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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