Monday, May 02, 2011

After OBL

Hello blog readers (are you still here?), 

Sorry I've been away. My attention span over the last year shrank to the size of a Facebook status update. I am not yet twitterbrained, but it'll only take the world's first REAL twitter revolution (which has not yet happened) to convert me. Apparently punditry is about telling the world what will happen next when you haven't the faintest idea yourself, so here goes. I am:

- incredulous that Pakistan could not have known. The government is in a strange position. If it claims too much credit for the strike, it gets into trouble with homegrown Islamists and sets itself up for retaliation. If it claims not to have known anything about the strikes, it looks weak and its sovereignty meaningless. If it claims not to have known that OBL was in Abbottabad not very far away from the national Military Academy, it looks incompetent. If it keeps quiet, it looks dodgy (this is the worst option). 

- concerned that India will cite this strike as precedent for its own unilateral strikes on terrorist suspects in Pakistan. This will not happen yet, but if we see another Mumbai '08, or if for some reason, the pressure to avenge Mumbai increases, something on these lines cannot be ruled out.

- disgusted by the cheering crowds in the US. I can understand the desire for retributive justice (even if I cannot condone it), but this is yet another nail in the coffin of rule of law, supposedly that great foundational Western value (gawd, I sound so quaint - but wait! so are the Geneva Conventions). A former State Department official in a BBC interview was emphatic that the death of OBL was a much better outcome than if he had been captured alive because otherwise where would he be held? how would he be tried? In other words, dude, due process is too difficult! This is a country that doesn't support international judicial tribunals, makes a fuss about trying Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in a New York court, doesn't want to treat people captured in war as prisoners of war with Geneva Convention rights, doesn't want them to be held on US territory (hence Guantanamo) so that US law and US international legal obligations do not apply to them, basically wants to create black holes so that rights of the accused/detained simply become unimaginable. Hello Mr. Carl sovereignty-as-exception Schmitt. Fuck off, basically anyone against arbitrariness since Aristotle.

- anticipating that we will soon hear defences of Guantanamo Bay and torture as a means of extracting information from detainees. If information about the courier whose movements ultimately alerted US special forces to the house in Abbottabad was in fact obtained from Guantanamo detainees as has been reported, expect philosophers to dust off their vile ticking bomb scenarios (would it be moral to torture a terrorist if you could avert a massive terrorist plot as a result?). The prototypes have been tested in classrooms - oh and in books (hello Michael The-Lesser-Evil Ignatieff - you winning in Canada?).

- amused that I am getting slightly breathless emails from students asking if the syllabus, readings and/or exam questions have changed. Er...the answer to that question is an emphatic NO. This may also be the answer to the question of whether anything in the world has really changed today, beyond Obama's re-election prospects. How much does al Qaeda matter to jehadi terrorism? As far back as 2004, Jason Burke's excellent book on the subject had already delineated three kinds of terror plots: those completely masterminded by a hardcore group called al Qaeda (e.g. the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombing plots); those in which the hardcore functioned as a sort of venture capitalist, providing a moderate level of funding and assistance to terror entrepreneurs who operated in relatively independent cells (e.g. 9/11); and those in which cells operated completely independently with figures like Osama in the hardcore serving as a source of ideological inspiration, but little else (e.g. Madrid). If Osama's most important role by 2004 had become that of symbolic inspiration, it is one he is well (maybe better?) positioned to play in death, given the emotive power of martyrdom. And who cares that his body was dumped in the sea? Expect shrines and relics and furtive gatherings of people at a certain compound in Abbottabad.

Osama bin Laden was not killed today. He was killed on January 14, 2011, when the people of Tunisia overthrew their dictator of 23 years in a non-violent and secular struggle; and he was killed again on February 11, 2011, when the people of Egypt did the same to Hosni Mubarak, who had not been dislodged by almost three decades of jehadi terrorist plots and all the hot air that Ayman al-Zawahiri could muster. I have this vision of Osama bin Laden banging his foot into the floor in impatience, like Rumpelstiltskin, as he watched the Arab Spring unfold on his...ok apparently he didn't have Internet. 'I was supposed to rouse the jahil masses from their slumber!' he would have yelled. 

He is survived by his 51 brothers (I didn't check).

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