I WAS in the US last week and wrote my columns before the news of Osama bin Laden being killed hit TV and the Internet. That event is far too important though to be let by without comment, however belated.
My immediate response was relief, tinged with a completely selfish worry that the American airports might become stressful again, and just as I was telling friends that LAX had gone back to being friendly. But that’s another story. Whatever his beliefs, Bin Laden was a fanatic who carried those beliefs to terrifying ends, and I’ve never liked fanatics, religious or secular. Anyone who imagines turning buildings inhabited by thousands of innocent people into a fiery inferno to make a point deserves the violent fate the Koran and the Bible predict for those who live by the sword. So, yes, I’m glad Bin Laden is gone from this world.
But I did not, and do not, share the American elation over his killing. I saw the footage of Americans waving flags and shouting their heads off, their faces inflamed by near-religious ecstasy, in front of the White House lawns and at Ground Zero, and I was violently put off. I remembered the same scene, except that the faces that registered those emotions did not belong to Americans, they belonged to people in various parts of the Arab world, their shouts of joy punctuated by bursts of gunfire from assault weapons. That was after 9/11.
It’s the same narrow-mindedness. It’s the same bloodlust. It’s the same fanaticism.
Over the next several days, the US airwaves became filled with recollections of 9/11 again and with the depiction of Bin Laden as one of the scariest monsters to ever walk the face of the earth. The oddity that Bin Laden died on the same day as Adolf Hitler was not lost on a network. The intended association could not be lost on its viewers as well: Bin Laden was Hitler’s reincarnation in the new century.
In fact, as bastards, fanatics and mass murderers went, a lot of people qualified more easily for the comparison. Any one of the tyrants the US had supported in the Third World would. Saddam Hussein was one of them, when he was still fighting the Kurds and the Iranians and being supplied by the US, along with other Western countries, with weapons of mass destruction for the purpose. But they all lacked the one thing that could turn them into Hitler in American eyes. They had attacked only themselves and other people. They had never attacked America.
Bin Laden had. Therefore, he was the most monstrous monster on earth.
It is a testament at least to Barack Obama’s better sense that he remained low-key amid his enemies’ newfound stridence—truly patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels—Fox Network leading the charge doing a Randolph Hearst number in trying to revive an orgiastic frenzy of hair-pulling from perceived national hurts and a renewed resolve to pulverize enemies. To his credit, he refused to show the gruesome pictures of Bin Laden’s killing to satisfy critics he got the right man, which probably saved a lot of lives from the open provocation.
Truly you have to wonder if the American Right, the same one that lied to the public about Iraq to force war there, really has an idea how they look before the world with this display of self-centeredness or conceit. Well, you have to wonder how they managed to stage a comeback in the first place, never mind escape justice, after leaving American democracy in tatters and ushering in a politics of paranoia.
“You will not defeat us,” said Hillary Clinton, trying to sound as tough as Sarah Palin. That is all very well, except that the effort to depict the US as the victim of oppression or the recipient of mayhem is little borne out by reality. The US has been attacked only twice, at Pearl Harbor and at the Twin Towers. On the other hand, it has attacked other countries all the time, from scorching the earth of Vietnam with “Johnson’s baby powder,” also called napalm, to blasting men, women, and children to kingdom come in Iraq with Bush’s “smart bombs,” as though the word “smart” could ever be associated with him. Outside looking in, the proposition is not, “You will not defeat us.” It is, “Who’s going to stop you?”
Unless of course you still believe that the US carries out wars like the one in Vietnam and the one in Iraq to defend democracy all over the world.
Of course we ought to be glad Bin Laden has joined his Creator, and of course we ought to find solace in the victims of 9/11 given justice, or satisfaction, or closure. But celebration is another thing. Self-absorption is another thing. You would think nothing has happened in the 10-year interim between the razing of the Twin Towers and the wasting of Bin Laden. Remember the Iraq War, people?
In the end, that is what makes all the flag-waving and gut-wrenching an exercise in self-abuse, or self-pleasuring, depending on how you experience it. Elsewhere in the world, except the Philippines, people are not likely to see the poetic justice of Bin Laden getting his just desserts 10 years after he brought the Twin Towers crashing down, they are going to see the bitter injustice of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their cabal not only not getting their just desserts but being free to continue to torment the world with their chest-thumping. Why haven’t they been haled to court, which is probably the least likely punishment an Arab is bound to wish upon them? Why haven’t they been dragged to Guantanamo or wherever it is they put away people who willfully and methodically cause the massacre of innocents? Why haven’t they been called Attila the Hun, Adolf Hilter or, well, Osama bin Laden himself? The death of Bin Laden is like V-Day?