Utne Blogs > Politics

Responses to Osama bin Laden’s Death


The news of Osama bin Laden’s death came as a surprise to most people around the world. And while there are still many questions to be answered, we have found interesting takes from those we turn to at times like these. Here are just a few.

UPDATED: 5/6/11: Al Qaeda has confirmed the death of bin Laden, according to National Post, and “vowed revenge on the United States and its allies, including Pakistan.” Not too surprising . . . Here is just a little bit more taken from an Islamist Internet forum: “It will remain, with permission from God Almighty, a curse that hunts the Americans and their collaborators and chase them outside and inside their country.”

 UPDATED: 5/5/11: Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch looks at bin Laden’s legacy: a changed America, not a changed Middle East.

It was our misfortune and Osama bin Laden’s good luck that Washington’s dreams were not those of a global policeman intent on bringing a criminal operation to justice, but of an imperial power whose leaders wanted to lock the oil heartlands of the planet into a Pax Americana for decades to come.  So if you’re writing bin Laden's obituary right now, describe him as a wizard who used the 9/11 attacks to magnify his meager powers many times over.

After all, while he only had the ability to launch major operations every couple of years, Washington -- with almost unlimited amounts of money, weapons, and troops at its command -- was capable of launching operations every day.  In a sense, after 9/11, Bin Laden commanded Washington by taking possession of its deepest fears and desires, the way a bot takes over a computer, and turning them to his own ends.

UPDATED: 5/5/11: Steve Chapman, writing for Reason, has this to say:

Responding to attacks or perceived threats with irresistible force is America's strength—as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and bin Laden learned. Our weakness is what comes after: reconstructing defeated countries as stable, democratic states.

It's a much tougher undertaking, requiring far more money, knowledge, and patience than Americans can muster. We rouse ourselves to ambitious tasks when adversaries challenge us. But as soon as we've taken one down, we lose interest.

UPDATED: 5/4/11: Christopher Hayes at The Nation looks at how the term “bad guys” worked itself into our national conversation following 9/11. Using the term, Hayes argues, is a rejection of mature thought and an acceptance of a childlike view of the world. He hopes the death of bin Laden will allow us to “return to the world as our adult eyes see it, shot through with suffering and complexity.”

We can feel compassion for the thousands of innocents who died by bin Laden’s hand as well as our own, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in places like Bagram and Baghdad. We can remember that just because there is evil in the world that we are fighting—and bin Laden was a mass murderer and war criminal—that does not mean we are purely righteous.

UPDATED: 5/3/11: Chris Good at The Atlantic examines the politics of the language used to talk about Bin Laden and the post-9/11 “war on terror.” He notes: 

During his time in office, Obama has sought to do away with Bush-era terminology. His Department of Homeland Security stopped using the phrase “Global War on Terror,” which President Bush coined after 9/11, and replaced them with the term “Countering Violent Extremism.” For this, Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took some criticism. 

Good continues:

When he announced bin Laden’s death Sunday night, Obama made no mention of “radical,” “extremism,” “war,” or “Islam,” except to note that: “…we must also reaffirm that the United States is not—and never will be—at war with Islam….” House Republicans, by contrast, used all those words Monday afternoon as they reacted to the news in a press conference at the Capitol.


UPDATED: 5/3/11: Jessa Crispin of Bookslut fame looks to an old comic strip to give her comfort from her annoyance toward the responses to bin Laden’s death.


Yesterday, after waking up to the news of bin Laden’s death, I started reading Get Your War On again from the beginning. The comic now exists as an online archive and a two-volume collection. I still marvel at it, a little. When I’m worked up and angry about politics, I turn into a sputtering child. In arguments with my Fox News-watching family members, my side of things degrade into, “Yeah, well, what do you know?” Rees managed to articulate righteous anger and despair, and reading his work is still weirdly comforting.

UPDATED, 5/3/11: Associate Editor Peter Gabel and Founding Editor Rabbi Michael Lerner give Tikkun’s spiritual response to the assassination. First Gabel writes:

Never should the killing of a human being be an occasion for such celebration — even in circumstances that involve actual self-defense against mortal danger. Not only does such a raucous display of pleasure in response to the killing of another disrespect the sacredness of every human life; it also inherently undermines the moral character and worthiness of those responsible for the death itself.

Lerner follows with a short statement addressing what the Jewish tradition says about killing murderous foes.

[W]hen we do the Seder on Passover and recite the plagues that were used against the Egyptians to get them to free the Jews, we put our finger in the cup of wine, symbolic of our joy, and dip out a drop of wine for each plague — this symbolizes that our cup of joy cannot be full if our own liberation requires the death of those who were part of the oppressor society….

The task of spiritual progressives at this moment is to reaffirm a different consciousness — to remind ourselves that we are inextricably bound to each other and to everyone on the planet.

Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones notices similarities in the responses coming from bin Laden’s supporters and President Obama’s detractors:

“I will wait for the Mujahideen to confirm this, and will not believe until I see a picture of his dead body,” wrote one jihadi sympathizer on Islamic Awakening (IA)—one of several such forums provided to Mother Jones by Aaron Y. Zelin, a researcher at Brandeis University who tracks online militant activities on the website Jihadology.net.

This sentiment, and many others by Islamists, were echoed by conservative detractors of the president. “Obama can claim what ever he wants but his word is no good,” wrote one commenter on the right-wing site Free Republic. “Without proof that Osama is dead and staying dead, I don’t have to believe anything he says.”

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect wonders “Can Bin Laden’s Death Make Us Dial Back the Crazy?

We may not know for a time what effect Bin Laden’s killing has on Al Qaeda as an organization (or a movement, or however it could be described these days). But we can at least hope that this event can help us be a little more sane about terrorism.

David Sirota (who has a piece in the most recent issue of Utne Reader) writing for Salon thinks that all the celebrations and chants of “USA! USA!” following the news of bin Laden’s death actually give him his most “enduring victory”:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history—the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.

How many ways can you say Osama Bin Laden is dead? Not many, to judge from the selection of newspaper front pages posted on Jim Romenesko’s media blog at Poynter.org—although the East Coast tabloids eagerly worked the dancing-on-his-grave angle.

The Twitterverse was there first, reports Poynter’s Al Tompkins.

If Republicans are strangely dispassionate and Democrats openly gleeful about the news, what do the Libertarians think? In a press release, Libertarian Party Chairman Mark Hinkle says they’re glad to hear about bin Laden’s death—but eager to also see the “termination” of “the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretaps, the ‘state secrets’ doctrine, and other violations of Americans’ civil and economic rights.”

In “With Bin Laden Gone, Is the Jihadi Revolution Dead?” Mark Juergensmeyer, writing for Religion Dispatches, extends credit for undermining the jihadi insurrection beyond the U.S. forces that killed bin Laden.

The imagined war of the Bush era may indeed be over. And the jihadi insurrection associated with bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization may also be dead. But I suspect that the real perpetrators of their deaths may not have been the elite American military cadre some hours ago in Pakistan, but the legion of cell-phone toting protestors earlier this year in Tahrir Square. They have helped to complete the erosion of legitimacy that has undermined the jihadi activists in recent years within the Muslim world….

[T]he jihadi warriors may again have their day. For the moment, however, bin Laden is dead, and Tahrir Square has challenged both the strategic value and the moral legitimacy of the jihadi stance. The legion of young Muslim activists around the world have received a new standard for challenging the old order, and a new form of protest, one that discredits terrorism as the easy and ineffective path and chooses the tough and profitable road of nonviolence. 

Fast Company offers an early analysis of the Obama administration’s global PR war:

[A]ll we’re left with is old images of Bin Laden, and the image of a stern, dignified President Obama. The latter presents a far more dignified, far less political image than any of the high-profile captures that have attended the War on Terror, inaugurated under George W. Bush. There is nothing there for Bin Laden’s cohort to twist and remix for their purposes. There is no whiff of American savagery, and no whiff of personal vendetta. Simply justice.

Source: Mother Jones, The American Prospect, Poynter, Religion Dispatches, Fast Company 

Image by hodgers, licensed under Creative Commons. 

steve eatenson
5/18/2011 10:38:05 AM

When we do anything but feel grave sadness over the loss of any life we move backwards or stay stuck in our quest for greater spiritual growth and awareness. Whenever possible, dangerous beings who hurt others reasonably require containment so they can no longer speread their pain. Every effort should be taken by us all to avoid acts that cause further pain and suffering in the world. The least restrictive alternative is a good measure when choices are to be made regarding others behavior. Death of another is always the most restrictive alternative. We should never justify our own actions by the poor choices of others.

5/13/2011 10:12:08 PM

Rodeen, I greatly appreciate your prayers. I cannot remember the thread myself but I must have mentioned my health situation. I would like to say you are a worthy opponent but I don't consider us opponents. Just folk with a slightly and life appreciative different view. You have provided lots of insight and thought provocation. For that I Thank You. Hope to keep "doing battle." Be well.

5/5/2011 1:30:18 PM

I tried to catch you in another thread Occum but you gave up on it. How you feeling? Ill be praying for you rather you like it or not. Have you read Unbroken yet? Sounds like an amazing story.

5/5/2011 12:41:06 PM

We have something in common then. My father was a Marine on Iwo Jima as was my uncle (his brother in law.) Neither had much to say about their experiences. In fact, what I learned through them and over the years was that most combat veterans didn't say much about their experiences and those who did usually weren't truely in combat situations. My brothers both conveyed that same message as they were both in different branches in Beirut. In my experience point of view changes over time and more often than not those who have seen the cruelty and waste of war (or whatever term is being used at the time) shake their collective heads at the unfortunate young naive but patriotic men and women who have not had the time for it to sink in yet.

5/5/2011 9:17:04 AM

I have spent alot of time with my Grandpa who was a tail gunner in a B-17 in WWII. His first mission was the first bombing mission over Germany I believe 3 of the 12 planes in his bombardment division survived. His last mission over Normandy. 70 years and not a peep about his war experience. ON the other hand he had friends he could not tolerate being aroudn because they took some much joy in shooting the mfers down. We would also occassionaly go to the VFW and again these men were not to careful about there verbage. Think Clint Eastwoods character in El Torrino. I do concede a little on the creation point but our disagreements is probably a matter of sematics lost in my poor writing. Sure your circumstances shape you and your ideology that is why we like to think our selves patriotic and willing to fight wars. But terrorist are cold blooded killers not ideolauges (SP?)

5/4/2011 11:57:18 PM

Rodeen, You are disappointing me. History is filled with people who have been "created" by circumstances of all types. Families, regions, nations, religions etc. shape people in many different ways both good and bad. How we view them is subjective and in my opinion words like evil or heavenly are extremes of the degree of human interpretation of sensitivity. Ironically, that directly correlates with your second point regarding your presumption of how people at the Pentagon reacted. I do agree with your statement that pro's take great pride in their work. However, every military professional I have known or listened to makes great distinction in their verbiage to differentiate between executing a mission or strategy and taking a life. If terminating or dispatching a target is necessary to the success of a mission it is viewed that way regardless of personal viewpoint. A experienced hunter understands the dynamic and value of a job well done and may or may not convey the correlative emotions. An inexperienced "kid" only sees the awesomeness of a video game. My guess is that the reaction to a highly sensitive and emotional mission executed by professionals is being interpreted by 13 year old XBox players. That concerns me.

5/4/2011 4:44:04 PM

It should be made clear that every professional involved in the action most likely did not take pleasure in their jobs but saw it as a necessary and probable ending. Why? That is not consistent with most news reports that are saying the troops celebrated when they heard of there target. People at the Pentagon are overjoyed. I am sure they were serious and professional but sometimes even the pros take great joy in there work. because you know one person who has had a counter feeling about going about his job does not make it so for all, the majority, half, 1/4, 1/8th, 1/10, 1/1000, 1/1000000.

5/4/2011 4:02:33 PM

Nice hope Occum but not realistic. Nor do I blame our societies for "creating" these people. They are grown ups who have not gotten there way and decided murdering innocent people was the best way to achieve there means or deliver there point. I dont agree with a lot of our policies domestic or abroad but I would never say that we are responsible for creating these people. In general I beleive the wicked will find an outlet or cause to achieve there main objective. Rather that objective is power, or ideology.

5/4/2011 2:13:54 PM

Nice hope Occum but not realistic. Nor do I blame our societies for "creating" these people. They are grown ups who have not gotten there way and decided murdering innocent people was the best way to achieve there means or deliver there point. I dont agree with a lot of our policies domestic or abroad but I would never say that we are responsible for creating these people. In general I beleive the wicked will find an outlet or cause to achieve there main objective. Rather that objective is power, or ideology.

5/4/2011 12:18:55 PM

In my opinion Bin Laden had to be terminated for many reasons. It should be made clear that every professional involved in the action most likely did not take pleasure in their jobs but saw it as a necessary and probable ending. My brother was a Special Operator in the Shuff Mountains of Beirut in 1983 when the 24th MAU was bombed. After coming home he admitted it was one of the most confusing situations he had ever been involved in. Training forces that weeks later would be shooting at the people who trained them. Bin Laden's actions, in some ways, were the result of Global powers regionally gaming for political reasons. My hope is that we all (regionally and worldly) become better at working these things out through peaceful means so as not to create any more OBL's, Timothy McVie's or Ted Kazinsky's.

5/4/2011 10:50:21 AM

Surprisingly I agree with a lot of what Shirley said. However time will tell on the impact this has on OBL terror network. It is more of a gang than a govt. a govt replaces and moves on but generally gangs rely heavily on there figure head. Most people think that this will harden the terrorist resolve but part of me wonders if a decade of US relentless pressure has taken its toll. Not only that but they have done almost nothing to strike back at America at home.You need small victories to stay motivated. Now I am curious with the loss of it figure head if moral might dip. Bin Laden was a monster but I also see him as a unique and almost mythical leader to his followers. A millionaire warrior who fought side by side with the commoners. I think he had a unique repoir with his followers that will be hard to duplicate. I think it is more likely there will be intense in fighting within the organization for the top spot.

shirley hodge
5/4/2011 10:16:15 AM

Not for a moment does any thinking person surmise that Bin Laden's death is going to shut down alQuida. The next in the chain of command has, I would imagine, already stepped up and Bin Laden's death may just serve to reenergize the movement to seek revenge against the US or whatever target they think appropriate. That Bin Laden had to die was a given, there are always some people so evil, so totally immoral that they need to die if for no other reason than to reafirm the validity and purpose of morality. This is the power of Bin Laden's death. Totally symbolic of course but nevertheless of prime importance. John Donne's famous line "Any man's death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind" is the philosophy of good men, moral men, ethical men not of monsters like Bin Laden. When I woke up this morning I was not diminished but rather ecstatic that men of good heart and good will had brought about justice where justice was long overdue.

jim bunch
5/4/2011 9:19:43 AM

We have been singing a version of this Bin Laden Parody of the Sheik of Araby since 2005. With the recent events an update was in order. Bin Laden Jazz Funeral: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YjN0UdfELo

amir libiss
5/4/2011 9:16:04 AM

Bin Laden is an antisocial type of personality created by single-minded explantion od religious teachings, cultural misunderstanding of human value and the support he got from the free world in its fight against commonism. Getting him killed and celebrating his murder in a scene like the dark-ages lynches,it was as if the lynchers are convincing themelves of getting rid of their own by-product. Though Al Basheer of Sudan is responsible for the a whole genocide in my homeland Darfur,I wouldn't wish him lynch nor celebrate his death the way people did.