Thursday, May 5, 2011

the bin Laden drumbeat

Five days ago, U.S. Navy SEALS staged a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and assassinated Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attack that destroyed, among others, the World Trade Center in New York and left some 3,000 Americans dead.

After President Barack Obama, who gave the green light for the operation, announced the success of the raid and the death of bin Laden, there was a groundswell of reaction. There were cheerleaders outside the White House. A man credited with a heinous act had received his just deserts.

As the week has passed, it has been almost impossible to turn on the radio or television news without being bombarded with some new angle on the story -- how much of a political bounce will Obama get; is it right that the government should seal the pictures of bin Laden's corpse; how much of a backlash can Americans expect from bin Laden's organization, the dread al Qaida ... which numbers in the hundreds at most; how do Americans feel when anyone, even a targeted enemy, is executed in this way ... the stories and the angles to those stories have gone on and on and on.

But the one story I have not heard is the one that investigates why it might have been that bin Laden and his minions might want to attack the United States in the first place. Were they mindless zealots seeking to press Islam's more extreme views? Was there any cause -- whether sane or insane -- for the attacks? What background story was being left untold?

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the word "terror" and "terrorism" and "terrorist" gained a gold-standard approval among politicians all over the world. Every politician and his brother followed in the footsteps of the American drumbeat. Israel, Turkey, Russia and a host of others all waved the flag of "terrorism" when actions needed to be taken against those who may or may not have deserved an iron-fisted response. "Terrorism" became the new get-a-free-pass designation. The word is now so woven into the language of politics and evasion that asking to revisit its accuracy and usefulness and implications smells downright unpatriotic. Call out the cheerleaders!

 In the wake of bin Laden's assassination, most of the news I have seen or heard has focused on America and America's sometimes righteous jubilation. America scored a goal. Even the doubts expressed about the meaning and impact of the execution were expressed in terms of those bin Laden might have targeted.

But what I want to hear discussed is the circumstances under which a man or woman straps on C-4 and ball bearings and blows up a cafe or hotel lobby or police check point. This, writ small, is the scenario of the 9/11 attacks -- people willing to give their lives to make a point. But what is the point and why do they want to make it. Insanity and brain-washing are easy answers, but to what extent do they hold water? Is there more, and if so, isn't it worth knowing beyond the excited applause of cheerleaders and news organizations too lazy or cheap to do their jobs? If you want to defeat an enemy, isn't it wise to understand his mind and the conditions that would inspire that mind? Is calling people names any way to defeat an enemy? What are the social and economic pressures that create the ones so blithely described as "terrorists?" Even if they are simply insane, wouldn't it be a good idea to look into that insanity, to look into the social and economic pressures that might feed that insanity ... and rule out ways other than force to defuse them?

Since 9/11, if I am recalling correctly, besides the unexamined use of the word "terrorist," it has become de reigeur for the United States to bring military force to bear against countries that might pose a threat to America. These countries seem to have been singled out with care. The ostensible reason might be an American devotion to democratic decency and human rights, and the leaders of those singled-out countries might be pretty nasty men, but the United States did not attack Burma or North Korea. It attacked in areas with mineral resources or with a less-than-perfect perception of Israel. They might attack us. They are bad people. We will nip this in the bud ... with force. And, since the politically-useful fear of the Russians during the Cold War had abated, here was a new way to keep the American electorate off-balance, afraid and, perhaps, patriotic in that fear. Naturally, there was a great deal of money to be made from that fear and from those costly attacks. Americans died in a 'noble' cause ... and who knows how many of the people in the countries singled out were maimed or killed?

I guess I would like to think that my country stood for something more than arm-twisting and drone attacks. I guess I would like to think my country was thinking long and hard before pointing a gun at others and in so doing sacrificing our children. I guess I would like to think that there was something to be said for a great country working its ass off to assure a resolution rather than just assassinating and bad-mouthing those who did not agree. I guess I would like to ask, since a majority of my countrymen lean towards Christianity, how any of this differs from Judas selling out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver ... my country, selling out the Christ who is none other, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, than the "better angels of our nature."

Is this unrealistic, goody-two-shoes claptrap? I don't think so. And even if it is, I think it is time the pendulum swung back from the thoughtless, cheer-leading mentality that might better be reserved for a NASCAR race or a barroom brawl.


  1. Like Prof. Richard's use of the Dostoevsky quote towards the end of that talk.

    "Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him."

    - Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian novelist (1821 - 1881)

    Thanks for posting it.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. What Americans must understand is that this assassination (regardless of justification) is just one of many that have been carried out by the CIA overtly or covertly over the past century; Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Salvador Allende, etc etc., These just to name two, as an example, never to my knowledge, harmed a US citizen or attempted to harm a US citizen on US soil. They were big bad Bogey Men who had to be eliminated as they didn’t share our vision of the American Dream. Their ideology was contrary to ours and a threat to big business and the average US citizen couldn’t give a toss whether they lived or died. If the CIA deemed them “dangerous” then that’s OK, they had to leave the stage. No one wishes to question “why” were they a threat or in today’s context “why” a Palestinian or an Iraqi feels it necessary to strap on a belt of explosives and seek a target. We don’t want to ask the “hard” questions. In Northern Ireland after decades of internecine strife the UK government tried to figure out why Nationalists were prepared to starve themselves to death during the prison protests. When Maggie Thatcher departed 10 Downing St and more rational heads prevailed, the brave administration in London was prepared to seek answers and asked "why" and we now have relative peace in Northern Ireland, all because someone cared enough to question. We as nation will never regain our self-respect until we are prepared to ask the same hard question(s).