Crowds celebrate Osama Bin Laden's death in the US

Osama Bin Laden is dead, but this is no time to celebrate

jennisheppardBlog, Opinion, Politics Leave a Comment

Like the rest of the world, I woke on Monday to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. My immediate thought was that this announcement, which a decade ago seemed so important, is now almost irrelevent. 

Obviously, I know to the relatives of those killed in attacks by Bin Laden it is entirely relevant. I may not think revenge or hatred will get you anywhere, but it is understandable that they do and that they feel a strong albeit negative connection to Bin Laden that makes his death important to them.

But as a British citizen who has lived through 10 years of repercussions of the US war on terror, I can’t help feeling like Bin Laden is not really what it is all about anymore. The world has moved on, hasn’t it?

Since he attacked the Twin Towers, I have seen Britain and the US march first into Afghanistan then Iraq, tearing both countries asunder. I have watched as so-called harbingers of democracy and civilisation hung Saddam Hussein, then posted it on Youtube.

I have seen the ensuing climate of fear lead to frightening levels of airport security, constant suspicion and an unhealthy approach to unattended baggage. And let’s not forget, those wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – they are still not over. The West continues to fight a losing battle in Afghanistan and Iraq is still plagued by horrific violence.

More recently, just when the Arab world was beginning to start its own revolution without us, to take control of its own destiny, to overthrow dictators who were often installed and supported by the West, we went and got entangled in a bloody conflict in Libya to which there is no end in sight.

So there’s a lot going on and it’s all so much bigger than this one man. He may have been there at the beginning but it is our reaction in the West that has shaped the past decade. Bin Laden did kill and injure many thousands, but he is not responsible for our reaction to this and for what has become of the West since.

And what have we become? Judging by the appalling celebrations going on in the US following Bin Laden’s death, we are now apparently not that different from the chanting Arab crowds we are all so familiar with, celebrating the deaths of Westerners on the streets of the Middle East.

To quote author and theologian Brian McLaren: Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us.

I would go further than “irony”. I’d say it shows worrying evidence that we now resemble at least in spirit the murderers we sought to eliminate. Revel in the deaths of your enemies. If it provokes them, so much the better. Would such bloodthirstiness really have been acceptable in the US a decade ago?

It wouldn’t surprise me if the baying crowds at Ground Zero started chanting USA! USA! USA! while burning Pakistani flags and waving mutilated effigies of the deceased Bin Laden.

Initially the media’s headlines reflected this disgusting jubilance, from gleeful gloating in the New York Times: “OFFICIAL: Bin Laden dead – GOT HIM! Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard” to plain and simple “Bin Bagged” in Britain’s The Sun.

But, at least in the UK, any celebration in the media – for I haven’t seen any in the streets – has now turned to in depth analysis of what actually happened and a more realistic contemplation of what Bin Laden’s death and the US reaction might mean.

The Metro declares: “Uncle Sam gets his man. But what now?” and “West fears Bin Laden’s death will be avenged”.

The headlines may as well have read “PENNY FINALLY DROPS”.

I really hope for everyone’s sake, it has.

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