Death Be Not Proud

We cannot say it was only a matter of time. We can say it is good timing. Barack Obama makes an announcement about the US killing Osama bin Laden, but there is not a word from him about NATO forces murdering the Libyan leader’s youngest son and grandchildren even as there were rumours that Muammar Gaddafi may join the al Qaeda, as though he is some ordinary recruit looking to use his skills.

The US forces have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan for a long time now, so what happened on Sunday, May 1, that finally brought the strapping “most wanted terrorist” in the line of fire, not in some hideout but in Abbotabad, not far from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad? If he was in that country for a long time, what prevented any “targeted operation” earlier? They had got leads since August. Al Jazeera states that the intelligence authorities traced him through his couriers. Osama bin Laden had been openly using identifiable couriers to connect with his team? Are we to believe that a man who has eluded every attempt to be caught for over ten years, even after sending videotapes of himself, left himself open to such assault? Since none of the “small team of Americans” died, it was obviously not a bloody skirmish.

“After a firefight they killed bin Laden.” Was Osama alone? What was he doing at the time? Who else was killed? They say one of his sons and two trusted aides and an unidentified woman. The CIA watched the operations live and then the men took the body to Afghanistan and buried him at sea. According to NBC News this was done because Islamic tradition mandates that a body should be buried within 24 hours, but it would have been difficult to find takers for it elsewhere.

Are they telling us that a criminal is being treated humanely in death and they are following Islamic rituals? If he has been buried, then how can the body be “in American possession”? After creating havoc in different parts of the world to get at this man and his terror network, it is the business of the United States of America to show us the money. Tell us exactly who they have got and how and with whose assistance. The tepid version of Pakistani co-operation that “helped to lead us to him” won’t do, because if the Pakistanis were so smart, they would not have problems with the Taliban that have reached their cities. The Taliban is not in Manhattan.

This business about death is not about Osama at all. It is about Barack Obama and his need to prove himself in times of recession and his own identity. His televised pronouncements and other statements clearly reveal that he is running an election: “Tonight, I can report to the people of the United States and the world, the United States had carried an operation that has killed Osama Bin Laden, a terrorist responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. Today, at my direction, the United States carried out that operation… they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date against al-Qaeda.”

No. One man’s death is not an achievement. He was a phantom figure, and the US has been fighting demons of straw. Is it even necessary to reiterate the historical genesis of al Qaeda and the making of bin Laden and CIA’s role in it? While the Saddam-Gaddafi prototypes, dictatorial within their shores, put up a fight against the US, Osama was beyond boundaries. He had no homeland and represented no nationality. He became as anti-Saudi as he was anti-American.

As I type out “was”, I hesitate, for the possibility of a puppet corpse keeps flitting through my mind. 2012 is the year Obama could get re-elected. A ‘mummy’s’ boy would be such an adored creature, never mind if the real mommies are fighting against tax, and for health and senior citizen’s benefits.

But the president is playing his cards well: “We must also reaffirm that United States is not and will never be at war against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, in fact, he slaughtered many Muslims.” By saying this, he exposes a lack of statesmanship. There is no need for the US to reaffirm any such thing because a stance of this kind is a projection of an archetype. Had he not slaughtered Muslims ? as a matter of fact, he has not done much of the slaughtering himself and even keeping the ‘network’ in mind much less than what the governments of the world have done ? then would he be considered a Muslim leader?

The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa are resulting in Muslim deaths, so would these leaders be deemed as “not Muslim”? The Taliban carries out operations in mosques and shrines ? are they “not Muslim”? What kind of facetious contention is this?

Many Americans, and quite a bit of the American media, tend to ask pointed questions. Here, their attention is being diverted. The NATO operations in Libya are serious cause for concern, but Obama has just given his people a reason to gather outside the White House and sing the national anthem and wave flags. It is rather interesting that such street enthusiasm comes for the establishment, while there are countries whose protests are being taken over by these same establishments operating from their high-ceilinged caves.

It is not surprising that former president George Bush, the one who imagined weapons of mass destruction and declared ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Iraq, is quite happy that his good work is being carried out. “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” he said.

Where is there justice in this? Was there ever any targeted operation against Osama? No. Civilian areas were flattened out. Was there evidence of Osama’s direct involvement in any of the operations that took place later? No. Was Osama guiding the Taliban? No. The Taliban of today is entirely different, in that it has a regressive agenda, and the US can take credit for it. Societies that were at least socially quite progressive returned to religious regimes. The ‘crusades’ that Bush and even Bill Clinton fought needed men in robes.

It is foolish to suggest that the Pakistani army works in tandem with the Taliban for there has been a traditional conflict of interests, from the idea of tribal loyalties to its more contemporary issues with polity. In a two-pronged comment, Mark Kimmit, a US military analyst, echoes Bush’s remarks when he says, “Capturing or killing bin Laden has more iconic value. It will have symbolic value, because it has been a number of years since bin Laden has exercised day to day control over operations. We still have an al-Qaeda threat out there and that will be there for a number of years. This organisation (al-Qaeda) is more than bin Laden, it may be symbolised by bin Laden, but it definitely is more than bin Laden.”

This means that the US will continue its ‘war against terror’ irrespective of all the symbols and the imaginary stuff it manages to get hold of. Keeping the phobia alive is important for local politics as well as to retain its own symbolism with the most important veto power in the United Nations, which has been its hand-maiden. The response to the news from world leaders is more revealing of them than of Osama.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said without a blink, “This is a resounding triumph for justice, freedom and the values shared by all democratic nations fighting shoulder to shoulder in determination against terrorism.” Democratic nation? Terrorism? Who grounded the flotilla and who is pounding the Gaza Strip?

P. Chidambaram, the Indian home minister, is as expected catering to the home theatre crowd: “We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which (US) President Obama said that the firefight in which Osama bin Laden was killed took place in Abbotabad ‘deep inside Pakistan’. This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in Pakistan.”

He and the Indian government have often said it, so why is he gravely concerned now? Does the Indian government not know about underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s address in Karachi, which is not even deep inside Pakistan? Why has there been no concerted effort to get him?

Terrorism exists and it must be fought, but by the countries directly affected by the extremist movements that seek root or infiltrate through the borders and not by a select group of people who take it upon themselves to push their own xenophobic agenda.

We do not know if, as many in the West believe, Osama’s heroism will be mourned. However, if some Americans can come out at Ground Zero and celebrate his death because of the personal suffering of those who died in the 9/11 attacks, then there are large sections of the populations of the world who have every right to come out in the streets and mourn the death of symbolism. For, in the name of such a totem everyday they are losing their lives, their families, their homes, their livelihood and every shred of dignity in several Ground Zeroes. They are always considered suspects.

Barack Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of the US army must now command his men to leave lands that are not theirs and spare the lives of thousands. This will be the true meaning of liberty and an end to the ‘war against terror’.

Osama bin Laden has been a ghost who talked more than walked. So, who did they kill?

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of ‘A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan’. She can be reached at

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections