This Thoughtful Thursday we are stepping back and observing the death of Osama Bin Laden, the rhetoric that surrounds it, and trying to gain perspective about this event’s place in the history of the War on Terror.
A Rorschach test is used by psychologist to gain a better understanding of the interworkings of a persons mind, revealing the biases and hidden emotions dwelling inside all of us. It is what is being performed when a doctor holds up a sheet of paper with an inkblot on it—something we have all seen in the movies—and ask the patient what he or she sees in them. Our individual perception of these meaningless images has the potential to uncover elements of our thinking process that even we do not comprehend. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that the death of Osama bin Laden acted as a giant Rorschach test for our nation. The media circus that followed exhibited all sorts of reactions; ranging from families of 9/11 victims soberly reflective on the events of the past 10 years, to young people cheering on the street, to politicians condoning torture. The death further reveled to us our inner morality and convictions. What does it mean to you?
Enjoy the thoughts of two of your fellow youth, and we ask you(th) to leave your thoughts in the comments. You can respond to either writer, or simply expound your thoughts about the subject. Let’s get thoughtful!
After Osama bin Laden was killed, President Obama claimed that, “justice had been done.” And I say, Mr. President, you are a liar. The assassination does not speak to the rational legal processes of civic society on which our modern nation-state is based. (This is not to suggest that illegal acts are not committed in the name of war, national emergency, or public safety ALL THE TIME, but we, as citizens, have a responsibility to call this country on its nationalistic illusion that violence can mean justice if Americans think it is so, from Guantanamo to Osama.)
Hannah Arendt makes a profound distinction between power and violence that is instructive in elucidating this charge of injustice. Power, in the context of the modern state, reflects legitimacy and just ends, because it is capable of coercion and adjudication. Violence, when enacted by the state on an individual, is the ultimate expression of lost legitimacy. Violence lacks principled ends to justify its means; it is force as an end in and of itself, thereby ceasing to be an instrument of anything and becoming merely a crime of patriotic passion, in this instance.
So, what was the end envisioned in the taking of Osama’s life? Quite simply, it was to deliver revenge and retribution, i.e. Arendtian violence. The assassination of Osama bin Laden was an unnecessary escalation of force that resulted in metal to the cranium of a human being.
The consequence of this violent act of “justice” is the continuation and global projection of American exceptionalism—a worldview that is even more dangerous than radical Islam given its military capacity and global extension. The U.S. has become a malignant Empire, as it alone decides what is just in the world. Luckily, descent into unnecessary violence is one of the first signs of an Empire’s decline.
Osama bin Laden was an evil man. And yes, the world is a better place without him. Yet, thousands of young people celebrating the event in a way analogous to a sports championship, presents the façade that we are the good side in this whole mess. Based on the lowest credible estimates at least 919,967 civilians have been killed in our two wars. That is the equivalent of 303 September 11ths we have hosted in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are many justifications for this; yet, at the heart of each one is the belief that when we kill people it isn’t terrorism, because we do it for noble reasons. Since the war began, prominent factions of America have turned to prejudice against Arab and Muslims, condoned torture, and supported the killing of innocent civilians (inescapable in any war). Does this make the actions of Osama bin Laden anymore acceptable? The answer is no. I don’t support any side that is willing to kill innocent people for whatever reason—and I don’t think I am a minority. Normal people have to do what they can to stop the killing. For Americans that means demanding our government end its two wars. For Muslims, that means condemning all who support radicals such as Osama.
Until this happens, there wont be any victories in the true struggle against terror—despite who will kill.
If you would like to submit a subject for a future Thoughtful Thursday, please send your idea o [email protected]