Friday, May 6, 2011

Editorial: Death of Osama bin Laden

I'd like to take it to a serious level, if that's okay with you.  Every so often, people hear of an event in the news that's so shocking and/or unexpected that, whether or not they choose to believe it at first, it feels surreal to them until they learn more about it.  It helps matters if they can remember the time and place they first heard it.  For example, my grandmother remembers the time when she heard about the 1941 Pearl Harbor raid on the radio, and I can remember first learning about the attacks on September 11th, 2001 from a PA announcement during my Spanish class.  Just over the past couple of years it's happened many more times, such as the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, and the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in Japan earlier this year.  And now there's this: Osama bin Laden, founder and first-in-command of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, was reported dead late night on Sunday, May 1st, 2011 (EST).  I first heard the news shortly after getting up for work the following day, so add that to the memory banks.

Based on what the public knows at the moment, how it went down was that a team of US Navy SEALs raided his safehouse near Abbottabad, Pakistan.  Notably, this goes against pre-assumed intelligence that the man was hiding closer to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after fleeing the former during the anti-Taliban war in 2001.  (It's actually closer to India, depending on how you would go about divvying up the Kashmir region.)  The body was taken by US authorities for DNA confirmation, and within 24 hours was buried at sea.  A few islamic clerics here and there are decrying the practice of burying him at sea since he was not killed at sea in the first place, but the US did follow the numerous specific Islamic customs while doing so.  And for the record, among the official rationale for doing so was not wanting to have a land-based grave site being a shrine for his terrorist supporters.

Osama bin Laden was born into a wealthy Saudi Arabian family in 1957, and after college fought with the Mujahadeen rebellion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 80s.  Yeah, the same rebellion, that became the Taliban regime, the US backed as part of their Cold War efforts...  This probably gave birth to many of the conspiracy theories involving a CIA-bin Laden alliance that popped up after 9/11, but to be fair, we certainly have no way of knowing the intents of everyone we give military aid to.  Afterwards, he founded al-Qaeda and, after a string of bombing incidents in the late 90s, we got the big one.  Under his command, on Sep/11/2011 teams of hijackers commandeered multiple planes, destroying the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center, a chunk of the Pentagon, and killed a total almost 3,000 people.

As aforementioned, the confusion after the fact gave birth to a series of conspiracy theories, many implying that the US government co-engineered this attack.  They actually originated in European nations like France and Germany, and didn't catch on until a few years later, when the Iraq warccupation was a hot issue.  The very notion of such, if I may be permitted to editorialize on the subject, is bullshizzle.  It is simply ludicrous that then-President George W. Bush, or anyone in his cabinet, would willfully cause the deaths of thousands and the loss of $I-don't-know-how-many-millions in damage.  (Besides, I didn't really start to mistrust him until his second term started.)  The same goes today: as the story of bin Laden's death began to unfold, people saw the fact that he was buried at sea and no visual proof was immediately released as points of contention, and claimed that at best the US Marines kept posession of his body, and at worst he was still alive.  Once I heard those points of view, I did admit that would have preferred to see more proof, but at this point I'm reading confirmations from all sides.

And on that note, the reactions to his death cover the whole proverbial board.  Governments the world over are generally praising the action, although most warn that despite the death of the one head man, al-Qaeda will continue to operate and we should not let down our guard; on the contrary, raising protection levels for the time being would be advisable.  Dissenting voices generally come from anti-American states.  Ismail Haniya, one of two disputed Prime Ministers of Palestine, condemned the killing of someone he deemed a "holy warrior";shocking but unsuprising coming from a state which, like al-Qaeda itself, is at odds with the Jewish Israel.  Palestine, Pakistan, and Sudan also played host to a few notable pro-bin Laden rallies here and there.  Officials from Iran mentioned that the US no longer has an excuse to keep forces in its neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.  I won't comment on that... yet.  And the vice-president of Venezuela condemned not only the killing, but the subsequent celebration of American and other citizens.

It does say something awful about us, as a culture, when we express so much joy over the killing of a specific individual, but need I remind you that Osama bin Laden was no ordinary specific individual.  By engineering and green-lighting the 9/11 attacks with others in his organization, he sent almost 3,000 non-combat personnel to their unwitting deaths.  And then there are the tens of thousands more killed in the wars carried out against him and everything he stood for.  (For the record, most of those deaths were al-Qaeda and allied soldiers, but still.)  He painted almost the entire decade of the 2000s and beyond in a culture of fear - just ask your local air traveler.  And for something I happen to find annoying, it forever ingrained a correlation of "Muslim = terrorist" in the minds of, well, less-educated Euro/Americans.  (I assume he also had a hand in promoting the opposite ideal of "Euro/American = terrorist" among Arabs and the like.)  For us outsiders to hear shibboleths like "allahu akbar" (it literally means "God is great" and is common to hear in Arabic-speaking regions) and run for cover in fear of an alleged suicide bomb vest, well, this is also a step back for us as a culture.  Among all the scrutiny we have put under the raid which took him down - how we buried him, whether he was unarmed, whether the Pakistanis knew he was there all along - I still haven't forgotten why we wanted him, captured or dead, in the first place.

Long story short: As a Christian I have no right to officially invoke this, but inside, in the grand scheme of things, I hope the god of Islam sees no virtue in Osama bin Laden's soul.

Information was provided from the following Wikipedia pages: "Death of Osama bin Laden", "Osama bin Laden", and "Reactions to the Death of Osama bin Laden".  Visit the pages for direct citations.  Information is accurate as of 2011.

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