“To feel excited about somebody’s death is
a weird feeling, but when it comes to Osama bin Laden, it’s all right,” a young
man who lost his father in the collapse of the Twin Towers told a CBS News
The crowds in Times Square and in front of
the White House were exultant over the killing of the world’s most wanted man
on Sunday. A Phillies baseball game was overshadowed by chants of “USA, USA”. Crowds
across the US sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America”, waved
flags and blew vuvuzelas. Under the headline, “Justice!”, the New York
Post’s editorial summed up the mood: “The son of a bitch is dead.
The jubilation was understandable. For
nearly ten years the elusive Osama bin Laden has haunted America. For all of
its military might and sophisticated intelligence agencies, the US had failed
to find the murderous thug who was responsible for
the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.
And not only Americans. In his dignified speech
announcing the event, President
Obama said that he was also responsible for the deaths of “scores”
of Muslims. Actually, this is an incredible understatement. About a score of Muslims
died in the 9/11 attacks alone. Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda central was responsible
for the deaths of
thousands of Muslims. And this does not include thousands of other
caused by al-Qaeda affiliates.
Governments all over the world welcomed the
news. “The history of our nationalism and Islam will never forgive
that man who was a black mark for two decades, filling the minds of youngsters
with ideas about terrorism, murder and destruction,” said the caretaker prime
minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim. The president of Peru bizarrely
linked the death to the beatification of John Paul II on the same day,
declaring that his “first miracle has been to wipe off the face of this earth
and demonic incarnation of crime, evil and hate”.
One welcome outcome of the bin Laden’s
death has been the lack of partisan sniping. Politicians of all political
strips united behind their Commander-in-Chief. But was bin Laden’s demise
really a victory for “all who believe in peace and human dignity”, as President
Obama put it?
Not really. There was something weird about
the tooting horns and the fist-pumping. It was jubilation at the death of a
human being, just as objectionable as people cheering outside jails after the
execution of a murderer. Osama bin Laden was a man responsible for horrendous
evil. But he was a man, not a character in a video game.
Occasionally people send me images of
Palestinians rejoicing in the streets at the collapse of the Twin Towers. They
are trying to prove that Islam is essentially murderous, hate-filled and
vindictive. To me it proves only that crowds are excitable and that college
students in Times Square are remarkably like the residents of the slums of the
Gaza strip, both excitable and easily swayed by base emotions. They both need
to read the wise words of Martin Luther
weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very
thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor
establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not
murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes… Returning
hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid
of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate
cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
It is absurdly exaggerated to claim, as the
President did in his speech, that “today’s achievement is a testament to the
greatness of our country and the determination of the American people”. It was
certainly a testament to the skill of the American military. But surely
greatness is more than nailing a fugitive. Genuine greatness of spirit lies in following
up victory with magnanimity and wisdom.
These will be tested in the weeks and
months ahead. Al-Qaeda operatives will probably launch attacks. The US’s uneasy
relationship with Pakistan has been severely shaken by the revelation that bin
Laden must have been supported by elements in the Pakistani military and
intelligence service. Managing this will require the wisdom of Solomon.
Attacks on Christians may
multiply in Pakistan and elsewhere. Suggestions that enhanced interrogation techniques,
aka torture, may have yielded vital clues could reopen the door to abuses.
Nonetheless, there are reasons to
celebrate. As Saudi journalist Jamal A.
Khashoggi points out, “it is the right ending for Osama because the
recent development in the Arab world clearly indicated that there was no place
for him or his ideology. The rise of the nonviolent movement in the Arab world
was the complete rejection of the Al-Qaeda philosophy.”
The bombs of al-Qaeda failed to topple Arab
autocrats, but peaceful demonstrations did. Hopefully the death of bin Laden
symbolises a smouldering end to the seductive appeal of violence amongst
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.