While Osama Bin Laden has been personified as 'the face of evil' the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain have been pardoned by a United States Government that has encouraged jingoistic patriotism, writes Trish Kahle.
Many people were shocked last night when hundreds of people poured into the streets of Washington D.C. to celebrate the assassination of Osama bin Laden in what can only be described as the most sickening, reviling act of jingoistic patriotism I have ever seen. Even a few people I know who are progressive on many issues joined the melee. One said, "This night, I'm being a fascist pig or whatever you'll call me while wearing a Garth Brooks-style American flag shirt and jamming out to Springsteen."
Besides the fact that I think Bruce Springsteen might (I hope) take issue with "Born in the USA" being used this way (again), it demonstrates exactly how well the previous and current administrations have been able to characterize bin Laden as "the face of evil." And it completely, as many commentators on the left have pointed out, ignores the entire history of imperialism creating terrorism. It also suggests that bin Laden's murder of several thousands of people is somehow worse than the state-sponsored murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan, worse than the more than 1 million killed by US sanctions against Iraq. Osama is "the personification of evil," but the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are essentially pardoned by the US government.
Yet, despite all the images that make me want to puke, despite the jingoistic chants and all of it, there have been a significant number of people who were able to step back and say: "WHOA." (But not Brian Williams.)
Unfortunately, many of these "Whoas" are not infused with political arguments. Instead they rely on vague notions of "humanism." Pamela Geroff--who, I'll be honest, I'd never heard of before--asked on the Huffington Post, "Have you so little decency?" She claimed the responses of college students chanting "USA! USA! USA!" were a "violation of human dignity," which they are. "To celebrate the killing of a life, any life, is a failure to honour life's inherent sanctity," she continued.
But she also legitimised the responses despite her intention by suggesting that the need for closure after 9/11 could be met by the assassination of a person by American troops in the sovereign country of Pakistan. And little in the last decade has been so devastating to human life as the wave of terror unleashed by the US government against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now suggested that "more work is needed," which, when combined with the demeaning and blatantly racist rhetoric being espoused about the Pakistani government's alleged hiding of bin Laden, lays the groundwork for further incursion by the US against Pakistani sovereignty.
Herein lies the reason that arguments like Gerloff's won't work to end terrorism or halt the disgusting displays that continue after erupting last night. And it's same reason Reza Aslan's "Befriend a Muslim" plan to end Islamophobia won't work either.
WHERE'S THE POLITICS?
Just as terrorism doesn't erupt from a murky psychological sphere where reality and dreams can get mixed up, neither does the jingoism displayed by thousands across the country in the last 24 hours. Understanding that bin Laden is human isn't going to help us prevent more terrorist attacks, just like getting a person who has been labelled a "terrorist" (since terrorism is always a label and not a self-description) to see the humanity of his or her victims isn't going to change the circumstances that drove them to their actions in the first place.
If you want to get a plant out of your garden, you don't try and pick off individual seeds, you pull it up by the root and don't plant it again.
In the same way, if you want to end terrorism, killing individual terrorists through invasive assassination plots that undermine the right of a nation and its people to self-determination is pretty much the worst thing you could do. A better approach would be to halt all imperialist policies and pay reparations to the people you have wronged. For the US, this would mean--as a beginning step--removing troops from all countries and offshore bases and beginning to pay reparations to a list of countries and people so long I'm not even going to try and list them.
If the US started on that program, displays like those we are seeing would become not only unnecessary, but ludicrous, since jingoistic fervour has long been cultivated (and does not grow organically) to justify imperialism and xenophobia. Besides that, it serves no real purpose. Attacking the people partying over an assassination, however appealing it may sound, is a lot going after bin Laden to destroy terrorism, and ultimately, it will be ineffective.
It seems that I'm always saying to go after people at the top. There's a reason for that. Our crisis is manufactured by the elite. The top 1% are the world's biggest war mongers. They cultivate racism through rhetoric, propaganda, and straight up hate. COUGH--Donald Trump--COUGH. The reason to "go after them" is because they are, quite frankly, the problem. They'd like us to buy into the humanist ideas--like those presented by Gerloff--precisely because they involve no criticism of the structure of power, the distribution of wealth, and the sickness of capitalist society.
This article was first published on Trish's blog, I Can't Believe We Still Have To Protest This Shit.