Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed about 3000 people, will not be mourned by many people around the world. But his killers used Bin Laden’s crimes to justify wars on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq that have killed many thousands more. These wars are continuing. The May 3 US Socialist Worker article abridged below says bin Laden’s death should not be used to justify further killings in the name of the “war on terror”.
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The assassination of Osama bin Laden was celebrated as rough justice by US politicians across the spectrum and a mainstream media that is glorying in every grisly detail.
It is nothing of the sort. Bin Laden’s death did not make the world “safer” and “a better place”, as US President Barack Obama claimed in his televised speech on May 1. This political killing will be used to make the world less safe ― by building support for more violence committed by the US government in the name of the “war on terror”.
The hunt for bin Laden was never about justice, but justification. Revenge for al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks was the most effective selling point for US wars and occupations.
These wars weren’t designed to make the world safe from terrorism, but to safeguard the flow of Middle East oil and ensure the continued domination of the US empire.
Now bin Laden is dead, this former US ally-turned-public enemy number one will be exploited again ― his killing proclaimed as a vindication of 10 years of bloodshed on a scale far more horrible than anything al-Qaeda was ever capable of.
News of bin Laden’s death produced an outburst of jingoism and anti-Muslim bigotry in the US. In Portland, Maine, the words “Osama Today Islam tomorow (sic)” were found spray-painted on a mosque.
As Obama was announcing the killing on television, crowds of people gathered outside the White House to chant “USA, USA, USA” ― the very image of callous arrogance that stokes bitter anger toward the US around the world.
Anyone who cares about peace and justice needs to raise their voice against such celebrations, because they only pave the way for more war.
Glenn Greenwald said in a May 2 Salon.com article: “Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed.”
The operation to kill bin Laden ― carried out by Navy SEAL commandos inside Pakistan with no notification to a supposed ally, apparently ending with bin Laden being summarily put to death ― was typical of the “war on terror”.
The US government claimed the right to be judge, jury and executioner far beyond its borders ― a calculated message to the world that the US recognises no limits on its actions, either from international law or the norms of civilised behavior.
But this is nothing new. For 10 years, the US military machine has been judge, jury and executioner for tens of thousands of Afghans who did nothing more than go to a wedding or travel in the wrong area.
And that’s not to mention the victims of the US who are labelled “rebel fighters”, and whose only crime was to resist an occupation of their country.
The toll of the “war on terror” has been compounded many times over with invasions and assaults carried out or backed by the US in Iraq ― the greatest killing field for the US empire in recent years ― in Palestine, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, and now in Libya.
Few will mourn bin Laden’s death in and of itself. He was a political reactionary whose ideology and actions set back the cause of democracy and freedom.
The victims of al-Qaeda’s attacks against US targets have almost always been ordinary people who bore no responsibility for the crimes of imperialism. In the Middle East and elsewhere, bin Laden and his followers have been equally vicious, if not more so, toward fellow Arabs and Muslims who oppose their hard-line version of Islam.
The US and its allies around the world have not been weakened by September 11 and other such attacks ― on the contrary, al-Qaeda’s violence has been used as a pretext to advance the imperial project.
But bin Laden’s assassination is already being used to renovate the “war on terror”.
The plan of the George W Bush administration after September 11 was that the US overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq would be the springboard for a transformation of the Arab and Muslim world ― at the point of US guns.
But the resistance in Iraq made a mockery of Bush’s claim of “Mission Accomplished” ― just as the continuing opposition to the US and NATO in Afghanistan has frustrated Obama’s troop “surge” there.
For the past five years, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have grown steadily more unpopular. But now, at last, the US war machine and its cheerleaders have a “success” to celebrate. That is the importance of bin Laden’s killing to the US political establishment ― and the reason the fawning media relishes the grotesque stories of his corpse being dragged away from the murder scene and dumped in the sea.
Obama’s speech announcing the killing included not a single word about the lies used to justify invading and occupying countries halfway around the world ― nor the least recognition of the terrible toll on the region.
On the contrary, as anti-war activist Phyllis Bennis pointed out, Obama equated the operation to kill bin Laden and the ongoing “war on terror” with, among other things, the “struggle for equality for all our citizens”.
Bennis wrote in a May 2 Alternet.org article: “In President Obama’s iteration, the global war on terror apparently equals the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.”
One inconvenient truth you won’t hear much about in the media’s celebration of bin Laden’s death is the fact that the US government helped him form al-Qaeda.
When the former USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US saw an opportunity to turn the country into a battlefield in the Cold War.
Successive US government’s supported fundamentalist rebel groups, known as the mujahideen, against the USSR’s occupation.
In their 2006 book Bleeding Afghanistan, James Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar said: “The amount of U.S. and Saudi assistance to these groups started at around [US]$30 million in 1980, and increased to over $1 billion per year in 1986–89.”
The US ignored progressive and secular forces in Afghanistan, instead funnelling support to fundamentalist groups that were not only anti-communist, but notorious for their brutality.
Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, for example, was known for throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women. These were the rebels who Ronald Reagan praised as “freedom fighters”.
The Taliban emerged in 1994 and took power in the war-ravaged country a few years later. Its members were trained in religious schools set up by the Pakistani government ― with US support ― along the border.
The Taliban’s ultra-fundamentalist view of Islam ― including denying women the right to work or even show their faces in public ― wasn’t condemned by the US government at the time.
Bin Laden was a businessman from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia and one of the first non-Afghan volunteers to join the mujahideen. He recruited some 4000 of the 35,000 non-Afghan Muslims who fought in Afghanistan.
He also worked closely with the CIA, raising money from private Saudi citizens.
Indian journalist Rahul Bhedi wrote: “In 1988, with U.S. knowledge, bin Laden created al-Qaeda (The Base): a conglomerate of quasi-independent Islamic terrorist cells spread across at least 26 countries.
“Washington turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda, confident that it would not directly impinge on the U.S.”
Now that bin Laden has been executed, there will be no trial to examine the U.S. government's connections to the man whose murder allegedly makes the world “safer”.
Nor will there be any difficult questions about the Taliban’s offers in 2001 to turn over bin Laden to the US for trial if Washington provided evidence of his crimes.
The Bush administration wanted the “war on terror” to project US power around the globe. September 11 was an opening for US leaders.
Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice urged aides to speculate about “how you capitalize on these opportunities” from September 11, as she told New Yorker magazine writer Nicholas Lehmann.
While most people were still dealing with the enormity of what happened on September 11, the US political and military establishment was demanding blood.
The nearly 10 years of the “war on terror” has taken an even greater toll ― at least 1 million people are dead as a result of the US war and occupation of Iraq alone. US military action has spread from Afghanistan to Iraq, and now to Pakistan, Libya and many more countries.
The “war on terror”, justified as the only way to stamp out bin Laden and al-Qaeda, has made the world a more violent and dangerous place.
With every bomb that falls on an Afghan wedding party or every carload of Iraqis slaughtered at a checkpoint, the world’s only superpower created more despair and bitterness toward the US and its allies ― creating the circumstances in which terrorism can thrive.
Since the beginning of this year, the Middle East has become a focal point for the world for very different reasons.
From Tunisia and Egypt in northern Africa to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and many countries in between, masses of people have risen up against dictators and regimes that uphold the imperialist order ― some of them backed wholeheartedly by the US and others more tentatively.
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda were made irrelevant by the actions of millions of people who rebelled on the basis of mass action and solidarity, not the violence of a small minority seeking to impose its religious views.
The assassination of bin Laden will help Washington in its attempts to retake the initiative with a revitalised “war on terror”.
We need to stand up against the grisly celebrations of bin Laden's killing ― and insist, as Martin Luther King did more than 40 years ago, that the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world” is the US government.