I woke up last night and saw a text from my Dad. I figured it was an update on the health of my Aunt Sis, who is fighting bone cancer and has been in and out of the hospital over the last couple of months. My Dad sends me daily updates on her progress. Since I thought it was another health update, I chose to not read the message until getting up to go to the bathroom at 6:30am this morning. When I opened it, it was a simple message, "They finally got Bin Laden's ass."
That's my dad, an ex-military man not prone to mincing words.
I quickly clicked open the Huffington Post on my iPhone to confirm my dad's text message. Indeed, I found, Osama Bin Laden was killed last night by the United States. The cryptic news alert I'd gotten from HuffPost just before going to bed announcing that President Obama would be holding a news conference was made clear. Osama Bin Laden is dead. I logged into Facebook next to see what brief reactions I could take in before starting to write the blog entry that I knew was inevitable.'
There was a note from my friend Alyssa saying, "Look at all those New Yorkers celebrating in the streets, are you out there?"
There was a statement in my Facebook from Muslims for Progressive Values:
Statement on News of Death of Osama Bin Laden
May 1, 2011
Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) expresses great relief at the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden as President Obama announced in a special report. Osama Bin Laden has singularly disgraced Islam and dragged our faith through the mud with his promotion of terrorism throughout the world from Indonesia, the Middle East, Africa and here in the United States
MPV applauds the resolve and dedication of President Obama in pursuing Osama Bin Laden. As Muslims, we hope this will forever quench the flame of terrorism and that with the rise of democracy throughout the Middle East we can all finally begin to heal. Our condolences continue to go out to the families of those who perished on September 11, 2001 as well as all the victims of terrorism committed in the name of Al Qaeda throughout the world.
My first response on the topic, which is echoed by the statement from the Vatican (lord knows I never thought I would be using a statement from the Vatican for anything but blog fodder) is that I do not celebrate the death of any man. Osama Bin Laden earned his death. I do not regret the actions of the U.S. military and covert operations. I do not believe his death was undeserved or unearned by his own terrible and horrific actions, but I do not celebrate his death. His death is too linked to failed U.S. military and political policies of the past. His death is too connected to our own quest for power. Osama Bin Laden made his own terrible, terrible choices, but just like a serial killer whose mind was bent and broken by an abusive father, Osama bin Laden is a part of the U.S.'s shame. The U.S is not responsible for Bin Laden's choice to turn to terrorism and the murder of innocents, but we are responsible for creating the global circumstances, particularly in the Muslim world, where the twisted and hateful ideology espoused by Bin Laden was able to take root and grow tall enough that men and women across the region have been willing to give their own lives, killing innocents, in a quest to lash out against an enemy that is so inimically tied to their own poverty, suffering, and privation: U.S. economic and foreign policy and the global financial and economic machine propping it up.
I am sad that the circumstances ever existed to create an Osama Bin Laden. I find some comfort in the fact that, like Hitler, a crazy man that was able to inspire individuals to commit acts of atrocity is no longer in the world. But, the circumstances which created Osama Bin Laden still exist. The poverty, privation, and degradation of the developing world have not been alleviated. The under education and religious extremists willing to exploit ignorance for personal gain (in the name of God) still exist (and, to be clear, that particular issue is not unique to Islam...Christian fundamentalist leaders in this country have and still do use reactionary religious views to marshall the undereducated to act against their own best self interest).
While I understand that many in the world are breathing a sigh of relief today, I find it telling that while Western and developed nations are "celebrating," a Yemeni official stated:
"We welcome the news ... millions of people will sleep in peace tonight," the official said. "Osama bin Laden was more of a symbolic figure, a spiritual leader for al Qaeda.""
The official said it is too early to determine how his death will affect the war against terror.
"But this is definitely a strong blow to the organization," said the official, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
It is my fear that we have cut the head off of the hydra. It was a head that needed to be removed, but we have left the body intact, wounded, but when it heals it will have two heads instead of one. As Congress continues to balk at providing reconstruction aid to Afghanistan in any amount that is meaningful, as we continue to prosecute wars in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, as we continue to provide the world, through our own internal political processes, with live examples of how to use divisive and ignorance politics to build fanatical power bases, we are lancing Al Qaeda's wound just after we've given it. Our justification for war in Afghanistan was the prosecution of Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden is dead. Does this mean we will end the war?
No. We did not end the war in Iraq when we caught and executed (under the guise of the Iraqi judiciary) Saddam Hussein, we will not be pulling out of Afghanistan anytime soon. This means that our soldiers, my brother and sister, will continue to be put in harms way in order to shore up a dying U.S. empire.
If there is a true silver lining in this narrative, it is that this pretty much makes certain that Obama (not Osama) will be elected to a second term. To many of the Tea Bagger and more conservative set (and many Lefties as well), this will make him an instant hero. He took decisive military action which resulted in the death of global enemy number one. Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the Republican presidential hopefuls let out a collective, "OH FUCK," last night when this story broke. I am sure that they will give out begrudging kudos today (well maybe not Bachmann, she lives so far down the rabbit hole that she will find a way to say something completely inane and stupid instead).
This event doesn't change my opinion of Obama. He is a flawed man in a flawed institution doing his best within the parameters and constraints of the U.S. political and economic system to make sense out of the world, our diminishing role in it, while doing what he can to try and lift up the people of the United States (without stepping too hard on the toes of the corporate oligarchy that runs the country). The fact of the matter is that the limits of the president are defined in direct relationship to the sacrifices the progressive community are willing to make to help him push against the corporate alliance that runs the U.S. Frankly, he's done a bang up job, and I will put him back in office for another four years. He's done more good than harm and much more good in three and a half years than Bush did in eight.
But I digress. Back to the topic du jour.
Osama Bin Laden is dead. The boogeyman has been taken out. God help us all, because we've all seen horror movies, and we all know this plot. The boogeyman that is taken down is never as terrifying as the one that we don't even know exists yet. I am content that Osama Bin Laden is no longer a threat. I understand that it will take time for a new Al Qaeda mastermind to appear. Perhaps, in fact, Al Qaeda has received a death blow. The truth remains, though, that from El Shabaab to Hamas there is no lack of organizations willing to use terrorist strategies to achieve their personal ends. And as long as we in the developing world continue to support global economic policies that keep 90% of the world in the poverty and circumstances which make these organizations possible, any future attacks and innocent blood shed is as much on our hands as it is on the hands of the murderers that will make them happen.
I pray to God that Obama realizes this as well and implements healing strategies to change what feels like the course of inevitability. I am a person of faith, and I still have some of that hope that Obama talked about almost four years ago.