Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden's death: a happy outcome for US imperialism?

There's no reason to mourn the death of Osama Bin Laden, a wealthy backer of terrorism and a fundamentalist whose ideology had nothing in common with the anti-imperialism of socialists and anti-war campaigners (whether in the West or in the Arab world).

But it is noteworthy that the gloating and celebrating in the US appears to be greeted by widespread disgust, or at least unease. I'm sure it would have been different if he'd been killed just a few months after the atrocities of 11 September 2001. There would have been more jubilation, and more sympathy for those celebrating.

The explanation for the ambivalent or hostile reaction to scenes of jubilation now is simple. We've had nearly a decade of wars and occupations, of bloodshed and conflict. After all the disasters associated with US imperialism, most people aren't in the mood for celebrating when it scores a 'victory'.

There's another factor. It's now obvious that the peril of 'terrorism' has been used to justify foreign intervention, and all the injustices that accompany it. Few people believe either that Bin Laden's death marks the end of terrorism or that confronting terrorism is, in any case, the real basis of the 'war on terror'.

Bin Laden was a useful bogeyman for the US and its allies, including the UK. He has been a visible marker of something that is in fact largely anonymous and amorphous. His image helped the public relations departments of the White House and Pentagon. For anyone who's ever watched a James Bond film, the notion of an evil mastermind behind everything is a familiar and appealing one.

Yet it is certainly not the truth. There are strong reasons for believing Bin Laden had a central role in relation to the September 11 attacks, but he was no mastermind of a highly organised terrorist network. 'Al Qaeda' has been a label adopted by those who never had anything directly to do with its supposed leader.

US propagandists have scored a short-term coup, but they face a long-term dilemma. If Bin Laden was the reason why they had to invade and occupy foreign lands, what is the justification for keeping their troops on foreign soil?

If the need for 'heightened security' in response to Bin Laden's terror threat is the reason for curtailing civil liberties, should we now expect a turn towards greater respect for civil liberties? What about the rising Islamophobia which has been an ugly domestic accompaniment to the 'war on terror'? We can sadly expect the attacks on civil liberties and Muslim communities to continue, but there's an obvious ideological strain here. 

We can also expect continuing strains in the US State Department's relations with a number of governments in the Middle East and Western Asia. The most obvious one is Pakistan, especially as it is reported the country's authorities and intelligence agencies were not informed of the US special operations to kill Bin Laden. Pakistan already has a complex and ambivalent relationship with its old ally.     

In the UK we should renew calls for our troops to be brought home from Afghanistan. One of the final props for the discredited pro-occupation case has now vanished. It is evident that imperialist intervention has generated, not alleviated, terror attacks. An end to the occupations is necessary.

We must also oppose the new war in Libya, where Western bombing threatens to breed more terrorism, division and hate. Millions now know what happens when powerful Western states dictate, by military force, the affairs of weaker countries.

The momentary gloating over Bin Laden's body cannot resolve the deep problems the US has accumulated from almost a decade of the 'war on terror'. Neither does it compensate for the countless lives ended in that war. Justice can only come through an end to foreign intervention.  


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