The Assassination of Osama Bin Laden: The propaganda of the deed

Posted: May 2, 2011 in International politics

"That's all for now, folks! I'll be in touch later!"

“Osama bin Laden is dead” is quite a headline to wake up to on a sunny May morning and worthy of a few immediate thoughts while the full story filters through.

If the Al Qaida attacks on America, Madrid and London can be defined as “the propaganda of the deed” – purely symbolic and having little or no military, strategic rationale – then so can the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. It works on two counts: the fact that US special forces shot him in the head and dumped his body at sea (not very Islamic) and the reality that this will not change anything other than provoke retaliation from terrorist groups that have supported him. But like all such symbolic acts, it may also have unintended consequences.

It may send out a signal that once again, the US projects its power around the world with lethal force: a message that will not be lost on those bent on direct retaliation. But was that the only option available? I can’t help think that taking him alive, although fraught with all kinds of security risks, would have made a much more telling point – that under Obama, the US is doing things differently, that it is fighting terrorism according to the rule of law. But that’s the thing about the terrorism/counter-terrorist paradigm: like all paradigms, once it’s established, it’s very difficult to move out of it and work within a new one.

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