On October 9th, 1967 revolutionary Che Guevara was captured, bound and beaten. A Bolivian soldier who was about to execute him asked him if he was thinking about his immortality. Che replied, “No, I’m thinking about the immortality of the revolution.” He turned and looked in the eyes of his executioner and said, “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot coward! You are only going to kill a man.” Regardless of whether or not you agree with the political ideology Guevara killed for, his final message is clear. You cannot kill an idea with a bullet.
Late on May 1st, Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda and confessed mastermind behind terrorist attacks that worldwide have killed thousands of people, was reported killed by US special forces in the suburbs of Pakistan.
Strategically, this marks an important step in eliminating the threat of al Qaeda, as the main leader and collaborator of the organization has been removed. This, combined with other key leaders being eliminated in the past few years, means that al Qaeda is in disarray, and will take time to reorganize. However, before we celebrate, Americans need to understand the facts, and instead of blindly chanting “USA” over the violent death of a man, we should appreciate the ramifications it has on the political environment of the Middle East.
An issue I have with bin Laden’s death is the way people are using his killing as the epitome for the destruction of al Qaeda and radical Islam. We’ve only killed a man. Bin Laden has orchestrated 9/11, and drew the US into two wars in the Middle East, leading to the deaths of thousands of soldiers, hundreds of thousands of civilians, one trillion dollars in costs, and a tarnish to American reputation. Killing him doesn’t right all those wrongs. That will take time and hard work.
Al Qaeda’s main policy, hatred, is where the problem lies. If we had approached the Middle Eastern situation with hatred, with the only goal being revenge, the only thing that would have happened is bin Laden would gain political momentum against the US as tyrannical conquerors.
Luckily, as we moved in, we took the exact opposite standpoint. When briefing his men in 2003 in Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Chartier explained, “We are not conquerors, we are liberators.” Bin Laden would have liked the Muslim community to believe that the US removal of the Taliban was a direct attack on Islam, but the people of Afghanistan welcomed any such direct attack on their oppressors.
Now, more than ever, is the time to be optimistic about the Middle East. The people are standing up and fighting for democracy in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia amongst other places, and the approval ratings for the Obama administration are at record highs in places like Pakistan, Egypt (a traditional rival), and even Iran. It would be nice to imagine that the US toppling of regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan caused a chain reaction, welcoming democracy into these countries (even if the “Mission Accomplished” celebration was a little early).
The extended stagnation of the Middle East is finally drawing to an end, but instead of celebrating over the death of a man, we should be celebrating over the death of his ideas. Bin Laden’s plan ultimately backfired. Instead inciting a revolution against the US, he only incited a revolution against his own tyrannical ideas.