Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Honoring a Fallen Enemy: on the Death of Osama Bin Laden

On the day of my 46th birthday Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by a team of Navy SEALs. My wife and I were both in New York on the morning of September 11, 2001: for months afterward we lived with the stench from the smoking charnel pit that used to be the World Trade Center.  I would be remiss if I did not say something about the man who had such an impact on our city.

I shed no tears for bin Laden's death: he has left behind many others who will mourn for him.  I will not chide those who took to the streets or to the Internet to celebrate his demise: there is no shame in celebrating a hard-won victory in a long and bloody war.  Instead I offer Osama bin Laden the tribute due to any valiant enemy who died fighting for his cause.

This may seem distasteful, unpatriotic, even blasphemous.  But if you see bin Laden as a monster who has finally been slain, you are likely to believe this fairy tale has come to its happy ending.  In recognizing his accomplishments, you will see the mark he has left on our country and our culture - a mark which is far deeper and uglier than the open sore which remains at Ground Zero.

In September of 2002 bin Laden issued a letter to America which explained his motivations quite clearly.
The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us, and they are the ones who oversee the expenditure of these monies in the way they wish, through their elected candidates.
We have supported and continue to support some of the world's most repressive dictators in the name of "national security." American-made tanks and machine guns have been used against peaceful Bahraini protestors.  Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, perhaps as many as 900,000, have been killed and countless more injured thanks to our efforts to free them from a dictator we once provided with funding and weaponry. We supported Hosni Mubarak's repressive kleptocracy and the murderous Shah of Iran because we feared the rise of a freely-elected Islamic government.

After the September 11 attacks, we openly admitted to using waterboarding and other forms of torture and declared that we need not follow the Geneva convention when dealing with terrorists. Our Patriot Act created a "surveillance society" and cast aside long-cherished protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.  In the name of protecting ourselves against another 9/11, we began harassing "eco-terrorists" and left-wing websites.  And we increased our support of brutal dictators throughout Central Asia and the Middle East, thereby garnering the resentment of their subjects for generations to come.

It is comforting to think bin Laden and his compatriots hated us because they hate our ideals of freedom. The uncomfortable truth is that they hate us because we have betrayed those ideals in our foreign and domestic policy.  And until we recognize that, we can only expect more Osama bin Ladens to follow. Only when we have extricated ourselves from the various wars and reaffirmed our commitment to true liberty and freedom will we have a chance of defeating him and the movement he spawned.

You are beyond my judgment now, Osama. You are gone to a place where my scorn and my praise are equally meaningless.  It is for the Gods to determine whether you are to be elevated or damned: I leave that judgment to Them.  Much as I may loathe your version of Sharia, I cannot dispute your success in promoting it. All I can do is hope that one day we can heal the injuries you inflicted on me, on my country and on my world.