Thursday, 5 May 2011

"I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal, you..."

One of the very modern disadvantages of moving to a different part of the world is when you find yourself left slightly flat-footed by events due to a lack of easy access to things like the internet or English language newspapers. So it was with the news that Osama bin Laden caught a bad one in Abbottabad the other day. Having missed the by now obligatory Twitter/Facebook frenzy, it was only yesterday that I was finally able to properly bone up on what had happened via Jason Burke's excellently researched analysis in the Grauniad's international edition.

Of course, it didn't take long before people started using the “c” word, which isn't so surprising, given that the conspiracy theory industry is beginning to play a similar role in people's lives to that of religion – abandoning yourself to something you believe to be more powerful than you in order to compensate for feeling a lack of control over your own life, anyone? The mere fact that later “official” reports on the events surrounding bin Laden's death differed slightly from earlier ones was enough to set off alarm bells all over the set. No consideration given (as if) to the fact that the fog of war sometimes makes for murky pictures, much less the possibility that an absence of inconsistencies or loose ends might constitute greater grounds for suspicion. But we can talk all day about conspiracies, both real or imagined and, since someone somewhere is almost certainly doing exactly that, I'm going to leave them to it.

What I found more interesting were the spontaneous celebrations that took place in Lower Manhattan after Obama made the official announcement. Or more specifically, the widespread outbreak of tutting disapproval at the fact that inhabitants of a city where bin Laden's demagoguery had its most terrible impact might choose to cheer at the news of his death. Now, whilst I can see why some people would regard that kind of carry-on as crass or tasteless, I'm at something of a loss as to why those same people seemed unable to at least understand why it was happening. I'll bet a pound to a pinch of shit that there were plenty of people on the streets of NYC that night who lost family, friends and loved ones on 9/11. So, if they want to take a “fuck 'em where they live” attitude to his demise, they can knock themselves out as far as I'm concerned. Same goes for the people of Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, where bin Laden had also decided to strike a blow against The Great Satan, killing scores of innocent people in the process - very few of whom happened to be American, as it turned out. Not that I have any idea if there was a similar public reaction to the news in those cities, mind you. But I do wonder whether there'd have been quite such a hoity-toity response if there was.

During and after the second gulf war, there were many people freely describing Bush and Blair as “mass murderers” and “war criminals”, and I detected something of a tendency to engage in death-count pissing contests as regards who was responsible for the greater number of deaths and, by definition, therefore the worst offender. Obama said something I thought quite poignant about empty places at dinner tables, and there has undoubtedly been a great many more of those all over the world in the last decade. But an awful lot of them can be traced, either directly or indirectly, back to one mass murderer in particular, and it does appear that what goes around does indeed come around. So please forgive me if I choose not to judge those who celebrate bin Laden's death – that's a matter between the people doing the cheering and their consciences. Besides, on the day news breaks of the death of Margaret Thatcher – someone also considered by many to be a mass murderer and war criminal – you can find me in the pub, sippin' on a Bud. And you're more than welcome to drop by and call me all the hypocrites under the sun, just so long as you get the ales in.

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