Posts Tagged ‘Al Qaeda’

On 11th September 2001, the world witnessed perhaps the most horrifying act of aggression­ since possibly the events of the Second World War. Osama Bin Laden, the man behind the act is now dead and his corpse is being tossed around unceremoniously by the foaming waters of the North Arabian Sea, like flotsam from a wrecked vessel – never to be discovered and never to be washed ashore. Considering the magnitude of the crimes he masterminded and the number of innocent lives that fell prey to the acts of the organization that he led, it is but fitting that not only was he finally hunted down after years of untiring effort, but also that he died at the hands of soldiers of the very nation whose people had suffered untold sadness and misery at his hands. The biter has been bitten, the Americans have avenged themselves and a sense of justice seems to pervade the world.

Justice, however, is one thing that seems to be missing from this latest episode in the ‘War on Terror’. My greatest regret at this entire affair is that Bin Laden could not be (or was not) captured alive and put to trial for his crimes. Increasingly, reports seem to point to the possibility that he was unarmed at the time of his death and that the American forces were in a position to capture him alive, that there was very little opposition from those inside the compound where Bin Laden lay hiding and yet he was shot dead. If these reports are to be believed, then ‘Operation Geronimo’ amounts to what Noam Chomsky calls a political assassination, committing which the Americans have failed to live by the example they set before the world 66 years ago at the Justizpalast in Nurnberg. Opening the trial of the Nazi war criminals, the American prosecutor Robert H. Jackson had remarked: That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason. Even as the specifics of the covert operation to kill Bin Laden remain unclear to the general public, it is to be hoped the American forces had enough cause to put him to death and dispose of his body so hastily, and that Power did not overcome Reason when they came face to face with the man who had come to symbolize Evil in today’s world the same way as Hitler had done half a century ago.

For what could have been more fulfilling than the sight of a defeated Osama Bin Laden sitting in a prisoners’ box and being judged by the same procedures of law that are applied to a bag-snatcher or a sneak-thief? A courtroom is a great leveller, and a trial would have cut him (and the cause he espoused) down to size instead of dignifying his crimes by killing him ‘in action’ and thereby giving him what his sympathisers are calling a martyr’s death. More importantly, it would have proved to him, and his followers who are still at large, that the world in spite of their best efforts still believes in the concept of civilization and the rule of law, and that the way it would mete out justice to them differs significantly from their own perverted breed of justice that they mete out to those who disagree with them.

Be that as it may, Osama Bin Laden is dead and we must turn to reflecting on what his death implies for the world now. Regardless of whether his supporters are able to build a memorial to his death, Bin Laden was and will remain the most powerful and enduring symbol of organized terrorism and what it can achieve. The fact that he was eventually killed might deter those who fear death as a consequence of their crimes, but in the business of terrorism, such people are in a minority. Bin Laden took terrorism to a whole new dramatic level and the sheer derring-do of the events of 9/11 will continue to inspire many terrorists for a long time to come.

I find it difficult to conceive of a time in the future when terrorism will cease to exist. As long as there is a great imbalance of social development and political power in the world, organized violence will continue to exist in some form or the other. Today we choose to call it Islamic Terrorism, but it is fundamentally not different from what was once described as the Crusades a few hundred years ago or ‘The Holocaust’ more recently. ‘Terrorism’ and the ‘War on Terror’ will continue with increased vigour in the foreseeable future, more so because the two share a symbiotic relationship, and there is no force strong enough to restrain them. In fact, the resources that catalyse them are ever increasing – social disparity, hegemony of one nation over the other, and our technological capability to destroy and kill – while the restraining forces – voices of sanity and moderation – are increasingly on the decline.

The world today is organized around artificial constructs like religion, nation and race – constructs that we have chosen to make a part of our identity and from which spring all the emotions that are at the root of our unhappiness. Bertrand Russell[1] wrote that “if in the modern world communities are unhappy, it is because they choose to be so…because they have ignorances, habits, beliefs and passions, which are dearer to them than happiness or even life.” That these words are as relevant now as they were at the close of the Second World War is a sure sign that we have failed to acquire wisdom at the same pace as we have acquired knowledge. We stand today as the most intelligent and cannibalistic species on Earth.

The images of the collapsing twin towers will remain with us as terrible reminders of the horrors that man is capable of inflicting upon his own species, very much like the images of the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the black and white video footage of the bodies that tumbled out when the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Dachau were opened. But even in the midst of all this misery, if we are to make our lives worthwhile  in the present, we must live in the hope of a different world in the future. We must live in the hope that men will learn to value life more than they are fascinated with death.

Above all, we must live in the hope of a day when generations to come shall treat those images with utter incredulity and not look at them with the sense of painful acceptance that we, our parents, and their parents, have been accustomed to.


[1] Reflections on My Eightieth Birthday by Bertrand Russell


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