02 May 2011

Bin Laden Is Dead; Now for the Question

There was a strange sort of catharsis as I watched the social networks flood with news that Osama Bin Laden, cult figure to many Muslim people the world over and public enemy number one to everyone else, was killed today by American special forces in Pakistan. No lesss than the American President, Barack Obama, made the announcement direct from the White House.

There had been countless reports before about Bin Laden’s supposed death and capture; but these were all subsequently exposed to have been fallacies. Today, though, it was the top honcho of the United States Government who was making the announcement.

“I can report to the people of the United States and the world,” Obama said in a televised speech, “that the United States had carried out an operation that has killed Osama Bin Laden, a terrorist responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.”

News reports starting to appear on various Internet sites report that Obama himself had asked the Central Intelligence Agency or the CIA to prioritize the capture or killing of Bin Laden in the United States’ ongoing war against Al Qaeda. CBS News reports that the go signal was given last April 29 for an assault on a compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was reported to be staying.

The assault was carried out earlier today with the cooperation of authorities in Pakistan. Reports state the Bin Laden resisted capture and was subsequently killed in a firefight. Bin Laden’s remains, reports also state, are in the possession of the United States.

Of all the things that Bin Laden had been accused of, nothing could possibly be more singularly horrifying than that acts of terrorism that came one after the other that fateful day that we all simply refer to now as 9/11. The commandeering of commercial airplanes to turn them into assault weapons forever changed the world as we knew it.

I was tuned in to CNN when news of a jet plane crashing into one of the towers of the World Trade Center first broke. At that time, the news anchors still could not quite make anything of the crash. When the second plane crashed into the second tower, everyone quickly jumped to the conclusion – as I did – that these were no accidents. These were deliberate acts of terrorism.

The rest, as they say, is history. There was one more plane that crashed into the Pentagon; another that crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania; and the towers of the World Trade Center came crumbling to the ground one after the other.

As the dust settled from the rubble, as with everyone else I felt deeply for the victims of these blatant acts of terrorism. Who could possibly not be unnerved by pictures of people preferring to jump to their deaths rather than be burned alive in the upper floors of the twin towers? Who could possibly forget the sheer terror of watching first one tower and then the next start to cave in, knowing as we all did that there were still people inside struggling to get out?

It is almost ten years since that unforgettable day; yet I can also still remember asking myself one question not quite of the same line as the questions I was just asking earlier: “Who could possibly hate the United States so much to even contemplate the murder of so many innocent people?”

That question, of course, was subsequently answered. Osama Bin Laden. Vilified, naturally, in the West. As evil a man as one could possibly get... Yet, in spite of the vitriol hurled against him in the West, to many a Muslim across the globe, he was regarded as a hero. He symbolized the fight of the have-nots against those with plenty.

There is – it must be said – a certain romanticism to what Bin Laden represented. Here was somebody who was taking on the might of one of the world’s superpowers, somebody who eluded capture year after year. Had he not dared vent his anger on the symbols of the West, perhaps the West itself would have immortalized him in the same way Robin Hood’s tales in the forest of Sherwood continue to be told.

His was a life – particularly after 9/11 – perpetually on the run. That said, his capture was always going to be a matter of time. There is a lot of sympathy for him in the Muslim World; but the United States is still the United States. Perhaps, it would have served him better to have simply accepted that life is – indeed – not fair.

There was, in Greek mytholody, this creature that was called the Lernaean Hydra. It was a beast of the sea that had many heads. It was said that if one of its heads was cut off, it immediately grew two more.

United States authorities are aware that Bin Laden’s death will not mean the end of Al Qaeda’s plots against it. I am sure they are also aware that his death could also be the inspiration for more heads of the hydra to grow and – if anything – even increase the threat against itself and its citizens.

US State Secretary P.J. Crowley, in his Twitter Account, was quoted to have said, “Bin Laden’s death does not eliminate the threat from Al Qaeda, but it is hard to see anyone playing the same organizational role he did.”

Sounds a lot like false bravado, does it not? While the Uniteds States and its allies await the reprisals...

It does not take much intellect to figure out how many millions it takes to defend against an unseen enemy, one that bides its time about when and where it will strike next. I wonder how much cheaper it will be for the United States to figure out an answer to the question “why it is hated so much in certain corners of the globe” and for it to reach out to these alienated peoples instead of alienating them further.

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