Wednesday, May 4, 2011
What Bin Ladens Death Means
Osama Bin Laden is dead. His slaying is now the subject of intense politicisation. No matter what happens some people will take whatever they want from the whole episode. Obama supporters will see the Bin Laden killing as vindication of the anti Iraq War line that Afghanistan was always the right war and that pursuing Al Qaeda and Bin Laden in central Asia was the right way to go. These people will argue reasonably enough that the pursuit of the fundamentalists responsible for 9/11 and the termination of Bin Laden might have happened many years ago if the US had not been distracted in their confrontation with the secular dictator in Baghdad. On the other hand, Obamas opponents are arguing that Bin laden would not have been sent to meet his 72 virgins if it hadn't been for the Bush era enhanced interrogation techniques. A fair point although several media outlets are reporting that the information about the courier was obtained from a conventional interrogation. I'm sure the public do not know the truth on this yet but it won't stop conservatives and liberals claiming they know the exact moment the couriers name was first given up. I must say though that I am skeptical of Peter Kings claims, particularly after reading the George Bush memoirs that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave up the name of the courier while being water boarded. I'm not sure if it's even an important point because water boarding was rarely used under George Bush. My view is that such techniques should generally be banned because they are unreliable and morally wrong but that the President under extreme situations should have the authority to personally give the go ahead. The reason torture is wrong is because people will end up doing it, not to get information but because they hate the enemy and they want them to suffer. War is an orgy of hate and inflicting revenge on the enemy is an ugly but natural desire that soldiers have and that should be prevented by law in any civilised nation. But in the rare and extreme situation (like something from an episode of 24), I think people should get real and acknowledge that on the Presidents authorisation, enhanced interrogation should be permitted where saving lives and not getting pleasure from kicking someone you hate in the groin is the clear objective.
In the wake of the sensational news that Osama Bin Laden is brown bread (a Dublin saying) people have in my view largely failed to look at what it means for the Muslim World given that in recent months, two dictators have been overthrown, another refused to go and is now at war with NATO and several others are looking very shaky. So I ask, has Islamic fundamentalism failed? I ask this because the Jihadists have been taken completely by surprise by the Arab revolutions. This is particularly clear in Egypt where they Muslim Brotherhood have been very slow to capitalise on the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who was their implacable enemy for three decades. The masses are rising up, and although it is early days there is little indication they are doing so to embrace the fundamentalist Sunni Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The Facebook and Twitter generation of the Middle East have been assembling online and engaging in dialogue with each other in an open and unprecedented manner. They have taken this new momentum to the streets and are sending their despots packing. I believe as George W Bush does, that people anywhere in the world if given the opportunity will seize the chance to live in a free society. Now I am not naive. I do not expect to see democratic governance flourish across the region. Political Islam is still excessively conservative and incompatible with the democratic way as we know it. But one thing is clear, they day of the mad Middle Eastern dictator that rules for decades is coming to an end. And with the passing of Bin Laden into the history books the Islamist alternative is beginning to look like a non runner. The west, the free world and President Obama have an unbelievable opportunity to promote democracy in the Middle East and in so doing, to change the direction of this century, from one that has in its first decade been full of war and international tension to one of peaceful cooperation and human development.