Editor’s note:
This blog post is the same as Donald Kaul’s May 9 column, Making an Exception for Osama Bin Laden.

I don’t like to exult in the death of people, not even people I don’t like. I think it’s bad form.

I’m making an exception in the case of Osama bin Laden, however. From the point of view of a comfortable middle-class American (which I certainly am), he was evil incarnate — a ruthless mass murderer who inspired the massacre of thousands of innocent men, women, and children without a trace of remorse. He was our implacable enemy and I’m glad he is dead.

To many on the other side of reality, however — a stateless Palestinian or an aggrieved Arab nationalist — he was a great hero. This was no tin-pot dictator lining his pockets with money stolen from the Arab people, after all.

No, he was a rich kid, a billionaire’s son, who forsook the easy life to dedicate himself and his fortune to returning the Islamic world to its former glory. His worldview called for accomplishing this by crushing Israel, driving Western “Crusaders” from Muslim soil, and resurrecting an Islamic caliphate that harkened back to the Middle Ages.

There are many street-corner imams in the Middle East who want the same things, but they don’t have what Osama bin Laden had:

  • Money, which he spent to finance paramilitary operations and training centers around the world.
  • 9-11.

    If the War on Terror is really a war, then September 11, 2001 marks one of the most brilliant and successful military attacks in the history of warfare.

    In a single stroke, an army of less than two-dozen barely trained troops, armed mainly with box cutters, brought the world’s greatest military power to its knees.

    It wasn’t merely that the attack took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. Nor, astonishingly, that it utterly destroyed the most iconic symbol of our capitalist system. It wasn’t even that it struck a blow at the very citadel of our military might.

    It was that it attacked our self-confidence and delivered a blow to our sense of well being from which we have yet to recover, a decade later.

    Many Americans now find themselves insecure and nervous in the presence of people who look like they might be Muslims. We allow ourselves to be subjected to all manner of indignities at airports in the name of security. We go to war without hesitation and spill endless blood and treasure in an attempt to ensure it won’t happen again.

    We are afraid as once we were not, not even in the darkest days of World War II when the Nazi monster threatened us.

    That was what bin Laden accomplished, his life’s work. If he wasn’t the mastermind of the 9-11 assaults, he certainly was its animating force. And that is why I’m glad he’s dead.

    Will his demise end the Global War on Terror? I very much doubt it. But he was the global face of terrorism and, as such, a powerful symbol. That symbol is no more.

    Certainly, there will be retaliation. But you can’t fight a war by being afraid of retaliation.

    I was much amused by the response of many Republican presidential candidates to bin Laden’s assassination. They praised the work of our troops, of course, but it was hard to find the name of President Obama in their statements. It was as though the troops had done it all on their own, without leadership.

    As much as they would have it otherwise, Barack Obama is the president of the United States and our commander in chief. He deserves full marks for his leadership. He made his Republican rivals look like the pipsqueaks they are. Just a few days before, he had taken the air out of the “birther” movement by releasing his long-form birth certificate, proofing to all who respond to proof that he’s a natural-born American.

    It was a bad week for Republican politicians. It was a good week for the rest of us.

    OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org

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