Osama's Death and The War on Terror

It has been 2 weeks of hysteria across the world regarding the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.  His death has been met by morbid jubilation, the usual condemnation, and quiet trepidation.  But, above all, the most discernible observation is a growing dismissal on the "War on Terror" as a chapter of a bygone era.  The "War on Terror" (exceedingly derided and yet as significantly crucial) seems to have been disposed into the political bin with the rest of the Bushisms.

Large swaths of  the world's population, particularly in Europe, don't recognize that the United States is, in fact, fighting a war.  Islamic Imperialism doesn't seek to threaten American lives, per se, but undermine Western values.  In part, Al-Qaeda is a political ideological manifestation of Islam which calls for the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate.  When the United States fought and defeated Nazi and Soviet Imperialism, America fought a battle in the conventional sense of war.  Instead of wars being waged for land or resources, Islamic Imperialism attacks the ideas of Western civilization.  This is an unconventional form of war.  And, as a consequence, most people are not quick to recognize it.  For instance, public condemnation and criticism on the killing of Osama bin Laden is based on the viewpoint that Osama bin Laden should have been dealt with as an internal police matter -- and not a war matter.  This is because people do not understand that the West is at war.

The United States has been fighting an on-going battle against Islamic Imperialism and Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11 -- as, indeed, has much of the rest of the world.  Any nation seeking to uphold the Enlightenment values is threatened.  Al-Qaeda has waged its own war against Pakistan.  Embarrassingly, the United States had to travel across the world to deal with Osama bin Laden, who had been living in Abbottabad for approximately five years.  Pervez Musharraf then has the audacity to whine about Pakistan's state sovereignty.  He was joined by Hamas, when PM Ismail Haniya announced that "we condemn the assassination of a Muslim and Arab warrior and we pray to God that his soul rests in peace."

Large proportions of the West have convinced themselves that Al-Qaeda is the victim of "American Imperialism" (despite the fact that Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, and several non-American countries have not escaped the bombing campaign of Al-Qaeda!); and further, that Osama bin Laden is some form of a political leader -- instead of simply being a terrorist commander at war with the United States.  Thus, some people regard his killing as analogous to the killing of the elected leader of a nation.

This is precisely what Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, meant when he proclaimed to have had "a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn't look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances."  What does Dr. Williams allude to when he invokes the concept of "justice"?  The esteemed barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, expresses the same rhetoric in an article in the Independent.  Although it's difficult to take the article seriously, particularly when he starts airbrushing "America" by the actions of several hundred people in a crowd outside the White House, saying that "America resembles the land of the munchkins as it celebrates the death of the wicked witch of the East."  Nonetheless, he explains (albeit rather briefly) what he means by "justice" by saying "that real justice -- arrest, trial and sentence -- would have been too difficult in the case of public enemy No. 1. But should it not at least have been attempted?"

The form of "justice" to which Robertson and Williams allude is that of a person who was presumably convicted of theft, plagiarism, or forms of internal "police crime."  Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States and the US has been engaged in a military war.  As such, the Geneva Conventions are the basis of what constitutes "justice" in war.  Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention allows the fighting and killing of enemy targets -- unless they have surrendered or have been rendered disabled by injury.  Whether or not they are armed is irrelevant.  The point of war is that you kill enemy combatants -- otherwise, you wouldn't go to war.

Once you surrender, legally and morally, you cease to be a "combatant."  Thus, the question is very simple.  Did Osama bin Laden surrender or try to surrender?  Eric Holder, US Attorney General, made it perfectly clear that "if he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate."  The White House declared that he did "resist the assault force."

Bizarrely, Geoffrey Robertson implies that the US wasn't interested in taking him into custody, but there is no reason to suppose that that is true.  In a Briefing at the White House, Jay Carney, Press Secretary, said that "the operation was planned so that the team was prepared and had the means to take bin Laden into custody."  Martin Scheinin, UN Special Rapporteur, wrote that the operation did not violate international law, and that "the United States offered bin Laden the possibility to surrender, but he refused.  Bin Laden would have avoided destruction if he had raised a white flag."  To conclude, the highly-dangerous mission to extract Osama bin Laden has to be put into the context of a fire-fight where the US Navy Seals met resistance -- indeed it took twenty-minutes to reach the third floor -- confronted with Osama bin Laden who was not surrendering or giving himself up.

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a frivolous article in Slate in which she argues that we ought "to declare a symbolic victory over terrorism and return once more to the pre-9/11 regime in which the rule of law is inviolate."  According to her, the war on terror was "always metaphorical."  Obviously, everything about the war on terror and Al-Qaeda is figurative and not to be taken literally.  Does Lithwick think that because of bin Laden's death, Islamic terrorism will cease to be?  Bin Laden's significance has dropped dramatically and he has only become an inspirational symbol of the Jihad.

Al-Qaeda is no longer a centralized terrorist organization.  His death will not destroy Al-Qaeda, since he is only one of many high-ranking figures.  As Jason Burke wrote in 2003:

Al-Qaeda can only be understood as an ideology, an agenda and a way of seeing the world that is shared by an increasing number of predominantly young, predominantly male Muslims. Eliminating bin Laden and a few hundred senior activists will do nothing to counter this al-Qaeda. Hundreds more will come forward to fill their ranks.  Al-Qaeda, however understood, will continue to operate.  The threat will remain and it will grow.

Al-Qaeda acts as an inspirational model which has encouraged a wave of Jihadi activity.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq, for instance, had no affiliation with Osama bin Laden.  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even ignored criticisms from Osama bin Laden!  There are, and have been, various terrorist jihadi cells in Algeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Palestinian territories which have had little -- if any -- direct contact with Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda no longer plans terror campaigns similar to 9/11.  Instead, they have shifted towards directing small-scale operations with devastating consequences.  Examples include the Fort Hood shooting; the Christmas Day bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the Times Square Bombing attempt.  These are all steady attempts to create an "Al-Qaeda in US" -- to emulate the relative success of the "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and "Al-Qaeda in Yemen" franchises.

It is very difficult for people like Lithwick to recognize this as a threat, let alone a war.  All these acts of terrorism are not merely random acts of violence perpetrated by angry Islamists; but rather, a means to gradually seek to change and alter a society.  To put it more bluntly, these acts of terrorism seek to intimidate a society towards Islamization through gradual capitulation.  In order to fight and destroy Islamic terrorism, we can't do so by targeting individual leaders or organizations.  Of course, it is a step in the right direction, but, ultimately, it requires the "West" to recognize a body of ideas of Islam and Islamism.  It needs people to acknowledge and appreciate that Western values (of equality under the law, freedom, and individual liberty) are superior and worth defending.
It has been 2 weeks of hysteria across the world regarding the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.  His death has been met by morbid jubilation, the usual condemnation, and quiet trepidation.  But, above all, the most discernible observation is a growing dismissal on the "War on Terror" as a chapter of a bygone era.  The "War on Terror" (exceedingly derided and yet as significantly crucial) seems to have been disposed into the political bin with the rest of the Bushisms.

Large swaths of  the world's population, particularly in Europe, don't recognize that the United States is, in fact, fighting a war.  Islamic Imperialism doesn't seek to threaten American lives, per se, but undermine Western values.  In part, Al-Qaeda is a political ideological manifestation of Islam which calls for the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate.  When the United States fought and defeated Nazi and Soviet Imperialism, America fought a battle in the conventional sense of war.  Instead of wars being waged for land or resources, Islamic Imperialism attacks the ideas of Western civilization.  This is an unconventional form of war.  And, as a consequence, most people are not quick to recognize it.  For instance, public condemnation and criticism on the killing of Osama bin Laden is based on the viewpoint that Osama bin Laden should have been dealt with as an internal police matter -- and not a war matter.  This is because people do not understand that the West is at war.

The United States has been fighting an on-going battle against Islamic Imperialism and Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11 -- as, indeed, has much of the rest of the world.  Any nation seeking to uphold the Enlightenment values is threatened.  Al-Qaeda has waged its own war against Pakistan.  Embarrassingly, the United States had to travel across the world to deal with Osama bin Laden, who had been living in Abbottabad for approximately five years.  Pervez Musharraf then has the audacity to whine about Pakistan's state sovereignty.  He was joined by Hamas, when PM Ismail Haniya announced that "we condemn the assassination of a Muslim and Arab warrior and we pray to God that his soul rests in peace."

Large proportions of the West have convinced themselves that Al-Qaeda is the victim of "American Imperialism" (despite the fact that Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, and several non-American countries have not escaped the bombing campaign of Al-Qaeda!); and further, that Osama bin Laden is some form of a political leader -- instead of simply being a terrorist commander at war with the United States.  Thus, some people regard his killing as analogous to the killing of the elected leader of a nation.

This is precisely what Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, meant when he proclaimed to have had "a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn't look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances."  What does Dr. Williams allude to when he invokes the concept of "justice"?  The esteemed barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, expresses the same rhetoric in an article in the Independent.  Although it's difficult to take the article seriously, particularly when he starts airbrushing "America" by the actions of several hundred people in a crowd outside the White House, saying that "America resembles the land of the munchkins as it celebrates the death of the wicked witch of the East."  Nonetheless, he explains (albeit rather briefly) what he means by "justice" by saying "that real justice -- arrest, trial and sentence -- would have been too difficult in the case of public enemy No. 1. But should it not at least have been attempted?"

The form of "justice" to which Robertson and Williams allude is that of a person who was presumably convicted of theft, plagiarism, or forms of internal "police crime."  Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States and the US has been engaged in a military war.  As such, the Geneva Conventions are the basis of what constitutes "justice" in war.  Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention allows the fighting and killing of enemy targets -- unless they have surrendered or have been rendered disabled by injury.  Whether or not they are armed is irrelevant.  The point of war is that you kill enemy combatants -- otherwise, you wouldn't go to war.

Once you surrender, legally and morally, you cease to be a "combatant."  Thus, the question is very simple.  Did Osama bin Laden surrender or try to surrender?  Eric Holder, US Attorney General, made it perfectly clear that "if he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate."  The White House declared that he did "resist the assault force."

Bizarrely, Geoffrey Robertson implies that the US wasn't interested in taking him into custody, but there is no reason to suppose that that is true.  In a Briefing at the White House, Jay Carney, Press Secretary, said that "the operation was planned so that the team was prepared and had the means to take bin Laden into custody."  Martin Scheinin, UN Special Rapporteur, wrote that the operation did not violate international law, and that "the United States offered bin Laden the possibility to surrender, but he refused.  Bin Laden would have avoided destruction if he had raised a white flag."  To conclude, the highly-dangerous mission to extract Osama bin Laden has to be put into the context of a fire-fight where the US Navy Seals met resistance -- indeed it took twenty-minutes to reach the third floor -- confronted with Osama bin Laden who was not surrendering or giving himself up.

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a frivolous article in Slate in which she argues that we ought "to declare a symbolic victory over terrorism and return once more to the pre-9/11 regime in which the rule of law is inviolate."  According to her, the war on terror was "always metaphorical."  Obviously, everything about the war on terror and Al-Qaeda is figurative and not to be taken literally.  Does Lithwick think that because of bin Laden's death, Islamic terrorism will cease to be?  Bin Laden's significance has dropped dramatically and he has only become an inspirational symbol of the Jihad.

Al-Qaeda is no longer a centralized terrorist organization.  His death will not destroy Al-Qaeda, since he is only one of many high-ranking figures.  As Jason Burke wrote in 2003:

Al-Qaeda can only be understood as an ideology, an agenda and a way of seeing the world that is shared by an increasing number of predominantly young, predominantly male Muslims. Eliminating bin Laden and a few hundred senior activists will do nothing to counter this al-Qaeda. Hundreds more will come forward to fill their ranks.  Al-Qaeda, however understood, will continue to operate.  The threat will remain and it will grow.

Al-Qaeda acts as an inspirational model which has encouraged a wave of Jihadi activity.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq, for instance, had no affiliation with Osama bin Laden.  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even ignored criticisms from Osama bin Laden!  There are, and have been, various terrorist jihadi cells in Algeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Palestinian territories which have had little -- if any -- direct contact with Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda no longer plans terror campaigns similar to 9/11.  Instead, they have shifted towards directing small-scale operations with devastating consequences.  Examples include the Fort Hood shooting; the Christmas Day bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the Times Square Bombing attempt.  These are all steady attempts to create an "Al-Qaeda in US" -- to emulate the relative success of the "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and "Al-Qaeda in Yemen" franchises.

It is very difficult for people like Lithwick to recognize this as a threat, let alone a war.  All these acts of terrorism are not merely random acts of violence perpetrated by angry Islamists; but rather, a means to gradually seek to change and alter a society.  To put it more bluntly, these acts of terrorism seek to intimidate a society towards Islamization through gradual capitulation.  In order to fight and destroy Islamic terrorism, we can't do so by targeting individual leaders or organizations.  Of course, it is a step in the right direction, but, ultimately, it requires the "West" to recognize a body of ideas of Islam and Islamism.  It needs people to acknowledge and appreciate that Western values (of equality under the law, freedom, and individual liberty) are superior and worth defending.