Wearing Flags and Burning Them
I am not sorry that Osama bin Ladin is dead. I do not feel any pity for him and cannot sympathize with his followers. He and they reject dialogue in favor of murder. They kill those who disagree with them. They kill those who live differently, believe differently, or work in buildings associated with the West. I do not applaud murder.
I can't celebrate Osama bin Ladin's death, either. There is something in the celebration of a human being's demise that disturbs me, even if the dead was evil, unforgivable, and without a merit I can see. I may not regret the death, but that is far from celebrating it. I cannot see bin Ladin's merits, but that does not mean he had none, though I suspect they were far outweighed by his flaws and the evil consequences of his actions.
I can't celebrate bin Ladin's death. To do so is, for me, to focus on the wrong aspect of our struggle against al Qaeda. What does his death mean to his followers? What does it mean to the organization he constructed? How will it affect the present and future actions of the terrorists who named him their leader? Will it have any real affect at all? I don't know. We will have to see.
Certainly, bin Ladin has not been the leader of terrorist actions or revolutionary activity in the Middle East for quite some time. He was forced into hiding, and, although able to smuggle audio tapes out with some frequency and so to remind us of his existence, he was not able to coordinate or lead actions any more. The day-to-day planning and operational leadership got away from him. Al Qaeda actions, targeting fewer Westerners and more Arabs, of late created disaffection among those who were expected to form their base of support. Other, less manichean problems arose in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and other Muslim states. The struggles in the Middle East became less about us and more about power and wealth distribution within the states themselves. Sectarian interests continue to play out with bombs and ambushes in Iraq, but these interests are less easily made into Western interests vs. native interests than before, and have more to do with power-sharing in Iraq and the divisions of Iraqi society. Our concerns in Afghanistan today are more focused on the corruption of the government and the threats to stability found in continuing tribalism and poverty than on Al Qaeda and bin Ladin. If the Taliban rises to power again, it will be by taking advantage of the situation created by these problems, not by al Qaeda inspired actions.
And so, I accept bin Ladin's death without joy, and without regret. I look to the coming days with some trepidation and some hope. I wonder what we will do now.