What does the Death of Osama Bin Laden Mean?

Does Bin Laden's Death Really Matter?

About fifteen minutes before I started to write this, I heard that Osama Bin Laden had reportedly been killed. This initially caught me completely off guard. Like many Americans, I had concluded some time ago that Bin Laden would someday die a peaceful death in some remote region of Pakistan. And even after he died, he might become a nebulous figure, with his enemies unsure for years if he was living or dead.

The big question, however, is what his death actually means. For several years, the world has rarely heard from Bin Laden, and few if any people believed that he was somehow directing the global jihad from a cave. So in purely practical terms, his death does not seem to matter very much. There are still plenty of terrorists out there, and it is possible that Bin Laden as a martyr could be more dangerous than a living Bin Laden in hiding.

We Americans, however, like to define the world in simplistic terms. Many seem to lump the wide variety of Islamic extremist groups into a single entity called, “Al Qaeda.” Still others reveal at least a limited recognition of the variety of terrorist groups by using the generic phrase, “with links to Al Qaeda.” As the symbolic head of this seemingly global, all encompassing group, Bin Laden became the big bad guy to whom we could unleash our feelings of fear, rage, sadness, and longing for justice. For a country that suffered so much as a result of 9/11, and has spent so much in terms of time, treasure, and lives in Afghanistan, the news of his death finally gives Americans something to celebrate.

But is it rational to take pleasure in his death or to see this news as a great victory? Just as we do with all celebrities in this country, are we paying too much attention to a famous person? On the one hand, I think that the answer is undoubtedly yes. But on the other hand, there is something to be said for symbolic victories. Bin Laden, in addition to symbolizing pure evil for many Americans, was an important inspirational symbol for those who wished to attack and defy the United States. As he survived year after year, it may have given others hope that they could do the same. Now, finally, The United States can hold him up as an example of what happens to those who carry out vicious attacks against the American people. You might be able to hide out (like a coward) in some caves for a while, but the day of reckoning will eventually come.

The problem is that this argument assumes that we are dealing with people who think as we do. When fighting against a movement largely fueled by people longing to die a martyr’s death, Bin Laden may now do more to inspire future attacks than deter them. And when dealing with people who often feel culturally obligated to avenge the deaths of friends and family, the killing of significant people will tend to lead to more killing.

I am not some sort of a pacifist or radical peace activist. I am glad that the bastard is dead. I recognize, however, that this so-called “War on Terrorism” is not going to be won purely with missile strikes, military invasions, and targeted assassinations. Ultimately, we need to seek out policies that minimize the number of people who are likely to resort to terrorism. If real political and economic reform emerges in North Africa and the Middle East, these changes may do more to weaken Al Qaeda than the death of its symbolic leader. As I have heard many analysts point out, one of the remarkable things about the “Arab uprisings” is Al Qaeda’s general irrelevance.

The trick, therefore, is for the United States to ally itself with the many people in the Muslim world who have no desire to be ruled by dictators or to die a martyr’s death. I recognize that this will not be easy, and there will be a strong temptation to stick with the old order for fear of an uncertain future. But if the Muslim world and American foreign policy continue on the same paths that they have followed for decades, I fear that a large number of “wanna-be” Bin Ladens will keep rising up to take his place.

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Comments 31 comments

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I would probably expect some retaliation. Do know that for many people in this world he will live-on forever as a martyr. Make what you want out of that.

All the best.

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HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Spot on Freeway Flyer. The most important tning to do now is to handle the Middle East uprisings correctly and support freedom there. This will have the largest effect on curtailing terrorism. His supposed martyrdom will spike terrorism in the short term but his symbolic demise will do much in the longer term. I also am glad he's dead but now the important work of supporting the Middle East peoples goes on.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

Thanks for your well written and thoughtful article.

The most important news, in my view, that has come out of the middle east in recent times is that the people who are rising up for their rights are not being inspired by Osama type fanatics, but that they just want their freedoms, like the rest of us. Al Quaida seems irrelevant in the real world of arab strugle at the moment. It is very important that the democratic countries build on that now.

A great opportunity was missed by the former american administration after 9/11. There were muslims killed there as well, and Al Quaida operatives dont distinguish between muslims who oppose them and westerners. The mistake was to let the perception take hold that muslims were terrorists per se. Osama Bin Laden was the enemy of all who opposed him, not just America and her allies. This needs to be stressed now. Support must be given to liberationist movements in the arab dictatorships, in order to separate them from extremism.

And more pressure needs to be put on Israel to really make a fair peace with The Palestinians.

Darknlovely3436 profile image

Darknlovely3436 5 years ago from NewYork

great hub...

Jed Fisher profile image

Jed Fisher 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Anyway, look back at historic examples. Suppose Napolean Bonaparte had been executed rather than exiled after the first time he got his ass whipped, that would have prevented an entire European land war. And really, there were a hell of a lot less nazis after Hitler died. And the SLA, (you know, the Patty Hurst kindnappers) their crime spree ended with their deaths. And McVey a martyr? Not hardly. With Osama dead, there will be less terrorism. And anyway, the violent death of the leader of the enemy at the hands of your own Soldiers, that is the most clearly defineable example of victory.

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 5 years ago Author

I don't question the decision to kill Bin Laden. But I think that we need to do more than kill our way to victory.

barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

At first I was happy... I celebrated like so many others. Than, a bad thought popped into my mind. Will Americans become blinded in their times of celebration? There is always someone standing in the background waiting to take that person's place. The problem is, Is it like a video game? With each boss you defeat, another and harder one is likely to come next? While the one that rises to the occasion be worse?

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

If I could make a further comment, based on the latest intelligence.

Shooting a man in cold blood, when he was unarmed and could have been arrested, is not the way for a civilised country to conduct it's affairs. But then "waterboarding" is not so sweet either.

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 5 years ago Author

I still don't know enough about the exact circumstances to comment. They said that he was resisting capture, but that could mean a lot of things.

If he could have been captured, it may have been in the interests of the United States to do so. The interrogation would have certainly been interesting. Of course, they may have also been trying to avoid the complications that could have been associated with a trial. It may have turned into a farce similar to the Saddam Hussein trial, with Bin Laden receiving a potential public forum. Also, where would he be held, where would he be tried, and what would the ultimate punishment be? (And what direct evidence do we have to implicate him?)

Yes, "waterboarding" is not a pretty picture. Many Americans, however, whether justified or not, feel that the United States should not be expected to follow rules of behavior that the enemy does not follow. Are we stooping to their level, or do you sometimes have to do nasty things in the name of security? It's a tricky balancing act to find a middle ground between security and civil rights. I get the feeling, however, that "waterboarding" is crossing a line, and the intelligence gathered from the technique is often unreliable. But if it turns out that the practice led to the death of Bin Laden, those who support the tactic will feel vindicated.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

The problem is that in law, a person is innocent until proven guilty. The same principal should apply to someone suspected of mass murder, as to an alleged pickpocket.

OpinionDuck profile image

OpinionDuck 5 years ago


"A person is innocent until proven guilty" is not true.

Once a person is charged with a crime, they are never innocent. Nothing that happens after an arrest returns that person back to innocent.

The outcome of a criminal trial is Guilty or Not Guilty.

Not Guilty is not the same as Innocent.


OBL dead is a good thing, but I still have to look the gift horse in the mouth here. The death of OBL generated more questions than it answered.

I wrote a hub on conpiracy after OBL was killed.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago

One thing I hope that will pass into oblivion is all of the conspiracy talk, I do not understand the ammount of those in the free world who would rather defend the actions of the enemy! Most of those who rip America can't tell you the name of anyone killed at ground zero. Or even realize that muslims were killed there too! Not much will change though terrorism will survive as will the Al Quiada , this is the new cold war you know!

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom


What rules in english do you use to justify your interpretation that "not guilty" has a different meaning than "innocent"?

As a writer, I am curious to know.

"Once a person is charged with a crime, they are never innocent. Nothing that happens after an arrest returns that person back to innocent".

That is one of the most extraordinary statements I have ever come across, definitely worthy of a "Franz Kafka" novel, or even "George Orwell".

Besides, from what we hear, Osama Bin Laden didnt even live long enough to be arrested, so by your logic, he was innocent.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago

It seems that many here want to evaluate this as legal or not by civilian law , Who's law? the US? Pakistan? Get real ! This is a military operation outside of the paramiters of civil law. Innocent until proven guilty???

You've been watching too much Judge Wopner! The military is operating at the express order of the president and at times only congress can interject any control. There are laws that deal specifically with the grey area between all out war and the normal relations between seperate nations. Terrorism is an all new form of war to be addressed outside of anyones civilian or even normal military law. Stop trying to apply civilian law to an international problem.

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 5 years ago Author

A lot of it comes down to the question of whether Bin Laden was a suspected criminal or an enemy in a war. This is why the "War on Terror" is so tricky. We are not fighting a conventional enemy force in clearly defined military uniforms. So is the mission to destroy a military enemy or to arrest suspected criminals? There is not a simple answer.

Andy 5 years ago

Well written article. The only way to win this "war" is to win the hearts and minds of people. The US's role is really a police action with detective work, not a shooting war.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

"we Americans, ..., like to define the world in simplistic terms." well said-immature and closed minded way to approach life, but, very true. Thanks for sharing your views.

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

The Military Industrial Complex, which President Eisenhower warned us about (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y06NSBBRtY - if you have not watched this please do, it is only two and a half minutes) needs wars to survive; it feeds on wars.

The Cold War was great, it (the Military Industrial Complex) got fed for decades and it grew and grew ... now it is a giant so it needs more food (more wars). The War on Terrorism is a perfect war: the enemy is invisible, cannot be pin-pointed and thus this is a never-ending war. Anyone can be a terrorist, from any country any social class or ethnic class ... this is indeed the war that may never end and the Military Industrial Complex grows - it loves wars, death, destruction and decay; it breeds them.

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 5 years ago Author

Denise, I did not mean to describe a simplistic view of the world as a positive thing. I was trying to point out a major fault in my culture, a fault that I try to avoid.

Mr. Happy, I sometimes show that video in my history classes. Yes, "terrorists" are an even more nebulous enemy than "communists." In both cases, fear definitely fed (and still feeds) the military-industrial complex. In the Cold War, however, it made a little more sense. In that conflict, there was more potential of a conventional war breaking out than with this "War on Terrorism," a "war" in which we are basically dealing with a criminal threat.

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Do you see a connection between the red scare and the terrorist scare Mr. Freeway? We got McCarthys all around in my opinion.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

FF-yes, I understand that you were not describing the simplistic view as something positive.

Mr. Happy--I have to agree, there is a connection and that can be applied to anything; anyone; and including the 'fear' of our own selves within our own hearts. It really starts there.

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Thus, we should learn to conquer/overcome our fears and not worry so much about those spreading the fear? That is what I am understanding from your above comment regarding my question.

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 5 years ago Author

Mr. Happy, Yes, and the term "terrorist" is used generically to describe our enemies in the same way that "communist" could be during the Cold War. If you don't like some group, just apply the label.

With terrorists, however, people think that ethnic profiling can be an effective way of finding terrorists. We tend to think that terrorists will be of a particular ethnicity or religion. With the "Red Scare," virtually anyone could be suspected, so the paranoia may have been even greater.

Gerry Bern profile image

Gerry Bern 5 years ago from Brighton, England

Aye, they need to stop thinking that guns solve problems. It is frankly unbelievable that they didn't take him alive, legally, instead of committing murder on another country's sovereign turf. The US showed a similar brutish lack of common sense and diplomacy when they began kidnapping UK citizens and secretly flying them to torture camps abroad.

Civilised? Nah, they are the worst of the worst, despite the high ideals and the 'forgiving god'.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago

I do really feel bad for those of you who would not recognize the enemy nor your friends in the political sense. Perhaps 9/11 was just a figment of our imaginations, or Hitler was just a misunderstood child, maybe Stalin didn't really annialate hundreds of thousands of his own people. Perhaps we should have just presented an arrest warrant for Bin Ladin to the U.N.....Those who would critisize the acts of defending the free world against these people ....are just too free, but enjoy those freedoms my friends and of course you will always enjoy the freedom of speach , as long as someone else earns it FOR you.....

Kare Ali profile image

Kare Ali 5 years ago from Los angeles

Great Hub

I think a lot of people seem to be missing the cost of getting Bin Laden, not just monetary but in human life and sacrifice. In reality he was not much of a threat to our independence or freedom, if left unchecked Al-Qaeda would have probably just continued to attack Israel and leave the US alone for the most part. I don't think it was worth the billions of dollars, the ruining of the lives of the people we tore through to get to him or the thousands of soldiers that died in this war, which will continue apparently until the word terror is removed from all languages and the feeling is gone.

It all just seems so stupid and arrogant to me, who are we to say that our way of living is best? Besides being the group with the biggest stick?

If you think that you can wage war on an emotion you are very very naive, if you think that you can win said war by becoming a large cause of the feeling you wish to stop allowing people to feel, you are a dumbass.

Grapes 5 years ago

The make the world Peaceful is in the hand of America. IF America stops its bossy attitude speacially towards Muslim world and Stop supporting ISrail then there is no agitation for Americans...this all situation is the "reaction of Action".

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ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I think Bin Laden should have been captured alive, tried in a neutral country like switzeland, then publicaly exacuted on Ground Zero.

I would not want any soldier to be killed capturing him though, so the fact he was shot while resisting arrest satisfies me.

sasta10 profile image

sasta10 5 years ago from Manchester, UK

We still need to see proof that Binladen is dead. America raiding a place on foreign land without authorisation is illegal and this can be classed as act of terrorism. Thanks.

onuigbos profile image

onuigbos 5 years ago from Southfield, MI

The fate that the Obama administration ascribed to Bin Laden was super befitting: just like a common criminal he was. Capturing him alive and trying him anywhere would have been honorable to him. He would have seized the opportunity to further espouse his hatred for America and the West, and be heralded by his teeming supporters. His death and burial at sea is ingenious.

Sim 4 years ago

Osama is died right.It is reaction of that what he do.But the real thing i want to say that it is not right way to operate attack on any other country without the permission and knowlege of related country it is the violation of law and land of related country.I dissagree only on procedure of operation.They do it by combine copration of related country.Is america allow other countries to do such kind of operation in its own country without permission and knowlege of america???

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