IT’S been over a decade since so many words were written about Osama bin Laden and more than a decade since he came to symbolise everything about Islamic radicalism that is so disquieting and incomprehensible to western sensibilities.
He came from a very wealthy background, he was well educated and though driven by a terrible, debilitating hatred he had a powerful mind and the kind of charisma not unusual amongst evil men. He seemed an unlikely terrorist and that made him all the more easily despised, especially by those who believed that his comfortable background should have been more than enough for him to lead a very different kind of life.
The earliest attacks he organised on American interests — embassies across East Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000 — put him on America’s most wanted list but his central role in the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington made him a dead man walking. He had wreaked carnage at the very heart of the world’s greatest superpower and the consequences were inevitable. It was only a matter of time before he was assassinated. For a multiplicity of reasons — justice, reassertion of American power and national pride, political opportunism, bloodcurdling populism or just straightforward Old Testament revenge — Osama bin Laden was not going to die a peaceful death. It may have taken a decade to neutralise him — use whatever verb you like the result is a corpse — because he was offered refuge in a society ambivalent about his crimes.
The assassination, and let there be no doubt that it should be welcomed, challenges so many of the principles that have become core beliefs if not practice in the West that they must be considered.
American security services have admitted that some of the information used to find Osama was secured through torture. That it was used to rid the world of an evil figurehead may be disconcerting but it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.
Osama and Al-Qaeda, we are told, are not the force they were yet President Barack Obama felt entitled to hand down a death sentence without any endorsement other than that of his political and security advisors.
This was made easy because Osama was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans but is the scale of his crimes more important than the fact that he was prepared to kill to realise his objectives?
Would his death penalty have been justified if he had only killed dozens rather than thousands of Americans? Already we have accepted the idea of a death penalty, the only thing at issue is the scale of crime needed to provoke it.
Using that rationale it must be fair to ask how many people our Al-Qaeda, the criminals styling themselves dissident republicans, must kill before our Government concludes that ordering their assassinations would be doing the right thing?
It is easy to eradicate a terrorist, much easier than eradicating the fear terrorism creates, but the point inevitably comes when we must ask ourselves if our society and our democracy is worth defending by any means. America had reached that point and made the right decision. It was savage and brutal but any other response would have been the kind of capitulation that brings civilisations to an end.
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