A superpower gloating over the body of an extra-judicially killed killer. The powerful sovereign extending its power to a far away land to put to the sword a ruthless opponent. Not even a whisper about the demands of jurisprudence that ought to be universal and independent of the hideousness of the defendant. The postmodern middle ages in all its glory.
In the introduction to his 2005 edited volume of Bin Laden’s letters, speeches etc. (*) Bruce Lawrence writes: “Bin Laden is not an original thinker.” What gives his statements “their unique force . . . are his literary gifts. Bin Laden has earned many labels by now – fanatic, nihilist, fundamentalist, terrorist – but what actually distinguishes him, among a host of those described in these ways, is that he is first and foremost a polemicist.”
True. But it is also true that Bin Laden was distinguished by his actions and their capacity to drive a wedge between progressive Western thinking and Muslim discontent with the West’s cronies in the Arab world. If I were President Obama, I would be a worried man today. For it could very well turn out that Bin Laden’s final act, being killed by US special forces, will prove the greatest legitimiser of his own brutality. For if an eye-for-an-eye is the justification of Bin Laden’s death, then it will also function as a justification for the future deaths of Americans, secular Arabs, women who dare challenge fundamentalists etc.
Machiavelli wrote in The Art of War, “War makes thieves, and peace hangs them.” In today’s postmodern middle ages, thieves make war and call it justice.
(*) Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden edited by Bruce Lawrence, translated by James Howarth, Verso, November 2005