Dancing on Death

In the early hours of Monday 2 May, Osama Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces in Pakistan. The man whose ideals had tormented the US for the past 10 years. The first thought that crossed my mind was surprise that he was actually still alive. I had imagined him long dead from kidney failure or diabetes, thus cheating the US of its need for revenge blood.  

Probably like most people around the world, I turned on the TV and my Twitter stream simultaneously. The TV was full of images of flag-waving people chanting ‘USA, USA’, reveling in his death which left me feeling physically repulsed.  

Dancing skeletons, photo by Olivia Guswiler

I tried hard to put myself in ‘American’ boots – search for someone I hated so much that I would dance on their metaphorical grave. I could not.

I thought of the murderer of my son’s best friend who was shot at close range in front of his parents, fiancé and siblings, by a man he had earlier removed from the family’s private party. A man who came back to kill. Darren’s death tormented me for months on end. Every day I woke up with him on my mind. Quiet moments would be invaded by thoughts of Darren. Still, a year later I cannot think of Darren without tears. His murderer was found guilty and will spend the next 40 years in prison for his crimes (Darren’s brother was also shot). We all felt justice was done but no-one in Darren’s family or close circle of friends danced, sang or felt joyful – just a deep, deep sadness. Even if it had taken years for him to be caught, I still could not imagine celebrating the event. I prefer to think of Darren and his family than to dwell on the punishment of the murderer.  

It’s disturbing to me these displays of revelry and chants of patriotism. It shows an inability to reflect on one’s self, on one’s country. To reflect on how this happened and how to not let it happen again. To reflect on the hundreds of thousands who died and trillions of dollars spent in pursuit of one man. To reflect on the personal loss for all those who died on 9/11 and after it. The notion that revenge will bring peace to a troubled heart or mind is a myth. Death is not like that. Death lingers on in memories; desire for revenge and punishment create bitterness and add to the pain.

On a more global level, what does the death of Osama Bin Laden mean? He changed the world – he made it unsafe for those who thought they were safe in their privilege. Those who lived with a sense of entitlement were suddenly left vulnerable – like the majority of the world. Unfortunately, even in their vulnerability they could hardly see beyond themselves.

Writing in the UK Independent, Robert Fisk put Bin Laden’s death in historical context given this moment when North African and Middle East people are rising up against terrorist dictators.  

‘But the mass revolutions in the Arab world over the past four months mean that al-Qa’ida was already politically dead. Bin Laden told the world – indeed, he told me personally – that he wanted to destroy the pro-Western regimes in the Arab world, the dictatorships of the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis. He wanted to create a new Islamic Caliphate. But these past few months, millions of Arab Muslims rose up and were prepared for their own martyrdom – not for Islam but for freedom and liberty and democracy. Bin Laden didn't get rid of the tyrants. The people did. And they didn’t want a caliph.’

As the uprisings in Africa and the Middle East continue, the question is will they eventually reach Europe and the US. Unemployment in Spain is as high as 40 per cent for youth; half of the schools in Detroit are set to close; unemployment amongst African Americans is 25 per cent; social benefits in the UK and Ireland are being slashed and in Britain, the cost of higher education has tripled since the Tories took office. 

 Image: Olivia Guswiler under a CC Licence.

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