Hidden Motives

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Three Ways of Celebrating the Death of Bin Laden

Bin Laden's death meant many different things

Three Different Points of View

Many were jubilant after the announcement of Bid Laden’s death.  But what were they so happy about?

Their celebrations expressed the joy of victory, as if we had literally won the “war on terrorism.”  A brilliant, daring maneuver had finally annihilated the diabolical enemy.

The president celebrated in a more sober way:  “Justice has been served.”  He expressed the view that it was essential to pursue and kill the man who was the architect of 9/11, but that Al Qaeda continued to be a threat.  He clearly wanted to acknowledge the bravery and skill of those who accomplished the mission, but he downplayed any trace of triumph.  It wasn’t the end of anything but Bin Laden’s life.

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The Arab world seemed detached, even disinterested.  Bin Laden had become more a symbol of anti-Americanism than a real force, a point that is being made clear throughout the disruptions and achievements of the Arab Spring.  The new rebellions are all about protesting the corruption of the “Old Turbans.”  The people wanted democracy and financial opportunity -- not the restoration of fundamentalist beliefs.

For them, Bin Laden’s death was ironic.  No doubt for many he was still appreciated as the mastermind who humbled America with his ingenious attack, using our own planes against us.  No doubt, they also enjoyed our embarrassment over ten years, as the world’s most powerful nation seemed unable to capture the world’s most wanted criminal.  But for most, the man himself had lost much of his relevance.

That’s not to say that his followers could not still pose dangerous threats or that the capture of vast amounts of intelligence won’t make a difference in combatting future plots.  But the Arab world – and the West – had moved on.

The videos captured in his compound reinforce the image of his irrelevance.  They show him rehearsing his anti-imperialist tirades, dying his beard, and watching reruns of his former TV appearances.   As The New York Times described it, he was “wrapped in an old blanket watching himself on TV, like an aging actor imagining a comeback.  A senior intelligence official said other videos showed him practicing and flubbing his lines in front of a camera.” (See “Bin Laden’s Secret Life in a Diminished World.”)

According to Gilles Kepel, a professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, Bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks led the West to reinforce its support for the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.  That, in turn, delayed reforms that might have occurred sooner.  The jubilant celebrations of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt and the continuing struggles throughout the Middle East, he argued, might otherwise have taken place earlier.

His point is that “Bin Laden was dead already,” and he suggests the celebrations were over before the Navy Seals stormed his compound.


 

Ken Eisold is a psychoanalyst and organizational consultant whose book about the unconscious, What You Don't Know You Know, came out in January.

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