Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Moral Clarity and the Death of Osama bin Laden
When I learned that Osama bin Laden had finally been killed I immediately thought of President George W. Bush's clarion call to action; President Bush has become a polarizing figure who is regarded with great esteem in some quarters and with great revulsion in others but he spoke truth to power in the wake of the worst terrorist attack ever committed on American soil: the people who did this attack are evil, they are our enemies and their leaders must either be brought to justice or have justice brought to them.
It is not fashionable to speak of good and evil; those words are considered to be inflexible, hardline and reactionary--but the simple, powerful truth is that good and evil exist, that evil people act with tremendous force and unrelenting cruelty and that evil must be answered with tremendous force.
What the United States should have done in Iraq and Afghanistan--and what the United States should do now in Libya and other countries run by despotic, evil regimes--cannot be simply answered in soundbites and superficial rhetoric; these are questions of both strategy (whether or not to act militarily) and tactics (how to deploy the military most effectively if the decision is made to act militarily). It is certainly possible to question or critique President Bush's strategy and/or tactics--but the most valuable service that President Bush provided is that he strongly framed the 9/11 attacks in the proper moral context: the attacks were committed by evil men who took orders from evil men and those evil men must be brought to justice or have justice brought to them.
President Barack Obama gave the final order to execute the mission that resulted in Osama bin Laden's death but that act of justice would not have been possible without President Bush's clarion call or without the military and intelligence structures that President Bush put into place. It is interesting to speculate about why bin Laden was able to avoid justice for so long only to be taken down suddenly and relatively easily; this is reminiscent of how the Unabomber got away with his crimes until his own brother turned him in to the authorities. I suspect that at least some of the people who were sheltering bin Laden decided that the terror mastermind had become more of a burden than an asset. I am not taking anything away from U.S. intelligence and I certainly am not taking anything away from the brave Special Forces' unit that brought justice to bin Laden but I think that without information from someone close to bin Laden the United States might have spent many more years looking for bin Laden in empty caves in Afghanistan.
Speaking of those caves, if it is true that the United States has given upwards of $10 billion to Pakistan over the past decade to fund anti-terrorism efforts then the United States is due a refund--and more--in light of the obvious fact that the Pakistani government gave aid and comfort to Public Enemy Number One. It is outrageous that bin Laden lived for years in a well-secured mansion in Pakistan while American soldiers fought and died in Afghanistan trying to find bin Laden in the mountains and other rough terrain; Pakistan should issue death and/or disability payments to every U.S. soldier who was killed or injured in Afghanistan.
In a seemingly unrelated--and yet very related--recent story, CBS reporter Lara Logan was recently brutally assaulted, sexually violated and nearly killed by a mob attack in Egypt; she was in the country to report on the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Two things struck me about Logan's account of her harrowing ordeal: (1) The crowd attacked her because they thought that she was an Israeli and/or a Jew; (2) Logan said that until this happened to her she never realized how prevalent brutality against women is in Egypt.
What does this have to do with bin Laden? President Bush spoke truth to power about bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, using "old fashioned" concepts about good and evil; everything is not relative and there are not always two sides to every story: sometimes there is just right and wrong, good and evil. After the 9/11 attacks, a Congressional investigation revealed that bin Laden had contributed $20,000 to the legal defense fund of El Sayed Nosair, the man who murdered Rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990. Failing to distinguish between good and evil prevented U.S. authorities from fully investigating the Kahane murder and discovering the connections between Nosair, Omar Abdel-Rahman (the "blind Sheikh") and bin Laden's al Qaeda; at the time, Kahane's murder was blithely dismissed by the media and by the U.S. government as a radical Arab killing a prominent Jewish figure but we now know that this crime was the first terrorist act committed on American soil by the group that eventually attacked the World Trade Center in 1993: bin Laden's confederates failed to bring down the Twin Towers that time but the next group that bin Laden sent succeeded eight years later. The idea that Kahane and bin Laden are equally radical and equally dangerous is an example of the pernicious, fallacious thinking that Vladimir Nabokov called "poshlost." There are not two equally valid sides regarding Kahane and bin Laden; Kahane proposed political solutions (with which one is free to agree or disagree), while bin Laden proposed (and delivered) mass murder around the globe; it is impossible to act correctly without making correct distinctions.
The Egyptian crowd nearly killed Logan merely because they thought that she was Israeli and/or Jewish; this is a powerful testimony to how much hatred has been instilled in the Arab/Muslim world against Israelis and against Jews: Arab and Muslim dictators do not have the ability and/or inclination to improve the lot of their people but these dictators have discovered that scapegoating Israelis and Jews is a great way to distract their citizens from the real causes of their countries' economic, scientific and political backwardness. Many Israeli and/or Jewish men, women and children have been killed by people whose minds are poisoned by hate, people who think and act just like the ones who attacked Logan precisely because they assumed that she was Israeli and/or Jewish (to cite just one example, in October 2000 two Israelis took a wrong turn into Ramallah and were literally ripped apart limb from limb). If Logan truly does not know about such attacks or about the virulent nature of this hatred then this is likely because she has bought into a narrative (very popular in the mainstream media) that teaches that there is not good and evil but rather two (or more) equally valid narratives; it is this kind of thinking that reacts to the 9/11 attacks by assuming--or even declaring--that some supposedly legitimate grievances explain and/or justify killing innocent civilians just because they are Americans (or Israelis or Jews). The Western media far too often covers up the racism, antisemitism and misogyny that is prevalent in the Arab and Islamic world because the media's preferred narrative is that Israel is persecuting Arabs, not the other way around--an odd (which is to say false) narrative when one realizes that the Arab/Muslim population of Israel has been steadily increasing for decades while the minority populations of Arab/Muslim countries have been steadily declining and face constant persecution.
It is powerfully symbolic that the U.S. carried out President Bush's vow to bring bin Laden to justice or bring justice to bin Laden but it will require clear thinking and decisive action to ultimately defeat al Qaeda and other groups/nations that are motivated by evil ideologies and that act with tremendous violence and unrelenting cruelty--and clear thinking must start with understanding the distinction between good and evil.
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