Shed no tears for Osama Bin Laden

George W Bush warned Bin Laden: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” The reality was different.

Let's not weep for him. Construct elaborate conspiracy theories around him. Pretend there is some moral ambiguity to the manner of his passing.

Osama Bin Laden was not, as the Hamas leadership tellingly tried to claim, a "Holy Warrior". He was a murderer and a mercenary, an atrocity for hire.

Nor was yesterday a day when, according to Stop the War, "The US and Britain should remind themselves of the grievances which Bin Laden claimed in 2001." It was a day for remembering the thousands who died in the 11 September attacks, and the grotesque global slaughter that followed.

"This hasn't made us any safer," will become the refrain over the days to come. True enough. Bin Laden's profile made him an operational liability. And al-Qaeda is so structurally diffuse that it is now a concept, rather than a cohesive organisation.

But yesterday was not about security. It was about justice.

I have no personal link to 9/11. I know no one who was in the twin towers, on on United 93, or in the Pentagon. But I visited New York about six weeks after the attack and walked around Ground Zero.

It looked like a giant building site, unremarkable except for the images of the missing that were posted on the exterior fencing. Normal life had resumed. The yellow cabs were passing, the hot-dog vendors doing brisk trade. The office workers were already rushing by without a second glance.

But death was standing beside me on the side walk: it was palpable. An act of indescribable violence had scarred that place, and even if you hadn't any context of time or location you would have sensed it.

Bin Laden was the perpetrator. We need no court appearance to confirm that fact. He confessed himself.

Actually he didn't confess. No orange jumpsuits or prison dogs or waterboarding were needed to loosen his tongue.

He boasted about it. Videoed himself exulting in the massacre. And distributed it, like a promo tape, for broadcast in prime time.

There are some who question his killing rather than his capture. Reports of the Navy Seal insertion team being greeted with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire hold the answer. From everything we know about Bin Laden, this was not a man inclined to throw up his hands and say, "It's a fair cop, guv."

I do have a passing regret he wasn't seized and placed on trial. It's been argued that this would have been a process fraught with complexity. It would have given him a platform and further boosted his status as challenger of western imperialist oppression.

I think it would have had the opposite effect. Demythologised him. Made him real and human and ordinary. As with Eichmann in Jerusalem, the world would again have borne witness to the banality of evil.

But these are details, not issues of great substance. Yes, perhaps there was something slightly tasteless about the scenes of celebration that marked his demise. But flying an airliner packed with innocent men, women and children into the side of a skyscraper is pretty tasteless, too.

It's a trite phrase, but no less true because of it: the world is a better place. Every global despot and dictator is looking over his shoulder. The good old days when they could place entire populations between themselves and an international reckoning are over. Or they fear they are, which, for the moment at least, will suffice.

And why yesterday was not the best day for the Independent to run the headline "Targeted assassinations are a strategic mistake".

The political dynamics of the globe's sole, if ageing, superpower have also shifted. It's not that the incumbent president is now a certainty for re-election in 2012; that Donald Trump was being seriously discussed as a potential challenger proved it was never in doubt. But the settled wisdom that Republicans are strong on national security and Democrats weak has been turned on its head.

George W Bush warned Bin Laden, "You can run, but you can't hide." But the fact was that he could run from Bush, but he couldn't hide from Barack Obama.

And what of basic humanity? A fellow human being is dead, a life silenced for ever. Surely that should give pause?

No. True humanity should not give pause. Compassion, empathy and understanding demand only one response: that we recall those who fell at Bin Laden's command. Empathise with those who were left behind. And understand the reaction of those who rejoice in the closure his own death brings.

In truth there will be no closure. The families will always mourn. The images of that crisp, clear day will always be with us. The war it unleashed, in reality just another battle in a war we have been fighting for centuries, will continue.

But Osama Bin Laden has passed into history. We need shed no tears over that.

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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain