Maintaining Western Fear After bin Laden's Death

Graham Bell, 4 May 2011

Categories: BBC News | Middle East | War | USA |

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The news of Bin Laden’s death after the weekend has sparked a combination of celebration, suspicion, debate and conspiracy theories. In Washington, crowds gathered to chant “U-S-A, U-S-A” in a patriotic flag-waving display and celebrate Bin Laden’s death. In the UK, the BBC News showed a looping reel of images all day which included the burning twin towers, a clip of a widower celebrating at ground zero, the gathered chanters by night, images of Bin Laden’s blood stained bed and the warship that his body was dumped from. We were also continuously shown the footage of Bin Laden that appeared on all news channels shortly after 9/11 – that of him holding and aiming an AK-47 machine gun.

Four days after 9/11, Bush vowed to “smoke them out of their holes”, promising that Bin Laden will “not be able to hide from American Forces”. Almost ten years later, after the deaths of thousands of people living around these “holes”, Bin Laden has been found and killed in a house in Pakistan. Rather than being portrayed as the conclusion to the “war on terror” for which we have for ten years now been waiting, it is seen in the news media as more of a stepping stone in the ongoing campaign.

Now, the debate rages on: why did they kill him instead of stunning and capturing him? Why was his body was dumped at sea? Was Bin Laden himself armed?

One of the more worrying tones in the mainstream news is that this event will in fact increase our risk of terrorism. I say “worrying” not just for the west, but for Middle Eastern and African countries which may now be facing their episode of the War on Terror, as “good” continues to hunt “evil”.

Within hours of his killing, the BBC dedicated a page to this scaremongering, in which the columnist Ahmed Rashid describes how we now face the following risks: Bombs in Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, France, Spain and Italy; “random suicide bombings in subway or train stations in the US or Europe”; “plane hijackings”; “bombing of Western military targets and embassies in the Middle East”; “the amateur jihadi bomber placing a bomb in a supermarket”; “other kinds of attacks”; “more organised attacks” on Afghanistan and Pakistan; “a bombing campaign in Pakistan in memory of Bin Laden” and “another Mumbai-style attack on Indian territory”. The message from the majority of the media is clear: in case anyone thinks that we can all sit back and relax with Bin Laden out of the way (which was the suggestion in 2001), think again.

Public support among British and American people for wars in the Middle East has dropped in recent years, as more people decide that terrorism has little to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that perhaps the risk of terrorism is not as great as it is perceived to be. The piece mentioned above (and much of the news surrounding Bin Laden’s death) serves to ensure that western civilians continue to live in fear, and develop opinions that are therefore easily controlled.

More alarming still is the notion that the event in itself may be used to increase the “war on terror”. Now that the hunted man has been found and killed we are practically told to be more scared of terrorism because of retaliation attacks. One might naturally even wonder why he was killed (and not for instance stunned and captured), if there was such a high risk of retaliation attacks. The BBC News on the evening of the death highlighted the countries that are now believed to harbour terrorists. Oddly, Afghanistan no longer appeared on this map (where NATO forces are still killing “terrorists”). In the Middle East, Yemen and Pakistan were highlighted. In Africa, Somalia and a number of other countries were highlighted in what looked like a hit-list for the next countries to be subjected to the “war on terror”. Michael Weiss at the Telegraph wonders “how America should deal with Pakistan”, claiming that America’s distrust of Pakistan was “learned through hard experience”. Like much of the media, the article presupposes that America has the moral authority to “deal” with other countries, and fails to mention the covert war that is already underway in which American drone attacks have already killed hundreds of civilians.

In recent news reports (May 4th), Pakistan is blamed for either knowing or not knowing that Bin Laden was there. The reporting of the entire assassination event lacks an impartiality which may also question the fault of the US, who have killed and destroyed the lives of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan as a result of this manhunt. The message is again to fear Pakistan, whether for their evil intentions or their incompetence. If Pakistan did knowingly harbour Bin Laden, as a CBS reporter wonders, the hypocrisy of any accusation against them from the US is astounding, as the American government has for decades trained and financed terrorists to commit atrocities in Latin America and harboured them when their jobs were finished. Bin Laden himself of course was trained by the CIA to target the Russians during the Cold War.

The US media coverage of the death inspires more US patriotism, boosts Obama’s re-election chances, and will go some way to re-instil support for the war on terror. Around the world, it will ensure that we remain as fearful as ever of terrorism, and as proud as ever of the west for “bringing democracy” to these countries. A victory like this is required every now and again, if for no other reason than to maintain and boost the public attitude. Because sometimes it looks as though one of the only differences between terrorism and the war on terror is that we have some idea of the number of victims of the former.

Categories in which this article appears: BBC News | Middle East | War | USA |

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