Monday, May 9, 2011

"Celebrations of Death," Osama bin Laden, and the American Media

By Keith Rosenthal

In those rare moments over the past week when the mainstream media have even acknowledged the revulsion that many Americans may feel towards all of the "Bin Laden is Dead" debauchery, the question is ever addressed from a purely psychological -- as opposed to a political -- standpoint.
Articles have been popping up in the "Health" sections of all the major newspapers exploring the question of whether it is okay -- morally, socially, mentally -- to celebrate Death (for example, see this gem which appeared in the New York Times: "Celebrating bin Laden's Death: Ugly, Maybe, but Only Human"). 

The aim of these articles is always to assuage the unease of a presumably-liberal audience, whose instincts are to recoil away from the overtly-crude, frat party-atmosphere of the bin Laden street parties.  Celebrations of death are "okay," we are assured, as long as the dead person was really, really evil.  Indeed, such celebrations can be an important part of the "healing process."

In particular, TIME magazine recently ran an article titled, "The Post-Bin Laden Party — and Why You Should Enjoy It," which extols the national "paroxysm of celebration in which the image and memory of the person who dreamed of being a world-transforming figure is simply ground into the street along with the wet confetti," and in keeping with a mood more appropriate for a Wayne's World movie than the response you would expect to follow from a political assassination, the article's author concludes by saying, "So party on, America — for a while longer, at least."

(As an aside, this article also attempts to offer consolation to those who feel demoralized by the lack of due process in the summary execution of bin Laden, by arguing that, yes, it would have been nice to have taken Osama alive and tried him in court, "but then you've got the years-long mess of a trial and the question of what you do with him once he's been inevitably found guilty. Best to whack him quickly and pitilessly and let the national touchdown dance begin.")

Now, while the above-mentioned discussion of Death and the Human Psyche is certainly interesting and would make for a great college seminar, the problem is that not a single one of these articles has even broached the question of whether some Americans may be repulsed by the celebrations, not because of some abstract, psychological discomfort with the general practice of taking glee in someone's death (I danced a jig-and-a-half when Reagan died), but rather are disgusted by the political context surrounding this particular assassination by the U.S.

In other words, it is not merely a squeamishness about death, or feelings of Christian guilt, that would possibly lead one to wax nauseous about all of the celebratory flag-waving, but rather the fact that the killing of bin Laden is merely one death in what has been a ten-year killing spree by the American military, claiming the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of innocent Arab people across the Middle East.

What's more, the surge of patriotism in the wake of bin Laden's assassination is inevitably going to be (and already is being) exploited in order to buttress public support for the prolongation of U.S. wars abroad in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, and Iraq (yes, the U.S. army is still in Iraq).  This will mean the unnecessary killing of thousands of more innocent people at the hands of the U.S.

After ten long years of disastrous U.S. war on the Arab world, what this country needs right now more than anything else is not mass celebrations of American military power and imperial reach, but rather mass protests calling for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Middle East; not a resurgence of public support for the torture techniques that supposedly led to bin Laden's netting, but rather popular demands for the closing of Guantanamo and the release of real heroes, like Bradley Manning, from military prison.

The war on al-Qaeda and reactionary political forces in the Middle East is being won, not by the U.S. Army, but actually by the masses of Arab people themselves, who are rendering the foregoing groups impotent by virtue of the politics of hope, solidarity, and democracy that have been thrust to the fore by the broader revolutionary wave sweeping the region.

Ironically (or maybe not so ironically), these Arab uprisings, which are ultimately responsible for the weakening of al-Qaeda's influence, have as their direct aim the overthrow of those despotic regimes that owe their very existence to the exertion of U.S. power.

In other words, the fate of al-Qaeda's strength in the region, and the question of whether or not it gets marginalized out of existence, turns upon the ability of the Arab people to end the U.S.'s regional power and influence, and with it end the democracy-crushing, inequality-breeding, and social strife-inducing, state of affairs created by the imperial meddling of the United States.

If Americans (oh yeah, and the remaining 95% of the human population) are to celebrate the death of anything, let it be the death of the U.S. Empire -- an edifice of global power, which frustrates the desires of people abroad for self-determination, and sacrifices the dreams of working-class people at home to the Gods of Corporate Profits and National Security.

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