Monday, May 2, 2011

RIP Osama Bin Laden

As I write this, so the radio informs me, crowd of people are outside the White House, chanting "U!S!A! U!S!A!" and generally celebrating the death of the man most of them consider the most evil person previously alive in the world. Osama Bin Laden has been killed by a group of U.S. and Pakistani troop in a ground operation, we are told.

I for one am not convinced that this celebration is appropriate or useful.

I'm not comfortable with celebrating anybody's death, for one thing. I tend to side with Gandalf when it comes to deciding who lives and who dies, and I remain unconvinced that anyone at any point has ever actually deserved death. That's not going to make me any friends, I realise, but there you have it. I don't think death is a thing that can be deserved, quite frankly. Certainly Osama Bin Laden was as close as you can come to calling a person genuinely evil, but I even have difficulty with the concept that the world is inherently materially better without him as an active participant in it.

That aside, I also think that it's very easy to overstate the importance of successfully killing Bin Laden. Sure, he was hidden for 10 years, and his death robs Al Qaeda of an important figurehead - but I still don't think that amounts to all that much. In fact, I think this is primarily a PR victory - and will have very little positive impact in the long run.

Consider: if you were a terrorist, determinedly opposing the Great Satan America, would the death of this man - a potent symbol, admittedly, but for the last few years not much of a leader - fill you with despair, or righteous anger? To put it another way, if Al Qaeda managed to assassinate President Obama tomorrow, would the USA immediately cease to exist? Successful assassinations of previous presidents suggest that it would not.

I have a strong suspicion that Al Qaeda doesn't even exist in the way it's usually presented in news media. Seriously, this is the 21st century - do we really believe that because they operate on a sub-military scale terrorists are all in the dark ages? Those who manage to perpetrate effective outrages along the lines of September 11th 2001 are clearly at the very least computer literate. And it is hard to be computer literate in this day and age, and not aware of a much more effective model for pursuing dispersed guerrilla activism or terror - Anonymous.

If there genuinely is (as people are fond of implying) some sort of central conspiracy which coordinates terrorist action around the globe, I think it's far more likely to operate on the unfindable, unfightable Anonymous model than the classic evil overlord hiding in his secret lair. And if that's the case, no amount of killing people, no matter who they are, will stop it - not unless you're prepared to kill everyone, just in case.

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