I got the news last night over the phone that Osama Bin Laden was killed in a military operation yesterday. Navy seals entered a compound nearIslamabadand put two bullets in Bin Laden’s head. After almost 10 years of searching, he has finally been “brought to justice.” I went to bed with the images in my head of hundreds of people cheering outside of the White House.
Somehow, I’m less than satisfied. This guy had spent his last 15 years of his life killing thousands of people in the name of purifying the world of their influences. He masterminded the killing of around 3,000 people on 9/11. He killed massive amounts of Muslim “apostates” who didn’t measure up to his pious version of radical Islam. He was quite possibly the most deranged person alive; Hitleresque, if you will.
But I’m still not satisfied. I’m not in the mood for cheering. I don’t feel like we accomplished anything of lasting good value with this assassination. I don’t say this because there are others out there ready to step into his shoes; of course there are. I don’t say this because I think there is a good chance of retaliation; there is. The reason I don’t think anything good will come of this is because of the way we have reacted to it. The last thing a moral nation should do at the death of a psychopath is give him any glory or attention; and that’s essentially all that we did. We made him the most famous martyr of all time; the person we love most to hate. And so the cycle of retaliatory violence continues.
I’m not satisfied in the manner of and reaction to Bin Laden’s death because we have assured his own personal victory. In fact, we may have assured an ultimate moral victory of al Queda and other extremists. We let terror change the way we live, the way we think, and the way we relate to others. Terrorism has grown to have so much power over us, that when a terrorist is killed, we celebrate as if our own dictator has been ousted.
Look, don’t read into what I am saying. I sympathize with people who lost loved ones in the attacks and who were there to see the horror of that day. God only knows what they went through. And personally, I’m glad he’s dead. I struggle with the state-sponsored killing of anyone, even the worst among us, and I have serious issues with the tenets of what we humans call justice. But I can’t deny that the world cannot help but be a better place without him. I just don’t understand how we let him manipulate us so much that it took his death to unite many of us who have been at each other’s throats about every other issue known to man. Can we really not agree on anything other than visceral joy at the death of a madman?
I think we have rendered ourselves helpless to the psychological control of terrorism, and this bondage will continue until we stop living on the terms of fear. But as of now, we are afraid. Our reaction of utter and uncontrolled relief at Bin Laden’s death belies that fact; but it also belies the fact that we have lost the psychological war on terror. We have lost, and he has won.