by Sarah Hawas on May 3, 2011
I heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death through a friend this morning. I dismissed the matter entirely and thought little of it at first: Bin Laden was old news, an alibi with no currency, a bad joke. Chances are, he was caught and killed years ago. What difference did it make? Really, none, I felt. I ran my errands, and sat down to study and write my papers. It was only when I switched on the television to check the news during lunch that I felt compelled to pay attention. Images from outside the White House beg comparison to nothing less than a fourth of July rally. The way Americans have been celebrating at Ground Zero, you would think they had just been through their own revolution. But indeed, between Clinton’s address and worldwide security alerts of anticipated retaliation by Al-Qaeda, the discourse has been less about celebrating the end of an era, and more about fortifying the War on Terror, expanding its scope and reach, increasing and exacerbating racialized securitization. The fight is not over, we hear, and US-led missions in a decapitated Afghanistan and impotent Pakistan only seem to be renewing their license to stay and continue their costly colonization and humiliation of these nations and their neighbors.
The idea of celebrating any death is repulsive. But perhaps, if anyone living today might venture even a sigh of relief at the capture (at least) of Osama Bin Laden (and the presumed symbolic defeat of Al Qaeda, whatever that might mean), it is the countless Muslims and Arabs that have, since 9/11, paid with their lives and dignity, directly and indirectly, for his atrocious acts in the name of countering imperialism and defending Islam. But if you don’t see us dancing in the streets today it is because Al-Qaeda is and has been beyond irrelevant for years. For the last decade, the US War on Terror has reproduced the Osama Bin Laden fiction, transforming him from a relic of Cold War alliances to a contemporary alibi for the brutal invasion and murderous missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those of us that know history did not begin on September 11th have been resisting the abrasive, suffocating encroachment of imperialist and reactionary elements on our lives and identities, building up to the present moment of revolution: between Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and the rest of the region, Arabs, Muslim or otherwise, are fighting to end the age of US puppet regimes on their own terms. One cannot help but wonder what “victory” the United States can claim in the murder of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil.
The victory, we are told, is in delivering justice. But what measure of justice, and for whom? The governments of this world – a global war-profiteering military-industrial complex spoken for by corporate media – have pulled the trigger on Osama Bin Laden in time to save Obama’s re-election campaign, and to mute the significance of May Day in a climate of increased precarity and dispossession. By funnelling the opium of patriotism (America’s exception to nationalism), Obama might well be preparing the American people for another decade of war, and is undoubtedly shooting the already paralyzed working and tax-paying American in the foot. Five months into a year that has thus far been marked by revolutionary winds, Americans that stood in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution and the ongoing Arab uprisings, many of the same people that were inspired by our movements and held signs saying “Walk Like an Egyptian” in Wisconsin, may now very well be celebrating at Ground Zero in a bizarre performance of patriotism, despite ten years that have left us with a crippled Iraq, a devastated Afghanistan, and the loss of millions of lives, including those of Americans.
In effect, this theatrical display does not pay tribute to the victims of 9/11 (may they rest in peace), nor does it give more meaning to the lives of dead soldiers or the victims of the American-led missions in the region. It is an ecstatic tribute to a death-machine in which the only winners have been a global capitalist elite: arms companies, security apparati, criminal (and in many cases, outgoing) authoritarian regimes, and the many corporations that thrive on disaster. Even more offensive in the Ground Zero party is the continued racialization of what constitutes a grievable human life, such that similar celebrations (by minorities) following 9/11 were seen as evidence of an innately violent culture of death, but popular celebrations of an empty assassination valorize a fictional “justice”. Osama Bin Laden is symbolic, but in effect what many Americans today seem to celebrate is a vicious cycle of violence, a historic tradition in which real or invented causes are allowed to take precedence over collective human dignity and the value of life.
To dance in celebration today is offensive first and foremost to the victims of the attacks on September 11th. They are palpably alone in singing the Star Spangled Banner and celebrating the murder of Osama Bin Laden, thoroughly alone, because no one in the world cares or even remembers. If these dancing Americans, however, were to transform their fear and fascination with violence into rage and courage to occupy the same streets in protest, against the ruling elite that has profited from the loss and grief of 9/11 and the wars that followed, and the undemocratic corporate interests running their lives, they might find the arms of other ordinary working people from around the world extended in solidarity.