Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
In the midst of the Arab Spring, which directly rejects al Qaeda-style small-group violence in favour of mass-based, society-wide mobilisation and non-violent protest to challenge dictatorship and corruption, does the killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden represent ultimate justice, or even an end to the ‘unfinished business’ of 9/11?
US agents killed bin Laden in Pakistan, apparently without cooperation from the government in Islamabad. The al Qaeda leader was responsible for great suffering, I do not mourn his death. But every action has causes and consequences, and in the current moment all are dangerous. It is unlikely that the killing of bin Laden will have much impact on the already weakened capacity of al Qaeda, widely believed to be made up of only a couple hundred fighters between Afghanistan and Pakistan, though its effect on other terrorist forces is uncertain – Pakistan itself may pay a particularly high price.
As President Obama described it, “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden.” Assuming that was indeed the case, this raid reflects the brutal reality of the deadly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that preceded it and that continue today, ten years later – it was not about bringing anyone to justice, it was about vengeance.
And given the enormous human costs still being paid by Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and others in the US wars waged in the name of capturing bin Laden, it is particularly ironic that in the end it wasn’t the shock-and-awe airstrikes or invasions of ground troops, but rather painstaking police work – careful investigation, cultivating intelligence sources – that made possible the realisation of that goal.
President Obama acknowledged that the post-9/11 unity of the people of the United States “has at time frayed.” But he didn’t mention that that unity had actually collapsed completely within 24 hours of the horrifying attacks on the twin towers. September 11 didn’t ‘change the world’; the world was changed on September 12, when George W. Bush announced his intention to take the world to war in response. That was the moment that the actual events of 9/11, a crime against humanity that killed nearly 3,000 people, were left behind and the ‘global war on terror’ began. That GWOT has brought years of war, devastation and destruction to hundreds of thousands around the world, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond.
There was an unprecedented surge of unity, of human solidarity, in response to the crime of 9/11. In the US much of that response immediately took on a jingoistic and xenophobic frame (some of which showed up again last night in the aggressive chants of ‘USA, USA!!’ from flag-waving, cheering crowds outside the White House following President Obama’s speech). Some of it was overtly militaristic, racist and Islamophobic. But some really did reflect a level of human unity unexpected and rare in US history. Even internationally, solidarity with the people of the US for a brief moment replaced the well-deserved global anger at US arrogance, wars, and drive towards empire. In France, headlines proclaimed “nous sommes tous Américaines maintenant.” We are all Americans now.
But that human solidarity was short-lived. It was destroyed by the illegal wars that shaped US response to the 9/11 crime. Those wars quickly created numbers of victims far surpassing the 3,000 killed on September 11. The lives of millions more around the world were transformed in the face of US aggression – in Pakistan alone, where a US military team assassinated bin Laden, thousands of people have been killed and maimed by US drone strikes and the suicide bombs that are part of the continuing legacy of the US war. These wars have brought too much death and destruction, too many people have died, too many children have been orphaned, for the US to claim, as President Obama’s triumphantly did, that ‘justice has been done’ because one man, however symbolically important, has been killed. However one calculates when and how ‘this fight’ actually began, the US government chose how to respond to 9/11. And that response, from the beginning, was one of war and vengeance – not of justice.
President Obama’s speech last night could have aimed to put an end to the triumphalism of the ‘global war on terror’ that George Bush began and Barack Obama claimed as his own. It could have announced a new US foreign policy based on justice, equality, and respect for other nations. But it did not. It declared instead that the US war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and beyond will continue.
In that reaffirmation of war, President Obama reasserted the American exceptionalism that has been a hallmark of his recent speeches, claiming that ‘America can do whatever we set our mind to.’ He equated the US ability and willingness to continue waging ferocious wars, with earlier accomplishments of the US – including, without any trace of irony, the ‘struggle for equality for all our citizens.’ In President Obama’s iteration, the Global War on Terror apparently equals the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.
Today, across the region, the Arab Spring is on the rise. It is ineffably sad that President Obama, in his claim that bin Laden’s death means justice, did not use the opportunity to announce the end of the deadly US wars that answered the attacks of 9/11. This could have been a moment to replace vengeance with cooperation, replace war with justice.
But it was not. Regardless of bin Laden’s death, as long as those deadly US wars continue in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and beyond, justice has not been done.
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Before & After: US Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes