Saturday, May 7, 2011

Celebrating Death

Good riddance, bastard.
There are a ton of blogs I want to write right now, and if I actually had the time, I would definitely do all of them. Unfortunately, my time is pretty limited anymore, so I have to reserve my thoughts to only a few points. The first that comes up for me is the disgusting partisanship and the rhetoric that has cropped up in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death.

In a matter of hours, primarily on Twitter, I saw the reactions of many Americans around the country to the news and what seems like only moments later, The Daily Caller is buzzing with reporters emailing each other and heading down to the White House to see the public response.

I ultimately opted not to go, in part because it would have taken me at least an hour and a half to get there from my apartment and collect my gear at the office, and in part because within 10 to 15 minutes, my friends Dan Hayes & Clay Broga of Freethink Media announced that they were already en route. I knew they would get some great footage, and put it together in an excellent way... and true to form, they did:

A lot of this is hopeful and patriotic, and not nearly as bad as the first video I saw come out of the White House "celebration", but in either case... I have a big problem with the whole thing.

Death isn't something to celebrate, the violent murder - and let's be honest, that's what the Osama bin Laden killing really was - of an evil man is still a violent murder. Being privately, quietly glad that some amount of evil has been eradicated from the world seems appropriate. But cheering wildly in the streets?

No. I don't think so.

If you actually stop and consider this point from the point of view of two radically different cultures, without morally equating the two, Muslim fundamentalists and extremists cheering the death of American soldiers is hardly any different in principle than US citizens cheering the death of Bin Laden.

I know... I know. Everybody I've talked to about this keeps reminding me that Bin Laden is credited with killing 3,000 innocent residents of Manhattan. Absolutely true, and for that, the man unquestionably needed to be brought to justice. But Muslim extremists cheer the death of US soldiers for nearly identical reasons within their own perception, do they not?

America is so often seen as a worldwide bully and our bombs have indiscriminately killed tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians over the last 10 years and who knows how many over the past 50 years! Not just in Iraq & Afghanistan, either... Drone strikes have escalated under Obama substantially, and we've seen the deaths of countless people at American hands in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other sovereign nations as well.

So when they cheer for American deaths, they too are believing they are eradicating an enemy. To some extent, I cannot blame them.

Now... Again, let me be perfectly clear about this point.

I am NOT equivocating cultures, here. American culture is by almost every conceivable level superior to the anachronistic Muslim Theocracies in the Middle East. We do not as a matter of policy & law, enslave our women, brutally kill victims of rape or other sexual assaults, we do not enforce a state religion and we don't have an Imam or any tribal, religious dictator. We are unquestionably better than all of that.

For all our faults, we do none of that.

And that's something we should all be incredibly proud of in the United States and in the "Western", "developed" world in general. It's these major philosophical differences that we all take for granted and which, I must say, we (and I include Europe in this) are so easily letting slip away.

But the celebrations sickened me, and I think they should have sickened everyone. We should be better.

We've undergone yet another defining national moment, and we reacted with what I mostly see as bloodlust. This didn't make me happy at all. However, I was actually glad to see that Code Pink - who I have literally nothing else in common with, besides a distaste for state violence - came out to the White House on Monday afternoon to protest our continued military presence in the Middle East.

I took a camera and a reporter with me. Check that out here:

The funny thing is, if you watched the video, David & Liz are our main players and I agree with both of them. Code Pink women almost never have a clue about what they're really talking about, but I'm glad that they're relatively consistent. And I'm especially glad I got an opportunity to ask Liz to talk about what happened to all of their Democrat friends who would have turned up in the thousands and millions if Bush were still in office.

Dave was right too, though.

The soldiers in Afghanistan and everywhere else around the world are there because of "pre-instated structures". Talking about "the troops" as if they have much of any say in what their missions are is silly. The troops aren't the problem here. Fat & comfortable politicians with no skin in the game are.

As far as I can tell, the purpose of these wars and of our military operations world-wide is barely even understood at this point.

Of course... Osama bin Laden's death and the American response to it is understandable in many ways. There's revenge and catharsis, and of course the desire to obtain some closure from 9/11. All of that I get. What I don't get is how so many on the left and the right believe that taking to the streets and having a party about a man's death is righteous.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a few things on Monday that are worth repeating:
"It's already a Litmus Test event: all Decent People -- by definition -- express unadulterated ecstacy at his death, and all Good Americans chant "USA! USA!" in a celebration of this proof of our national greatness and Goodness (and that of our President). Nothing that deviates from that emotional script will be heard, other than by those on the lookout for heretics to hold up and punish."
I have been that heretic... of course, I usually am, so I was prepared for the responses I've received.

Greenwald also noted something I've been saying more and more strongly as the week has progressed and a more complete narrative has emerged from the Obama administration's varied and contradictory stories...
"I'd have strongly preferred that Osama bin Laden be captured rather than killed so that he could be tried for his crimes and punished in accordance with due process (and to obtain presumably ample intelligence). But if he in fact used force to resist capture, then the U.S. military was entitled to use force against him, the way American police routinely do against suspects who use violence to resist capture. But those are legalities and they will be ignored even more so than usual. The 9/11 attack was a heinous and wanton slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians, and it's understandable that people are reacting with glee over the death of the person responsible for it. I personally don't derive joy or an impulse to chant boastfully at the news that someone just got two bullets put in their skull -- no matter who that someone is -- but that reaction is inevitable: it's the classic case of raucously cheering in a movie theater when the dastardly villain finally gets his due.

But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice, there are two points worth considering. The first is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden's head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we've started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?"
I can't help but thinking... No. We can't be.

The war on terror may be farther from over today than it ever has been, and Osama bin Laden's death might very well foment some serious blowback. In fact, it already has. The Taliban have redoubled their efforts in Afghanistan, and one of the more disturbing things I discovered today was that a "pro-bin Laden" event was staged by his supporters in London!

From the UK Express article about that event:
"It was organised by controversial preacher Anjem Choudary, who told reporters after the 'service' that America had created a new generation of Islamic terrorists.

Muslim women demonstrators pray outside of the US embassy in London today
He said: "There will be one million Osamas. Muslims will remember Osama as a great man who stood up against Satan. Many will want to emulate his acts.

"In Britain we have other options - like political action, but in other countries if your land is attacked or your family are put at risk you must defend yourself.

"We believe in the covenant of security that we must attack those we live with, but many do not."

The group began their march from the Regents Park Mosque where they tried to recruit some of the thousands who prayed there."
Surely this must concern all of us, not just because of the message Choudary is promoting, but that it is in the United Kingdom... These aren't the backwards sentiments of an uneducated, riled-up people confined to the mountains of North-eastern Afghanistan. Choudary might as well be right here in America.

At the risk of being even more "heretical", it's hard not to understand why this is the inevitable reaction to Osama bin Laden's killing outside the US. We know now that Osama and his men were almost entirely unarmed when the Navy SEAL team entered their compound in Pakistan.

Consider the implications here.

A United States military special forces unit entered a sovereign country with which, to this point, we were not "at war" (although that's pretty debatable given the number of USAF drones that have dropped bombs on that country in the last few years), it proceeded to kill a large group of unarmed men and even a few women, extract a few of the bodies and exit.

While this is unquestionably an illegal act by our Constitution, a pretty strong case can be made that it is an immoral act as well. It's also, practically speaking, a poor way to mete out "justice" and terrible PR for the United States - which is incredibly likely to generate even more dangers for our country in the years to come.

I'm not really one to be overly concerned with legality (which, after all, is so infrequently a true representation of justice), so I'm not so concerned about the violation of Pakistan's borders...

We had a right to bring Osama bin Laden to (legitimate) justice. Of course we did. Every individual, and of course every nation as a result, has the right to self-defense and to obtain retribution for acts of injustice and 9/11 was most certainly that. If in the service of bringing a known murderer and instigator of so much American suffering to answer for his crimes, we need to cross some arbitrarily drawn political lines, well... Fine. We will have to deal with the diplomatic mess created by such actions, but it's pretty easy to defend them. Besides... As real freedom fighter around the world would know, some laws are worth breaking.

However... Shooting and killing an unarmed man?

Not ok.

Morally, it should be obvious why killing unarmed men is wrong. But practically, I see no way not to construe those actions as a spectacular mistake.

We could have captured Bin Laden and his men. We could have tried him in front of the whole world for crimes against the United States. We could have made him a spectacle and shown him to be a hypocrite that he surely would have become. Most of all, had we captured him, there is no question that we could have learned a vast amount about the nature of al Qaeda, and of decentralized terrorist networks in general.

Had we done this, we would have learned a ton, we would have shamed a man who deserved so much to be shamed in front of his followers, we would have brought legitimate justice to an evil man and demonstrated America to be a nation guided by principle and law... not by lynch mobs.

Instead... We shot an unarmed (but yes, evil!) man in the head and dumped his lifeless body over the side of an aircraft carrier. We opted for thoughtless violence and death and eschewed the opportunity to get true justice or learn directly from perhaps the most knowledgeable person on the planet about Islamic terrorism.

...and the people cheered.

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