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Well, it's over for some now
May 2, 2011 - Stephen Browne
I spent this weekend moving so I somehow missed out on the death of Osama bin Laden. I was about to go to sleep in the new house when my wife called and told me. I just looked up the details five minutes ago.
I believe I'd heard of bin Laden before he became infamous, but I can't remember the circumstances.
I do remember when I was teaching in Saudi Arabia in 1998/99 some of my students asking me if I'd ever heard of their countryman. I lied and said I hadn't. It has to do with The Three Anathemas you are never to discuss in class: sex, religion, and politics. (You may well ask, what else is there to talk about, in a language class at that, once you've eliminated the topics that most interest people? Work perhaps, which interested my students not at all.)
My students assured me I would hear of bin Laden in time.
Details, he was living in a mansion in Pakistan, not hiding in a cave as we'd heard. That's no surprise, bin Laden needed dialysis so had to have access to modern medical care on a regular basis.
Nor is it surprising he was in Pakistan, thirty miles from the capital. Pakistan kind of sits on the fence in this weird sort of war. An unknown, though certainly large, number of Pakistanis support Al-Queda, apparently including many in their intelligence service.
It is reported that after he was killed bin Laden's body was treated with respect according to Muslim customs. That's not what the jihadists do with those unlucky enough to fall into their hands, but as Rudyard Kipling wrote during another war waged against irregular forces (the Boer War,)
"We are too blooming much polite, But that is how I'd have us be..."
Relatives and friends of 9/11 victims are quoted expressing feelings of relief, or "closure."
I'm happy they feel that way, and I don't really want to be a wet blanket, but this isn't the end of this stupidly-named "War on Terror" (terror is a tactic, not an enemy.) Not yet it isn't, bin Ladin's death, while important as a symbol to us, probably has about zero strategic effect.
For one, bin Laden has graduated from the status of a Robin Hood-type figure taunting the Great Satan from his hiding place, to martyr.
For another, something the Israelis found out after the Munich Olympics massacre when the Mossad sent operatives across Europe to assassinate the terrorist leaders who planned the mission. Afterward the leadership positions were taken over by younger, even crazier subordinates. The Israelis still use assassination as a tactic, but sparingly and are careful in their choice of targets.
And Al-Queda isn't an army or a state which can be decapitated by strategic strikes at the command and control center, because there largely isn't one. Al-Queda isn't even an organization per se, but a "community of interest" more like a hobby group, with a very serious hobby.
It's made up of people possessed of a hatred of modernity, and the civilizational changes which are dragging them kicking and screaming out of the 12th century. The huge irony is, their organization, tactics, and weaponry are the product of technology they can use, but can't create or maintain.
So while it's OK to feel some satisfaction over the death of an evil human being who caused great suffering and death across the world, we should not let ourselves lapse into complacency or allow ourselves to entertain the comforting illusion this is over. Because it's not, by a long shot.
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