Osama bin Laden plotted and ordered the killing of innocent people to further his authoritarian political agenda. And finally he was killed. Thus always to tyrants.
But those of us who harbor no sympathy for bin Laden shouldn’t be blinded by patriotic or victory euphoria. The death of bin Laden does not solve the problems that enabled his rise to fame.
The projection of US government power around the world increases hostility toward Americans and the West. The United States has installed, and currently supports, governments that ruthlessly oppress and severely impoverish people — including governments that murder protesters to stay in power. This in turn rouses sympathy or even allegiance to those who fight or murder Americans.
According to many sources, the flexing of US imperial muscle had included support for bin Laden during the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. True or not, it’s believable — and widely considered an example of how political figures change from good guys to bogeymen depending on the uses that US power has for them.
Waving flags and victory signs cannot cover those rotting in Guantanamo without trial, cannot hide the images of torture at military prisons, and cannot refute the fact that the empire punishes an alleged whistleblower while honoring the anonymous “troops” who committed the crimes bravely revealed to the public. Nor can it compensate for the immigrants confined in homeland Guantanamos crafted in the war on terror, or the police state that intrudes ever more into the lives of Americans and the lives of those on the receiving end of American power worldwide.
The national “unity” of September 11 that Obama celebrated in his victory speech was really bellicose nationalism that enabled more war against Muslim countries. While the absence of mob violence was something to be happy about, prejudice towards Muslims — and general regard for anyone who didn’t fall in line as a traitor or other epithet — does not make for a rosy picture.
As an anarchist, I also feel the need to dispel the sense of triumph surrounding the state. A stateless solution to attacks on innocent people is the only real solution. All states project their power for the benefit of politicians and their partners, and all will trample on those in their way and co-opt effort for freedom into energy for serving new masters.
A proponent of state action could point to the fact that the strike force that killed bin Laden came out of occupied Afghanistan or argue that large state armies denied bin Laden space to comfortably operate in, effectively cornering him. However, this does not mean that his apprehension required a massive state invasion. Following the September 11 attacks, the Taliban attempted to negotiate with the United States government to work out how to cooperate against al Qaeda, but their proposals were rejected. If the Taliban had handed over bin Laden and stayed in power, it’s entirely possible that they themselves would have eventually been unseated by a popular uprising of the type now sweeping the Middle East.
The force that killed bin Laden was relatively small, elite, operating on top-quality intelligence — an example of the efficiency that non-state armed forces would likely display. On the battlefield, non-state actors operate with flexibility against rigid hierarchical foes. Al Qaeda itself is likely not a command structure, but a dispersed threat — another reason that bin Laden’s death won’t solve the major problem.
It remains to be seen whether or not Osama bin Laden will be less influential as a martyr than as a living personality. But the position of Public Enemy Number One will be filled again, and the security-state apparatus will keep squeezing American life as the weapons of foreign policy extinguish lives.