Thursday, May 05, 2011

How Many Deaths...

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is not my place to comment on whether Osama bin Laden was indeed behind the tragic attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City on September 11, 2001; nor to argue whether or not weapons of mass destruction indeed existed as justification for the subsequent American attacks on Iraq. There are plenty of articles, books, and "intelligence" on such matters, and anyone with a library card and an internet connection can draw their own conclusions. However, there are certain elements in recent developments of the West's culture of violence that elicit some of the most primal and ultimately disturbing images of lack of human compassion and de-sensitization to violence.

On April 30, 2011, Canadians flocked in hordes to television sets, sports bars, and the Rogers Centre in Toronto (with a sellout crowd of 55,000) to observe the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The following evening, May 1, 2011, their American counterparts descended by the thousand on their nation's capital and other significant sites of historical and cultural significance across the United States to rejoice in the murder of Osama bin Laden. Observation without context of giant crowds cheering "USA! USA!" may as well have implied that the World Cup or Olympic gold medals had been won. But in many ways, response to the slaying of bin Laden, America's 21st century Antichrist, is just another manifestation of the good, old-fashioned American past-time of turning violence into sport. The "score" was settled when news broke that bin Laden had been killed -- never mind that the bloodshed of 9/11 and the resulting war in Iraq can never, ever be resolved by the murder of one man (or murder period).

Three-thousand Americans died in the 9/11 attacks. In response to 9/11, the George W. Bush-led war in Iraq has resulted in the loss of over 100,000 Iraqi citizens' lives. Did Americans cheer about that? Well, sort of. However, can we hold Osama bin Laden morally and singularly responsible for all of these deaths combined? Especially in light of so much ambiguity, confusion, and dubious American connections around bin Laden, al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Afghanistan, the opium trade, the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and the Taliban? Or even for how the American administration responded militarily to 9/11? In legal terms, a reasonable doubt can be shed on bin Laden's guilt for the totality of 9/11 and the Iraq war with which he has been seemingly held solely responsible. However, right-leaning Western media is presenting the death of bin Laden as some kind of Biblical affirmation; as though the death of 3,000 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis (not including soldiers who have lost their lives since 2003) have all somehow been vindicated and equalized in the face of the death of one solitary -- and lest we forget, Muslim -- man who had been elevated to demonic status through the course of a decade of mystery?

Herein lies the paradox of America's Judeo-Christian revenge philosophy: bin Laden's death will not bring 3,000 Americans back to life. Similarly, George W. Bush's decision to attack Iraq in response to 9/11 and have 100,000 Iraqi citizens die would not be somehow vindicated for Iraqis if Bush were to meet a similar fate. Anger and revenge are simply stagnant emotions; they produce nothing but more violence, hate, fear, and intolerance. Nothing productive. Nothing forward-thinking. Nothing progressive. And no resolutions. The son whose father died at the World Trade Centre still doesn't have a father. And Osama bin Laden's death would not bring an ounce of "justice" if the execution of Saddam Hussein and 100,000 innocent Iraqis already hadn't. The propensity for revenge through violent measures (on the macro and micro levels) is a self-perpetuating cycle that permeates the Western cultural narrative in an age when societies are too multi-faceted (or at least enhanced in their awareness of geography) for such simplistic polarizations as good/evil, sinner/saint, Christian/Muslim, us/them, "eye for an eye," and so forth. Many Westerners ascribe to an archaic and reductionist Old-Testament ethos of revenge and binaries that is not adept to deal with 21st century diplomacy and multiculturalism. There is no black and white, only shades of grey.

Regardless of who Osama bin Laden was, or was characterized to be, it seems deplorable to celebrate the fact that someone is dead -- and not just dead, murdered. Seeing placard-carrying mobs hording the streets in major urban centres to host spontaneous festivities in honour of the murder of another person is nothing more than a sad reflection on a culture embedded into a military-industrial complex and its accompanying simplifications and anachronisms around so-called enemies who become nothing more than "the other team" in a sporting event. America kicked Iraq's ass 100,000-3,000 but that wasn't enough; they had to take out the big guy, or else all of those other murders weren't worth anything. Especially disturbing is the propensity to place such significance upon the death of someone who was essentially a figurehead; a manufactured image of Islamophobia; a scapegoat and displacement of misdirected American anger. Terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, whom American well-to-dos have vowed to exterminate (and in many cases, also helped to create), still exist, and have continued to do so whether Osama bin Laden died in 2001 or 2025 -- remember, he has essentially been powerless and in obscurity for nearly a decade. All we are left to ask in the end is: now that bin Laden is dead, can the West move beyond 9/11 and into more peaceful avenues at global relations, or was bin Laden simply another pawn-like casualty in a much larger war that would be moving forward with or without him?