My following article appears in today’s ABC’s The Drum:
The triumphalism after the American targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden is a sure sign that the US is incapable of understanding the significance of the painful years since September 11. We suffered and now you must, too.
“I’ve never been so excited to see the photo of a corpse with a gunshot wound through the head”, tweeted Emily Miller of The Washington Times.
Most in the mainstream press have simply regurgitated White House propaganda without question, including key details of bin Laden’s death and lifestyle.
The glee with which many in the American public, political and media elites have celebrated the murder of bin Laden may be unsurprising but it provides a welcome insight into an infantile and violence-obsessed culture. He used mayhem against Us and We must unleash overwhelming firepower against Him and His followers.
9/11 was slaughter on a huge scale and American hurt, confusion and anger was understandable. Finding the perpetrators of the crime was essential but it is difficult to cheer when a man receives bullets to the head unless, of course, we want to marinate in the juices of a John Wayne fantasy.
“We responded [to 9/11] exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond”, says former New York Times Middle East correspondent Chris Hedges. “They wanted us to speak the language of violence”.
The corporate media is filled with undeniably fascinating stories of how the US tracked bin Laden to his Pakistani hideout. The potential complicity of forces within the Pakistani intelligence services will be investigated but is unlikely to lead to a serious reduction in US funding for the corrupt elites there. The ongoing US-led war in Afghanistan guarantees Washington is joined at the hip to the Pakistani military. And once again, the Pakistani people will be killed without mercy.
But largely missing from the mountains of coverage in the last days are the profound changes 9/11 brought to the world, and the pyrrhic victories scored by bin Laden and his group of murderous thugs.
The militarisation of America and the engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia and elsewhere has not made the US homeland any safer. In fact, the opposite is true. The thought that an old man sitting in an expensive compound in Pakistan with no internet or phone access is truly the most dangerous and wanted man in the world shows the skewed priorities of a brutal super-power hell-bent on revenge.
The murder of bin Laden wasn’t justice, as claimed by Obama and a range of commentators. It was a targeted assassination, an art perfected by Israel, and an illegal tool that has not made the Zionist nation any less likely to face attack from designated enemies. America will be no different.
The post 9/11 security state is now well and truly entrenched in our lives. The arrival of President Barack Obama did nothing to change that; it was merely accelerated with a nicer, kinder face. Privatised killing is now ubiquitous in Iraq and Afghanistan as an out-of-control and multi-trillion dollar industry finds ways to kill and make new foes in the process.
The US and its allies have provided over the last years an overwhelming range of weapons to murderers (former opponents now known as “allies”) in nations where conventional US forces have been unable to subdue a legitimate insurgency.
It’s grimly ironic that the Australian media obsesses over every word of supposed terrorism expert Australian David Kilcullen – described on Monday night’s ABC TV Lateline as “one of the world’s top counter-insurgency specialists” – without asking whether his skills have actually succeeded and at what cost.
An insurgency still rages in Iraq and has never been stronger in Afghanistan, and the methods by which US forces tried to destroy resistance movements involved arming former enemies and unleashing horrific violence against those who wouldn’t accept US rule. That’s some victory that plays directly into the narrative articulated by bin Laden from the 1990s: Western forces only want to occupy and subjugate Muslims.
Besides, Kilcullen is closely associated with the likely next CIA director David Petraeus, whose military tactics against insurgents have been vicious and counter-productive. He will certainly bring a far more militarised mindset to America’s intelligence community.
But resistance to Western domination of the Arab world wasn’t achieved by Al-Qaeda. Their murder of countless Muslims and quasi-death cult ideology failed to connect with enough people looking for something more than just opposition to sclerotic Western-backed dictatorships across the region.
Hamas, Hizbollah head Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have succeeded where Al-Qaeda failed; they spent years cementing themselves in the fabric of societies that were being ignored by the state. These nationalist movements, with various degrees of aggression and repression, have far more successfully captured the spirit of the post 9/11 times than bin Laden’s superficially appealing dogma. And most Muslims worldwide haven’t bought the hardline Islamist line for years.
This year’s Arab revolutions have shown the almost irrelevance of Al-Qaeda. Millions of Arabs in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, Libya, Saudi Arabia and beyond have found ways to challenge despots and US-backed autocrats in ways unimagined and impossible for bin Laden. Freedom movements, partly religious and partly secular, have fundamentally transformed a region that most of its largely young population only associated with social and political stagnation. Al-Qaeda has been almost silent in the last while, a force that had no way to harness, let alone lead, grievances of the oppressed masses.
None of us will feel safer with the death of bin Laden and why should we? The arguments for his organisation’s force have only strengthened since 9/11, even if his tactics were abhorrent and failed to attract huge numbers of followers. America and its allies are now far widely engaged across the Muslim world, militarising lands in the name of “fighting terrorism”. Wikileaks has shown the futility of such actions, detailing US officials attempts to pressure autocratic nations to crack down on unwanted elements while stirring up hatred of citizens under the path of ever-increasing drone attacks (in Yemen, Pakistan and now Libya).
The West will never feel more secure with the murder of a terrorist leader. Almost nowhere in the media orgy of celebration (including, disappointingly, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show) was anything discussed about occupation. It didn’t exist, seemingly completely separate to the rise and once high popularity of bin Laden. Pakistan’s apparent protection of the Al-Qaeda leader will only deepen America’s desire to further occupy that nation’s mind. Obama is a war President, a badge he wears with pride, such is his escalation of covert missions in numerous nations in the last years.
There has been a deliberate conflation by a litany of politicians, corporate journalists and think-tankers in the last decade to frame every resistance to Western policy as terrorism. It is not. Take Afghanistan, where the Taliban has virtually no relationship with Al-Qaeda anymore and will continue to fight for the liquidation of foreign forces, whether we like or not. They’ll have no concern with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd mouthing platitudes about staying the course in Afghanistan with a warlord infested, Kabul government.
bin Laden died a man who had profoundly changed the landscape of the world. He failed to rally Muslims to his brutal cause but his shadow will continue to hover over Western policy towards the Islamic world. We have been sold a lie, one pushed by the Israelis for decades, that the killing of countless terrorists will bring peace. Colonising Muslim lands is seemingly irrelevant, or locking up innocent men in Guantanamo Bay or escalating a drone war in Pakistan.
The West has much to learn.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.