Monday, 2 May 2011
Feeding the beast
Bin Laden is dead. The news is now round the world. I woke up to it early this morning, discovering it not through the usual media but from an alert in my inbox from Bob Mack, a friend and fellow blogger. I couldn't quite believe it - perhaps it was a mistake, maybe the facts are not conclusive. I immediately messaged Bob;
"Bob, I’m just out of bed, just checking my mail and I saw this. I heard it first from you! Is it really, really true? There’s no doubt, is there? Do they have a body? I’m so glad if it’s true. I was tempted to refer to this creature as a rat on two legs, though, on reflection, I thought that unfair to rats."
Yes, he confirmed, it's true, quoting a news report from the Army Times. I gather it was a consequence of an operation by the elite Navy Seals unit, with groundwork in preparation for months. These brave American servicemen are to be congratulated, should be congratulated by decent people across the world, people for whom Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are an abomination, the work of the Devil, the agents of Iblis. Nothing can ever make up for the attacks on New York and London; nothing can ever bring the many victims of these vile people back to life, but at least some justice has at last been achieved, and some justice is better than no justice. That Bin Laden is off the face of this planet has to be a cause of immediate celebration.
I'm happy; I'm sure just about everyone else who reads this will be happy also, but I think this should be tempered with caution. We should always be aware of the nature of terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda; that they are amorphous, formless, almost like gas; they can operate through multiple locations without any central control. From watching past news reports, from watching Bin Laden's periodic broadcasts from some isolated and indeterminate location, it's fairly obvious that he had lost much of the importance that he once had, that he had become little more, if you like, than an avatar. A head has been cut of the hydra but the beast is not dead; other heads will appear from other places.
I know, it's a sobering thought, not one that perhaps we really want to hear at this point in time, but all the more necessary simply to ensure that we retain a proper sense of balance. Bin Laden is dead; terror is not, we all know that. Al-Qaeda has received an important blow to its morale, but it will soon recover, in possible revenge attacks. This is not the end, it's not the beginning of the end, and, I have to say, it is not even the end of the beginning. I also have to say that it was a gross error to get rid of his body, get rid of the evidence, so quickly. This is the stuff from which myths, and conspiracy theories, are hatched.
There are also serious questions that have to be addressed about the deeply misconceived 'war on terror', questions about our involvement in wars in the Muslim world, places where we have no business, where we achieve nothing; places like Afghanistan and now Libya, where the war on terror has degenerated into terror. The deeper our engagement, the more collateral damage, the greater the hydra becomes, sucking, like a vampire, on resentment, anger and hate. This is something that is not easily defeated, not even by the most careful intelligence and the bravest of soldiers. Yes, Al-Qaeda is a vile organisation but by one ill-conceived action after another we have been feeding the beast, not killing it.