As I was reading the current pages of Awate I came across Mr. Semere Habtemariam’s well written article “The Slaying of Osama by Obama” which I found very interesting but somewhat a little disconcerting. The article written by obviously a non Moslem seems to be aimed not only at chastising America for its wrong strategy on the Arab World but also beseeching it to reconsider its total strategy of engaging the Moslems World, is to be admired. (Moslem and Arab being interchangeable here). To emphasize his position the Author writes “There has to be a better understanding of Muslims and a strategy of engaging the Muslim community in a constructive manner for the advancement of world peace and harmony. America’s wisdom and power have to be deployed wisely”.
What seem to be the driving point of Mr. Semeres’ article and his disappointment with American foreign policy is the whole concept and strategy of the so called “war on terror” which he believes has been unnecessarily elevated to the status of zealotry. Writing about the demise of Osama Bin Laden, Mr. Semere continues, “the success of this particular mission does not tell us much about the extraordinary courage and talent of America’s elite forces, for no one doubts their courage and ability. But it tells us more about the extraordinary ineptitude of the political leaders who had failed to use America’s power with wisdom. It should be a sober reminder of what could go wrong when leaders bark at the wrong tree. Unfortunately, the war-on- terror was perceived to be driven by the desire to punish, take revenge and teach a lesson that would not be forgotten. The mission was doomed to suffer for it did not have clearly defined enemies and territories. The US seemed to be on a scavenger hunt in all over the Muslim world.”
Really Mr. Semere? I am not trying here to demean or in any way diminish the ideas in the article. But the problem with such grandiose statements is that it assumes America does not actually have a clue on how it engages with the rest of the World. If Mr. Semere believes what he has written about America’s approach to the Moslem World, he, Mr. Semere is either extremely naïve or extremely stupid, and I don’t for a minute believe that Mr. Semere is either extremely naïve or extremely stupid. To me the article sounds more like an exercise in wish fulfillment than a sober analysis of the realities of our World.
I find it ironic and a little simplistic that he should think America with all its politic scientists (where politics an art as we knew has been elevated to the status of a science , a misnomer in my opinion), universities, well staffed departments of State , Defense , the secret police , other institutions and well funded tink-tanks is incapable of crafting a coherent policy and a strategy that is designed to meet its long and short term objectives. The ‘war on terror’ Mr. Semere, is a very well thought-out process and long term strategic plan that the ruling class very well understand not as simply a war on terror but as a means to a higher and global dominating order. The presence or absence of America and its influence both nationally and globally in our world is a foregone conclusion. But to wish that America should always use its influence for the greater good is to miss the larger point of how such a specific influence is going to affect it’s over all domestic and international standing.
Even if there was no clearly articulated strategy of the “war on terror” in the past, Mr. Semere seems to have completely forgotten history. American knows what terror is. Remember that America has engaged in the most heinous of crimes against “others” throughout its history. In fact if we are to have a backward view, no other country has a worse human rights record than America, be it against native Americans, African Americans or South East Asians, you name it.
To bolster his argument Mr. Semeres’ article starts with the wisdom and greatness of the founding fathers, Lincoln and others that had followed him. Presidents like Abe Lincoln whom he celebrates as a member of the ‘eagle tribe’ that “Lincoln was a great American President and he is to be admired in the face that he was President during Americas’ turbulent era.” He tells us.
But Lincoln was also a politician. He did not have any compassion or great ideas or any empathy for the enslaved people of America. Remember Lincoln has said that if freeing the slaves will preserve the Union he will do it, and if not freeing the slaves will preserve the Union he will also do that. Obama is an admirer of Lincoln we are told and of all people of Reagan too. If that is true Obama seems to have a very narrow vision of how America came to be where it is today. Perhaps due to his typical lack of vision and commitment to a principled objective, Obama finds it an inconvenient truth that among the few who can be designated as Americas’ great leaders which I believe should have been included in his admiration and in the article too are Van Buren, Lyndon Johnson and both Roosevelt’s and for better or worse, Andrew Jackson minus ‘his trail of tears’, with the most detestable being Reagan and Nixon and Hoover one two three in that order. But that is all history.
There is no question that America is the most Democratic country in the World today or in history for that matter. Its constitution, its institutions and associations attest to that. And when we judge American we should also never loose sight of the fact that democracy is an illusory vision and that there is no such thing as an ideal democracy. Imperfect as it may be that is why we should always use and we use America as the standard measure of where we are and where we should be. For us from the second World, the notion of Democracy as a just and equitable form of Governance may have a great appeal. But let us not forget such an approach is also contrary to democratic rule. We all know that Democracy can only exist as a trade off with capitalism and as a capitalist country America cannot be a just and equitable power both domestically and globally. For example as is currently fashionable in the Obama party, tax the rich may sound great from the point of equity but it doesn’t make much economic sense.
But to come back to my central argument, above all the search for equality and justice tends to undermine one of the most important tenets of freedom, namely movement. And it is in this context that one needs to evaluate the domestic and global exercise of American Democracy were it seems there is one form of Democracy for the rich and the powerful— both nations and individuals, and one for the poor and powerless and by extension why its foreign policy cannot be one of ‘with malice to none and charity to all’. I write this because Mr. Semere seems to have conflated the idea of justice and good will with democracy.
It is because of this weakness in the very concept of democracy that America has been able to derive its unparalleled hegemonic stance throughout the world. Its system of Government (Military, Industrial, Media complex as they call it) is incompatible with the imperatives of ideal democratic rule with the majority having a say on how American should govern or on how it should interact with the rest of the World
The war on terror was a God-sent for the continuation of Americas’ imperial foreign policy. The demise of the USSR had given it a pretext to do what it wanted under the guise of the cold war and gave it carte blanche freedom to install and sustain brutal dictators form Mobutu to Suharto under the belief that sustaining brutal dictators sustains stable outposts. The quid pro qua is the exploitation of either the resources of these outposts or the control of vital and strategic areas of influence or stifling of ideas such as collective ownership of the means of production or Arab or Persian nationalism.
This coupled with predatory capitalism and the invention of the IMF (the biggest tool in creating hunger and injustice in the World) and the control of production and circulation with the newly minted, WTO have been the basic tools that the so called industrialized World with America as its head use to maintain their economic hold and domination in what is now known as the New Global Order. So much for Americas’ engagement with the World. The ‘war on terror’ is not about terrorism. The ‘war on terror’ is, as the President spoke in measured terms just after he ‘slayed’ Osama ‘about justice, courage, and American resolve in the face of grave challenges’. We may be naïve and we may be stupid but we now what this grave challenges means. In layman’s terms it means challenges to American hegemony and imperial rule around the globe.
And this brings me back to the core argument and title of the article, “The Slaying of Osama by Obama”.
Through out history man has always found even the killing of people who have committed heinous crimes very distasteful. On the contrary Mr. Semere seems to have no qualms with the ‘slaying’ of Osama both from a legal and a moral point of view. He writes “I doubt if there are many people who would mourn the death of a terrorist who had made it his priority to target civilians indiscriminately.
Let us start with the word ‘slaying’ that is the title of Mr. Semeres’ article In his excellent book ‘Less than Human’ the Psychology of Cruelty’, author David Livingstone Smith writes, when we dehumanize others we think of them as less than human in a specifically moral sense. During the Holocaust, Nazis referred to Jews as rats, ’Untermenschen’, subhuman, and he continues, Human beings have long conceived of the universe as a hierarchy of value ,with God at the top and inert matter at the bottom, and everything else in between. That model of the universe “doesn’t make scientific sense,” says Smith, but “nonetheless, for some reason, we continue to conceive of the universe in that fashion, and we relegate nonhuman creatures to a lower position on the scale”.
He explains that Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals. And he argues that it’s important to define and describe dehumanization, because it’s what opens the door for cruelty and genocide. Which makes the killing of this subhuman easy?
In Rwanda the Hutus have to be sub-specied to the status of cockroaches before they can be slaughtered with ease. What is sad is that, Mr. Semere uses the word ‘slaying’ non-chalantly as slaying a sheep or a goat, because the main stream media, the political establishment and the punditocracy have been able to reduce Osama as does Mr. Semere to the level of a subhuman so he would be easy to rid off.
The killing of Osama an unarmed man was not of course an act of courage but an aberration. A country that claims to have higher moral standards is supposed to capture unarmed enemies. As Douglas Lummis in his excellent article “Round UP the Usual Suspect and Shoot Them” has movingly written “The issue is not whether bin Laden was a very bad man (I suppose he was) or for that matter whether Barack Obama is also a very bad man (looking worse all the time), but what happens to the law when states violate it with impunity. Yes, the fact that Bin Laden is believed to have been a terrible man makes it easier for the public to accept his killing, but that’s just the danger. For years, Hollywood has been thinking up villains so detestable that the audience positively yearns for Dirty Harry and his many clones to blow them away without doing anything so silly as to read them their rights. People fail to notice that when they blow away the crook, they blow away a piece of the law as well”.
And in “Wild West Justice” Ramzi Kysia writes “We have devolved long past cowardice and corruption into realms of violent absurdity. We have told ourselves lies for so long that it would seem our public lives can no longer be influenced by anything as insignificant as historicity, nor inspired by anything so seemingly devalued as human dignity” and he adds “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’ve always been this way – violent, senseless, and juvenile – from our founding sins of genocide and slavery, up to the present day. But today seems different to me. And I think the difference is that we’re slowly losing our need to pretend, even to ourselves, that we’re anything other than stone-cold killers.”
Another of the statements I have most dispute with in the article is Mr. Semeres’ assertion that. “The spontaneous and unpremeditated celebrations of the death of Osama bin Laden should not be condemned”
To bolster his support for the “ celebration ” of the death of Osama Mr. Semere quotes some archaic biblical eschatology such as , “The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done, they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.” And “Let’s not forget that David the shepherd boy, who later became King David, like today’s terrorist, cut off the head of Goliath after slaying him. And “The women in the Israelite camp celebrated the death of Goliath with songs and dancing”. I am not exactly sure what these are supposed to teach us. That Obama was right or just that celebration at death is a right?
I say no Mr. Semere. This becomes even worse when it is done in a country where a President says we will not display the bullet ridden body of Osam because ‘that is not who we are’. As the noted professor Chomsky has said of this, “Imagine some Iraqi killing George Bush in Texas and the whole Iraqi people celebrating his death in Baghdad; how would the citizens of the US feel and act”. And why Osama wouldn’t be given the same chance as say a Ratko Mladic or a Charles Taylor. They were never summarily executed where they were found.
It is time we started calling a spade a spade. Most Eritrean I have met support the ‘slaying of Osama by Obama ‘. We Eritrean have been living under one of the most brutal dictatorship and considering what we have been through our lust for blood could be understandable. But that is no excuse to let America off the hook. We live in a World of laws and America cemented its human face as the guarantor of these laws when it deployed its nobility and wisdom in the court at Nuremberg where it brought to trial the inventors of the gas furnaces. Why should bin Laden be denied his day in court or why should we have been short exchanged to hear the crimes of Bin Laden for political expediency.
The death of Osama is not inconsequential. Obama the biggest con artist of his generation has glowed and basked in the ‘slaying’ of Osama and probably improved the chances of his eligibility for a second term, which seems to be what matters to him most. The question is, was Osama guilty of the crimes attributed to him? Most likely yes. But we will never know.
As a democratic country America believes that a person is innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his peers. America may not have been able to find or able to try Osama under a jury of his peers (twelve bearded Mullahs most likely) for obvious political reasons. But whatever it was worth Osama Bin Laden should have been arrested and tried in U.S. courts or in an international tribunal. Obama cannot serve as judge, jury and executioner. As some scholars and politicians say such assassinations are not only illegal; they create a dangerous precedent, which could be used to justify the targeted killings of U.S. leaders.