Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive

Good riddance to Osama bin Laden. His evil hand threatened us all.

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The memory that haunts us all
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Will James
On 2 May 2011 13:26

There are plenty of “where were you when?” moments in our lives. Previous generations can tell us where they were and how they felt when Neville Chamberlain declared Britain was at war with Germany, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, or when the Berlin Wall fell.

The news that the world’s most notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden, has been killed in a gun fight in Pakistan, will similarly become lodged in our own memories for years to come. For my part, it was as my radio went off at 7:00am, and the news reader described the momentous events in Abbottabad, that I first learnt of the US Special Forces operation that ended the life of al-Qaeda’s enigmatic and abhorrent leader.

Lying there, the full magnitude of what had occurred made itself felt.

Osama bin Laden has cast a shadow over the world for over a decade (his murderous campaign against those who do not subscribe to his warped Islamist agenda – the victims of which have predominantly been Muslims rather than non-Muslims – started long before 2001).

His intermittent presence in video-tapes aired on al-Jazeera or Islamist websites, and more generally his continued defiance by remaining at liberty have been a constant thorn in the West’s bitter fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The ‘original sin’ of the war in Afghanistan – the failure to capture or kill bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora – has haunted two American administrations, three British prime ministers and countless other citizens of the free world, whose lives have been altered by bin Laden’s sustained and violent assault against his fellow men and women.

Much has been said in the immediate aftermath that Osama bin Laden’s death will not alter the structure or effectiveness of al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation, or its determination to continue its twisted jihad against the West.

Bin Laden in recent years was not closely involved in the command-and-control aspects of the al-Qaeda operation, and many of the al-Qaeda “franchises” – in Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb, Iraq and elsewhere – will continue to operate independently, regardless of whoever nominally “leads” the terrorist outfit.

However, this misses the vast symbolic victory that has been achieved by US Special Forces. Bin Laden was the inspirational head, whose ability to defy the Bush and Obama administrations gave heart to every radical, suicide bomber and Islamist the world over.

All morning we have seen a myriad of reactions from people across the globe. World leaders have welcomed the news.

President Obama announced that “Justice has been done”, David Cameron has called it a “great success” and former President George W. Bush has said that the operation was a “momentous achievement”.  Thousands have celebrated in the United States, as a decade’s worth of pain and vulnerability in the American psyche has poured onto the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue, Times Square and Ground Zero.

However, many people have criticised these outpourings of delight at the assassination of the man at the top of the world’s most wanted list. Warnings have been made that his death could lead al-Qaeda to increase their determination to launch indiscriminate attacks across the world.

Others still have condemned President Obama’s decision to add yet another number to the ongoing body count in the ‘war on terror’, even quoting Gandhi that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

Unfortunately, I cannot condone any of these arguments. By killing bin Laden we don’t increase the likelihood of being attacked. Al-Qaeda and their ilk don’t need encouragement to launch attacks against us.

This war began because of their hatred and intolerance, and the West pulling its punches by not targeting people such as Osama bin Laden wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference.

And while every human life is precious and we mustn’t rejoice in death, Osama bin Laden was an unrepentant mass murderer; a man whose sole ambition was to violently destroy all those who disagreed with his worldview.

We do not know what consequences his death will have – and serious questions now need to be asked about the West’s relationship with Pakistan, following the emerging details of how he succeeded in avoiding justice for so long only 30 miles from Islamabad. But today the world has one less genocidal terrorist and that can only be a good thing.

This morning’s news has led me – as well as many more people I suspect – to focus on that other momentous “where were you when?” event in recent history.

I was getting off the school bus when my mother ran out, telling me and my brother that something awful had happened. We ran into the house to see a burning skyscraper in downtown New York. We looked on, disbelievingly, as the second plane smashed into the side of the South Tower. The images were repeated endlessly – mass homicide unfolding before our eyes.

We watched with the rest of the world in stunned horror as innocent and terrified men and women – people who got up that crisp, blue-sky morning to go to work – took the heart-wrenching decision to commit suicide, rather than burn in their offices. And then the final, awful climax when two of the tallest buildings in the world collapsed in a cloud of fire, smoke and dust. September 11th, 2001.

The man behind that utterly despicable act is dead. Good riddance.

Will James is a freelance writer and political analyst. Follow him on Twitter: wmhjames

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