Monday, May 2, 2011

Wave the Flag If You Must, But Please Don't Hide Behind It

Nearly 10 years later, Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Okay guys.  Pack it in.  Turn off the lights and close the door behind you.

Wait a minute.  Every child knows that when Mommy and Daddy turn out the lights and close the door behind them, the monsters come out of the closet and out from under the bed.

10 years ago I watched a news special where Pakistani and Afghani intellectuals were interviewed about Islam's hostility to the west.  Where does it come from?

The answer was pretty universal.  The US likes to help, likes to intervene, but only to pursue its own ends.  The US was more than happy to help Afghanistan rid itself of Soviet rule, but once they accomplished this, the country was thrown to the wolves.

In order to overthrow Soviet rule, in its single-minded puruist of defating communism, the US supported the very people who made Afghanistan what it is today.  Our policies had a lot to do with the creation of Osama Bin Laden.  Not long ago I was watching an 80s-era James Bond movie where much of the action took place in Afghanistan.  The Mujahadeen were the good guys!  It was all about defeating communism by any means necessary without any thought to the consequences.

Such consquences there were too!  The Taliban took over and ruled the people of Afghanistan with an iron fist.  The US government did little to keep them in check because Afghanistan was prime real estate for oil pipelines and we wanted to stay on friendly terms with their leaders.  Until that fateful day in September, our government seemed to care more about whether or not they blew up a Buddha statue in the desert than it did about women being denied medical care because they were not allowed to leave their homes or see male doctors (or be female doctors).  I can still remember Laura Bush making some speech justifying our attacking Afghanistan by listing the number of crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban. I wanted to smack her since human rights groups have been wanting the government to pay attention to these issues for years!

So now that we have our revenge on Osama Bin Laden, do we just pack it in and let the Afghanis duke it out for themselves?  Either way it seems like a losing proposition.  If we leave, the country could plunge into deeper chaos and there will be more loss of rights and loss of lives.  If we stay, American lives are lost as well, civilians could very well continue to die at our hands, and more American resources will be drained away when they are despeartely needed at home. 

With his death at American hands, Bin Laden is now officially a martyr.  It could be said that he was attacked in his own home.  His followers everywhere will now want to avenge him.  Do you think Al Queda is going to quietly go away with its tail between its legs because Americans have flexed their mighty muscle and showed them who is really in charge?  This is not a happy ending my friends.  This is a potentially a terrifying beginning.

I can't celebrate the way others are celebrating.  I'm not going to wave the flag and sing God Bless America over a single act of revenge (for one God Bless America is a crappy song and a blight on the memory of the great Irving Berlin).  It's not my nature to celebrate anyone's death.  I consider myself to be a pacifist.  A life that once walked the planet has been extinguished. 

What's worse is that death is just that.  It's death.  It's final.  There is nothing more than can be done to punish Bin Laden.  We have made him a martyr.  He's never truly paid.* Those with any sort of religious belief take comfort that he will be punished in Hell, but that doesn't do it for me.  I don't believe in Hell.  I'm pretty skeptical about any sort of afterlife.  As far as I'm concerned, he got off easy.

It's not just my own discomfort about celebrating someone's death that bothers me.  It's the idea that we are a people are making such a public celebration.  How does that make us look on the world stage?  Are we any better than the folks in Palestine partying in the streets on September 11th? Aren't we better than that?  Is the US above barbarianism? 

I'm glad that he was properly buried.  Our leaders have shown enough class to say that we are not going to stoop to acts of hatred and disrespect.  We are not our enemies.  I think we made a decent statement to the rest of the world by doing that.

There has been a lot of talk now about how Bin Laden was able to hide so well in plain sight.  It's an easy answer - money.  Bin Laden had millions.  Yes, his assets were supposedly frozen, but I'm sure his network of people were able to hide some of it.  I have no doubt locals were paid off to stay silent.  I would imagine low-level government officials were paid off to say nothing and look the other way.  He knew how to take advantage of desperate people.  That's one of the ways Al Queda grew so enormous in the first place.  I'm sure anyone who tried to defy him was quickly done away with as well.

Many people feel avenged today.  Many feel relieved.  If Bin Laden's death brings you peace, then I'm happy for you.  I am happy to see an era of fear coming to a close.  I just hope that this isn't the beginning of something more, and that there will be no counterfanaticism here in the US.  Let us keep finding productive and peaceful ways to move forward.

Peace out.

*Years ago it was written somewhere that the ultimate punishment for Bin Laden would be to spirit him away to an undisclosed hospital and give him a sex change operation then forcing him to live under the Taliban.  Now that would be fitting punishment!

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