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
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant