, leading to the writing of The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times.
Yet, no doubt, I am underestimating and not understanding the response of people here in the U.S. and around the world to the elimination of a force and symbol of mass destruction. Understanding how they see and feel it is important, because these feelings and perceptions are important political realities. An interesting overview of reactions today were posted on Al Jazeera.
I found particularly interesting the contrasting takes of the key leaders in Israel – Palestine:
Ismail Haniyeh – head of Hamas in the Gaza strip
“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.
We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
Ghassan Khatib – Palestine Authority spokesperson
“Getting rid of Bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide but what counts is to overcome the discourse and the methods – the violent methods – that were created and encouraged by bin Laden and others in the world.”
Benjamin Netanyahu – Israeli prime minister
“This is a resounding triumph for justice, freedom and the values shared by all democratic nations fighting shoulder to shoulder in determination against terrorism.
The state of Israel joins together in the joy of the American people after the liquidation of bin Laden.”
As far as perspective from the point of view of the U.S., I thought Juan Cole’s reflections were particularly telling.
But as I said at the outset, I am mostly confused by the reactions of my fellow citizens, and wonder how the readers of Deliberately Considered see it.