Bin Laden, Obama and the Democrats: shameless together

This guest post comes from Falguni Sheth, who teaches philosophy at Hampshire College. I wandered into a course on Critical Race Theory that she co-taught with Margaret Cerullo my first semester. In that class and others, and through organizing projects, Sheth demonstrated an inspiring and uncompromising approach to political theory that has been the model for my work ever since. I am so grateful for her words in the wake of Sunday night’s news and the subsequent public reaction. Full bio after the jump.

Falguni ShethWithin an hour of President Obama’s announcement that US commandos had located and assassinated Osama Bin Laden, the Associated Press announced the following top three headlines: “US Officials: Bin Laden killed near Islamabad”; “Bin Laden took a path of fanaticism and terror”; “U.S. warns of anti-American violence after Bin-Laden”.

Remarkable: On May Day, we heard the smug cries of victory reproduced by yet another corporate media source reciting the stance of an imperialist United States government. Osama Bin Laden is dead, and we’re worried about anti-American violence by Osama supporters? Shouldn’t we be more worried about anti-American violence by Obama supporters? After all, isn’t that what the smug victory message by Obama effectively announced to us last night: any worries about whether the Democrats would be forced to deal with the consequences of their collaboration with the Republicans to wage war on Americans were effectively moot. Go ahead, Obama has effectively told his troops in the Senate and the House: Keep going, dear friends Harry Reid AND John Boehner, continue the war on the uninsured, the homeless, the mortgage-foreclosed, Latino migrants, Muslim migrants, GLBT folks, sexually active women. It’s OK, we can keep siding with the bankers without consequence. No one is kicking us out of office any time soon—Democrats or Republicans. And frankly, it doesn’t matter which party you run with. It’s all the same platform, dear friends: Civil Liberties? Out the door. Drones in Pakistan? Ramp ‘em up. U.S. military satellites all over the globe—just to sustain our hegemony? No worries. It’s business as usual, darlings, ‘cause we just killed Osama Bin Laden, and all will be forgiven. Correction: Because we just killed OBL, all will be praised.

Moreover, to the extent that anyone is interested in the aesthetic content of President Obama’s speech, we should perhaps remember how proudly he declared that no Americans were killed in the “targeted operation” on a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan. No discussion of how many Pakistani civilian casualties were effected. Why not? Because it doesn’t matter. While insisting that Americans did not “choose” this fight, suggesting a very short term view of history, Obama also acknowledged that the assassination of Osama Bin Laden did not suggest any change in strategy for Al Qaeda. What then, was the effective purpose of launching a strategy to kill Bin Laden?

Simple: to assure 300 million Americans that President Obama is truly no different than President GW Bush when it comes to enacting and affecting and reinforcing an all-encompassing war. This war is not just on Terror, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan, but on privacy; on the sexual activity of women, gays and lesbians; on the economic security of people who make less than $40,000 a year, on political dissenters such as Professor Sami Al-Arian; on ethical dissenters such as Bradley Manning, on Muslims who dare to suggest that the U.S. government is racist; on the political left who find the idea of incarcerating hundreds of prisoners without due process and civilian trials morally unconscionable; on the millions of Americans who post online opinions expressing outrage at the brutality of the U.S. government.

But this is where President Obama is wrong: the war that he wages is not the same as the war waged under President GW Bush’s administration. It is, qualitatively and quantitatively, more extreme. We already know that the number of migrants incarcerated and deported has increased threefold under Obama. We know that the number of drone attacks in Pakistan increased under Obama. We know that the erosion of civil liberties has increased under Obama. The same Presidential candidate who took President Bush to task for incarcerating over 700 men in Guantanamo Bay without charges—promising to move the detainees to U.S. Prisons and hold civilian trials for them less than 1 year ago—timed his bid for re-election to coincide with an announcement to hold military tribunals for the remaining detainees. Why? In order to assure his staunchest critics that he not only didn’t give a damn about human rights, moral treatment, or civil liberties, but that he gave LESS of a damn than did President Bush.

As Americans, what lessons should we take away from this moment? Should we, as the Obama administration is clearly counting on us to do, forget the Democrats’ horrific descent into Republicanism, all while exhorting hope and change? Should we, as The Nation and the apologist Democratic National Committee will exhort us to do, with undoubted moral indignance, welcome them with licks and kisses back into the Presidency, the Senate and the House, as warm thanks for the abuse, much as beaten dogs will give to their masters? I would suggest neither. We must redouble our efforts to challenge the existing Republocrats with viable new moral candidates. We must find candidates who will refuse to reward failing banks with hundreds of billions of dollars while ignoring the same banks’ robo-signers who negligently and fraudulently evicted homeowners. We must find leaders who are incredulous that we live in a world where torture is an acceptable practice, or who remember the Civil Rights era as they refuse to accept the racial profiling of Latinos, Arabs, Muslims, or myriad of other groups. We must vote for a president who refuses to be baited by whether he is tough enough to push the button.

The assassination of Osama Bin Laden doesn’t signal a victory for Americans but rather a resounding alarm about the surreal state of affairs in which we Americans have landed, with President Obama at the helm, leading the charge to assassinate Americans and foreigners alike, and vicious beatings of all others who express dissent and stand in the way of the United States Government. We must finally set our sights on neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, but instead put our faith for hope and change in a third party who will kick these vicious xenophobic, racist, brutal plutocrats out of office, and send their banker and insurance friends packing as well. Shame, President Obama, on you and all your “Democratic” colleagues.

Falguni A. Sheth is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at Hampshire College. Her latest book, Toward a Political Philosophy of Race (SUNY, 2009), explores state-led racial divisions. She was formerly an Immigrant Rights Commissioner of San Francisco.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Bridget

    I’ve been reading this site for a few years now, and while I don’t always agree with the posts, I find Feministing to be a very valuable resource for feminists and I’ve recommended the site more than once to people who are looking to educate themselves. However, this post comes off as paranoid and incoherent. The assumptions made in it have a questionable basis, especially less than twenty-four hours after the news broke.

    The extent to which both sides choose to use this as a political tool is a completely valid discussion to have. But, Ms. Sheth is coming across as as unreal as any Fox News commentator or Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin.

    • Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

      I’m with you

    • lalareina

      I’m a NYer. I feel a lot of things right now…and I agree with you.

    • Drusilla Roessle

      I was glad to read this article. Whenever I listen to Obama’s speeches I’m emotionally inclined to agree and to take what he reports at face-value; I’m swayed by what his words imply and the positive, optimistic perspective that the ends of his sentences often suggest. I feel like I know that he means well when I listen to him, and that he knows that I know he’s trying, you know? But there’s still an extent to which the actual events he’s referring to can’t be air-brushed in rhetoric. We’ve been hunting for bin Laden for ten years–and these ten years have been filled with destruction in the Middle East which we are so responsible for and which seem unimaginable to me before 9/11. Understandably, such an attack necessitates stronger defense and national protection, but how much good have we done in what now has revealed itself as a violent and disproportionate vendetta against an often vague enemy? The fact that he praised the “‘targeted mission'” for harming no Americans without mentioning the four others who were killed is disappointing to say the least, shameful.

      I think Professor Sheth is right to question the narrative being built here, in the aftermath of bin Laden’s murder, and to point out it’s fatal omissions. Particularly concerning is the fact that the hunt for bin Laden is deeply symbolic–not that he wasn’t a fierce, consistent, and symbolic leader for members of Al Quaeda, but his death doesn’t necessitate the end of terrorism, the end of fear, the end of anything. It’s like hunting the first cancer cell that appears in a body for ten years in an extremely invasive and debilitating procedure–what happens after it’s been killed? Hasn’t the cancer still spread, hasn’t it been multiplying? Of course, we did more than hunt it for ten years, we left a path of destruction in our wake.

      I think Sheth is right to relate the narrative of bin Laden’s assassination to the failings of democracy right here in the homefront. Feministing has followed the saga–are we really back to questioning the legitimacy of a woman’s right to her body? to denying her ability to make a conscious and rational decision for herself? are we really stripping public sector unions of the right to bargain collectively, to exist as representatives of workers? Obviously, the list goes on–our civil liberties are apparently fragile. Her radical voice is necessary in today’s political climate, where regardless of which of the two parties you vote for, you’re still getting corporate-guided politics. “Progress” is limited by and checked immediately by a quick turnover of leadership, “change” is constrained in meager compromise as our political spectrum skews farther and farther right. I fully agree with Sheth when she writes, “We must vote for a president who refuses to be baited by whether he is tough enough to push the button,” and we’ve got to do it before we forget what a democracy even looks like.

  • CEK

    Like the first comment, I’m not sure where this post is coming from. In the reactions to bin Laden’s killing that I have read, I haven’t seen any suggestion that we should forgive all of our politicians’ imperfections just for getting bin Laden. Additionally, if I remember correctly, Obama mentioned that the strike was carried out to minimize Pakistani civilian casualties.

    The capture, dead or alive, of Osama bin Laden is in direct retaliation for the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11, something the US government has the right to do under international law. So far the response, at least what I’ve read, have been tame. I don’t argue the fact that there are people in our government, republican and democrat alike, that are working against the rights and freedoms of many different groups of people. But on the whole, the democratic party fights for the things I believe in, so I usually vote for them. And I think we should continue to lobby our representatives to do what we want them to, I just don’t think that the reaction to bin Laden’s killing has the implications that this post says it does.

  • kristen

    i agree with the previous comments. i think feministing should take down or ”not endorse” this post. i understand the desire to comment on current events from a feminist perspective, but the tone is hyperbolic and not what i would consider feminist. feministing should be applauding the president for saying in his speech that ”we are not at war with islam” and that osama bin laden ”was not a muslim leader, but a mass-murderer of muslims.”

    even if you respect the person who wrote this post, that doesn’t mean the post itself should made it onto the website. isn’t that what samhita’s job as executive editor is for? helping the contributors to maintain a feminist dialogue that is rational and respectable? c’mon feministing, i expect more from you.

  • A Viescas

    This is quite a bold statement.

    I think the main difference between people who celebrate this and people who mistrust this is a question of faith.

    Those who believe that the president commits “necessary evils” in our defense will believe that now that bin Laden is gone, things will return to “normal.” Those who believe that he was merely an excuse will believe that now that bin Laden is gone, things will get worse because the people in charge of those evils have “won.”

    I believe that the question is worth answering.

    • Orion Adrian

      I guess I don’t believe in that dichotomy. I can believe that there are evil people and they won’t stop until you’re dead. Those people need to be stopped (even if it’s just to be put in prison). But I don’t think things will return to normal. I think the power grabs by the executive during George W. Bush and by others will continue for quite some time. I believe that’s the sad truth of it. I guess I have to empathize with the president on this one. There’s no way he could win this one. Someone was going to get hurt. My hope now is that at least this will put the country in the right direction even if I don’t believe that’s the case.

  • Nina

    First of all, I feel like we can do better as feminists. Just because this woman is writing an opinion you don’t agree with (and for the record, I do) does not mean that her platform should be taken away (in this case

    It never ceases to amaze me how as soon as the language gets a little uncomfortable or anti-government, it all of a sudden isn’t appropriate or it becomes “paranoid.” Unbelievable.

    And the US DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO GO AND ASSASSINATE PEOPLE WILLY NILLY. Look it up. They could have gone through the legal channels in place to convict him, but assassinations are not protected under international law and are actually ILLEGAL under international law. The US doesn’t have a “right” to kill Bin Laden anymore than Bin Lade had a “right” to kill innocent people.

    • MKE

      Wholeheartedly agreed.

      Colorlines also has a great piece on this issue:

    • Orion Adrian

      While the government doesn’t have the ability to assassinate people, it does have the capacity to declare war which leads us to fuzzy territory. The fundamental problem is at what point does a well-financed, well-trained group of people who have already performed a black-ops operation in your country become enough of an organization that the country can declare war on them?

      Secondarily if the U.S. can only intervene against governments where does that put us when it comes to interventions in places that don’t have a government.

      The best response I’ve been able to come up with is that actions against individuals are crimes and should be treated as such. Actions against countries are wars and should usually be treated as such. Though I will admit that the FBI has a better track record than the military at handling things like this. Ultimately it’s a fuzzy line that we’re all going to have to figure out.

    • zingzang

      Agreed. Reading essays already predicting Obama’s 2012 win, the fact that we’re now faced with a president who has bought Bush’s foreign policy hook-line-and sinker, and who has shown he’s all too willing to deal away abortion & reproductive health care in order to win, as the left wing candidate, it’s mindblowingly depressing.

  • bellissima

    i agree with all the comments as well. This article doesn’t really seem to be in line with feministing’s typical posts- it’s very extremist, antagonistic and I feel like the author is trying to point out some weird conspiracy theory that Obama and the government has going on.

    and what is this “anti american violence by Obama supporters” exactly? I feel like the whole post was just confusing and didn’t have a central focus.

  • makomk

    On the positive(?) side, there was one death during this mission the US military does feel the need to justify: the woman who was killed. No surprises there; from start to end these wars have followed age-old gender roles.

    • makomk

      A justification that, it turns out, was apparently full of lies. Lies that appear from here to have been politically motivated by a desire to discredit Osama bin Laden. No prizes for guessing why they’d use that particular story…

  • athenia

    “Shouldn’t we be more worried about anti-American violence by Obama supporters?”

    No. Because Obama supporters aren’t going to put a bomb in Times Square.

    And fuck yeah we should be worried about the US conducting attacks in Pakistan. And there’s going to be so much shit not over the US, but this puts Pakistan in a bad position as well.

    • Gatibola

      By relinquishing our choice to “representatives” Obama supporters are behind what that administration stands for, namely imperialism and authoritarian society. I daresay we are suffering on levels of violence other than bombs in times square, though people abroad may be more familiar with the bombing part…

    • Michiko

      I believe that by “Obama supporters,” the author means people who jingoisticly buy into this American imperialism spouted by both the right and the left, so “Obama supporters” are on both sides of the spectrum.

      In that case, no they won’t plant a bomb in Times Square. They will, however, plant a bomb near Colorado mall.

      The brown people are not the only terrorists. We have homegrown white terrorists too.

  • Amanda

    ” We must finally set our sights on neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, but instead put our faith for hope and change in a third party who will kick these vicious xenophobic, racist, brutal plutocrats out of office, and send their banker and insurance friends packing as well.”
    How is this a constructive feminist contribution to the dialogue? Obama is bombarded with racism every day, and handles it incredibly well. What about Nancy Pelosi? Rep. Gwen Moore? Sen. Scott Randolph? There are so many Dems who have done- and continue to do- great things for this country. I don’t think it’s a good idea to isolate the party that does anything at all for feminists.

    • Gatibola

      While racist attitudes surface with Obama as president and allow us to witness the true sentiments of certain folks (Trump, Tea Party, etc.), that in no way makes Obama the guardian of good — did being black annoint Condoleeza with the Eye of Ethics?

      It is a constructive feminist contribution because Obama hasn’t done diddly squat about the racist deportation/persecution of undocumented immigrants. What is the point of him being president then? To feed this futile hope people have in an institution that is structured for its own perpetual drive towards relevancy through means of control and alliance with business.

      That is why poor people are still poor, why racism, patriarchy and conservativism are harbored as psychological conditions in this country. Social Darwinism, big thing in individualist, competitive cultures…

  • Mònica Tomàs

    Feministing commenters are too quick to criticise staunchly anti-(current)authority posts such as this one and the one about police brutality at UC Davis (in which case commenters claimed that the abuse clearly documented on camera was somehow warranted). I am relieved to finally read a reaction to bin Laden’s death that echoes my own.

    I was confused and saddened to see people celebrating in the streets. I do not understand how anyone can find joy in the fact that someone has died, particularly someone who has orchestrated the deaths of so many – it is a tragic story from beginning to end. Furthermore, as Professor Sheth notes, American have little to celebrate, and bin laden’s death seems like an untimely distraction from problems far more pressing and deadly than the war on terror. The US maintains an enourmous defense budget that takes away money that could be used to save more lives than those lost on 9/11. I’m not trying to detrat from the horror and deep psychological impact of 9/11. I’m just echoing Prof. Sheth’s sentiment that there are issues (healthcare, wealth disparity, and rampant injustice in general) that affect more Americans more deeply and that are being ignored or purposefully exacerbated by politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, who purposefully or out of sheer ignorance use the war on terror as a distraction from these issues.

    @CEK: Prof. Sheth mentioned Obama proudly stating that no Americans were killed. You reply that he did mention that the strike was carried out to minimise civilian casualties, which suggests that *there were civilian casualties*. How is it acceptable for innocent people to have died? If the US was hunting bin Laden because of the people he has killed, how is it okay for the US to have killed *way, way more* people – over 3,000 just in the first few months of the war in afghanistan alone?

    @CEK: Retaliation may be legal but is never ethical.

    @Bridget: to say that the things that Professor Sheth is “unreal” is to live in denial. It is true that Republican/”socially conservative” policies cost lives. It is true that the American government is repressive (arguing that there are other governments that are more repressive is not an argument – those governments can be more repressive than the American government, and the American government can still be repressive). It is not only unreal but downrigt privileged to suggest that mentioning mass deportations and military tribunals is “paranoid”.

    @kristen: how is Prof. Sheth’s post hyperbolic, irrational, or in any way at odds with feminism? Btw, freedom of speech & standing up for the oppressed is *definitely* feminist!

    …sorry for not writing the most organised or concise comment- there are just so many issues at play here. Let me just conclude by saying that I voted for Obama, but I agree wit Prof. Seth that we need to be more exacting of our political leaders. We need to start voting outside the two-party system.

    • Gatibola

      I mostly agree. :)

    • Anne Marie

      Retaliation may not be ethical in your worldview but that’s not true for everyone’s. Obama called this justice and I see this assassination as fitting the definition of justice. Bin Laden did all sorts of unethical (to put it mildly) things and continued to act unethically in the decade since 9/11. Justice includes punishment for breaches of ethics. Justice includes preventing future damage from a known criminal. You might not like it, but that doesn’t make it universally unethical.

    • SweetT

      MODS – I accidentally hit “report” instead of “reply.”

      I wanted to REPLY that I agree wholeheartedly…

    • willow33

      Thank you, your second paragraph clears it up way more than her entire article did for me.

    • Evan Grantham-Brown

      Unfortunately, the two-party system is more or less inevitable thanks to the winner-take-all structure of American elections. All we accomplish by voting third-party is to ensure that the candidate least in line with our own views wins. Look at Florida in 2000. Do you really think Al Gore would have been just as bad as George W. Bush?

      If we want third parties in the U.S., we need to change how our elections work. That’s a movement I’d support, though it’s tough to get started. The other option is to do as the Republicans do and focus on making our voices heard in the primaries. Republican interest groups have had great success forcing their candidates to toe the line by threatening them with primary challenges. Democrats could take a page from the same book… we just have to agree on what line we want our candidates to toe.

  • Mònica Tomàs

    @CEK Besides, I thought the death penalty was against international law, and that fair trials were the standard procedure.

  • Emily Mitchell

    “While insisting that Americans did not “choose” this fight, suggesting a very short term view of history, Obama also acknowledged that the assassination of Osama Bin Laden did not suggest any change in strategy for Al Qaeda. What then, was the effective purpose of launching a strategy to kill Bin Laden?”

    First, I would like to point out that the blame-game of implying we “choose” a fight against Osama Bin Laden sounds a little bit like victim-blaming. Certainly I don’t agree or condone the U.S.’s imperialist and oft-times brutal actions, but no one “asks” for 9-11. While retaliating in Iraq seemed a little contrived, if not blatantly preying on xenophobia and imperialism, America has been calling for the punishment of Bin Laden since his involvement in the 9-11 attacks came to light, and rightfully so.
    Second, while I understand (though sometimes, I admit, it’s a little beyond me) the politics involved in the whole affair and broadcast that President Obama gave, it’s unfair to say they were his only motivation. The entire country felt and feels the heartbreak of 9-11, and to bring the perpetrator to justice does indeed distract us from our differences to come together as a nation. Please, don’t “shame” the President for doing what we have all been hoping for since the great tragedy in 2011.
    Lastly, I agree with some points made in the article. The politics are disgusting, and while I admit I took a celebratory shot for the death of such a monster, I am aware of nearer and possibly more relevant monsters. Neither party is making headway in the “domestic terrorism” (to quote Baratunde) here, so a third party would be a welcome change.

  • Matt

    No matter how dangerous/insidious/powerful/etc you think your favored target is, even if you estimate that your target does as much or more harm, you have no business comparing people/groups with radically different roles (one being popularly elected and extremely influential, the other being unelected and much less influential… even if still quite influential). You are at best comparing apples and oranges. And really, if you were to give Bin Laden + Al Qaeda as much power held by Obama + Democrats, the suffering would be freshly staggering. FFS, Bin Laden wanted holy war, the destruction of girls schools, the murder of gay people, and a ridiculously long list of terrible crimes that Obama and Democrats want nothing to do with (even if the military they command accidentally/incidentally destroys a girls school or kill a gay person in their war efforts). The difference may not satisfy you, but the scale of harm, destruction, and terror would be so much worse. As someone who is gender non-conformist, I know the difference between a government that is more or less indifferent to my nature and a group that would kill me for it if given the chance.

    I’m quite disappointed, really.

    • Gatibola

      First of all, I flagged this by accident (damn you iPad).

      I think that the issue is precisely NOT whether Obama was a bad man and deserved death/punishment, but how the US is using that to place themselves on the hero end of the spectrum.

  • Gatibola

    First of all, I do not understand some of these responses claiming this is not a feminist post. I always understood feminism as part of the revolutionary imperative for a new, egalitarian society. The author addressed issues like increased deportation of migrants, increased poverty, the continued attack on womens healthcare (and all, really) suggesting to me stirrings of the possibility that perhaps, the institution of government is inherently flawed.Let me repeat that, inherently flawed.

    The murder of Bin Laden, while not something I’m exactly ready to cry over, comes to news only as a positive occurrence for US hegemony. The only thing the spectacle gains is sympathy for the imperialist power and a fresh spritz of patriotism. The author alluded correctly to the impossibility of liberal politics to solve the problem that is built in, namely that of a state responsive and uncoercive to people.

    I don’t think however, that she really took the idea all the way; I do not agree with the author about a third party as a viable solution. That is also why I don’t understand some of these responses and their undying affection for the two immobile parties, on the part of the people anyway.

  • CEK

    @ Monica Tomas

    Just to be clear – I was in no way defending the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, no do I support war in general. Nor do I believe terrorism will be eliminated by killing everybody involved in it. I was simply saying that Al Qaeda declared war on the US and attacked the US and although this isn’t a “traditional” war between nations, the US still has the right to defend itself, which, in the context of war, means killing the enemy. Additionally, I misquoted Obama, he said “They took care to avoid civilian casualties” which implies there were no civilian casualties, only those of Al Qaeda agents. (I read somewhere – sorry no link – that the woman who died was used a human shield, in which her death is also the fault of whoever used her as a shield)

    Personally, I find celebrating the death of a person wrong and I don’t think we should go dancing in the streets. The news cycle will soon move on to move substantive debates about medicare and budget problems, we’ll be hearing about those and other issues for a while.

    A third party would be good (unless it split the vote and led to a republican majority) but I would also settle for some Democrats with strong convictions who can get more done.

  • J Cabana

    I’ve done some looking, and I have yet to see anyone claim that the execution of bin Laden solves the USA’s most glaring domestic problems, or justifies the government’s exploitation of the tragedy of 9/11 that has killed innocents and indebted the nation. I’m willing to bet that for those paying attention, all is not forgiven. While I was just as disturbed by the way some people chose to celebrate the death of OBL, I still believe I can assign this article to the “seemingly-obligatory reminders that the United States has bigger problems” category.

    Taken to an extreme, one could argue that nothing positive accomplished by a flawed person or institution can ever be celebrated as long as there are much bigger problems looming. We all lead contradictory lives, and none of us is perfect…yet most of us take a bit of personal time and space to reflect when we’ve done something that has made our world (or the world of even one other person, or an animal, etc) a better place to live in. There are very few people in the world who would be better off if bin Laden remained alive. I don’t have a problem with acknowledging that (in an appropriate manner — which people could debate about forever).

    Unless one is a pacifist, espousing blanket ethical codes of conduct and applying those codes to international politics is extremely problematic given the shifting nature of war, crime, and sovereignty. OBL was basically living openly and in relative luxury in Pakistan. It’s clear that the Pakistani government knew he was in their country for years, yet did nothing about it. It also seems clear that OBL continued to support jihad and fund/coordinate attacks against innocent people all over the world. So what to do? Let him continue his life’s work of murdering innocents? Continue with diplomatic pressure and negotiations with a government that had failed to act for years?

    Or perhaps the USA should have officially declared war on Pakistan, just to make any resultant deaths ‘legal’? Didn’t the assassination of one Archduke touch off World War 1? Do we want to go back to that? No matter which course of action was selected, innocent people would continue to die. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were terrible ideas with hideous consequences, but there’s no time machine we can use to undo them. And once a war is started, it can’t just be stopped on a dime just because it was wrong to begin with.

    To simply categorize this event as a ‘distraction’ or a political tool is neither fair nor nuanced. And with lines like “…with President Obama at the helm, leading the charge to assassinate Americans and foreigners alike, and vicious beatings of all others who express dissent and stand in the way of the United States Government”, I can see where the charges of paranoia come from. Claiming all our politicians are the same and advocating ‘throwing all the bums out’ sounds great when you say it, but I can’t see how that’s any more useful than Obama’s speech was. The two-party system isn’t going to be undone in years, or even decades. And when it does happen, it will probably be a schism from within.

  • linasl

    So I have a few thoughts, which are a bit disjointed but I guess I’ll just give it a shot.
    I feel frustrated with the current administration and the state of American politics in general, and I can relate to a lot of the sentiments expressed in the above piece. However, I do not see how the message of this essay (to “put our faith…in a third party”) is helpful at all. I don’t doubt that most Americans are dissatisfied with the state of our government and politics, but encouraging us to work through a third party is not a good way to channel energy and frustration. The American government is simply not built to allow change through this way, at least not without a huge following. (And let’s admit it, although I don’t doubt that a vast majority of Americans is dissatisfied with the state of things, there is no way that most Americans would actively back an agenda drawn from the values of the above essay.) I really do understand the frustration that undoubtedly motivated the writer, but I am having trouble really seeing the point, I guess. Yes, people are angry. But we need to come up with more realistic approaches to enacting change and making our voices heard. I’ll be the first to admit I have no clue how to go about this. However, I don’t think the answer is to focus on all the negatives of every situation. Obama has disappointed me on many fronts. However, we cannot just look at him and his administration as a sellout and a terrorist. His actions are clearly his way of working the system. Finding a new politician to represent us in that system will not create significant change.

  • jamie

    I second Monica, it was nice to read any article at all that echoes my own sentiments. The resistance to her ideas makes me believe we have a LOT more work to do than I originally assumed, which is saying quite a lot. Regardless of who disagrees or not, I’m appreciative of this space (feministing) to have these discussions and sharing of opinions.

  • Richard

    Emily Mitchell

    This was a war of choice.
    Can you remember October 2001, when the Taliban offered to hand Bin Laden over to the states if the US could provide proof that he was responsible.

    Bush had already refused to accept their offer to expel Bin Laden from Afghanistan; and was soon to refuse their offers to try him in Afghanistan. In September and October 2001 the Taliban made many attempts to avoid war. The Taliban did not want a war, it was Bush and Blair and co. who wanted a war.

    This is a time at which it is perhaps wise to reflect on the cost of that decision.

  • willow33

    I agree with most comments in that I am a bit confused by this article, even though it sounds well written. I want to agree with her, but I’m just not able to see exactly what she is saying.

    It seems like she is jumping on this opportunity to criticize the president and republicrats on domestic issues (and I don’t blame her.) It just doesn’t quite tie in somehow.

  • Dave

    Whilst i can’t disagree with the full content of this post (i simply am not in a place to contradict a lecturer in philosophy at Hamshire College), has a major issue has been missed?

    Whilst arguements can be raised for both sides as to whether it was justifiable to murder/execute (whichever is the politically correct term) Bin Laden, is it not slightly worrying that the president believes it is not only justifyable – but that it, in some way, attones for the deaths on september 11th and other atrocities carried out by an extremist sect?

    It seems to me that whether or not this is being used as publicity material as the author suggests, “an eye for an eye” on a global scale can only make the world blind.

  • Emily Mitchell


    Wow, I had not seen that. While I don’t want to pass judgement too quickly (there may have been terms not listed, and the issue oversimplified for the article), I find it appalling if not surprising that “Bush and Blair and co.” would have intentionally allowed this bizarre man-hunt to continue. But the fact is, it did continue, and the legacy was left for the next administration whom I will not fault for eliminating such a monster. I agree with many that bringing the man in, alive, to serve justice would have been best, but for the crimes he committed against the humanity I believe he deserved what he got and I will rejoice in a world absent his presence.

    • Richard

      Emily Mitchell,

      I would like to go back, re-read everything and give you a very accurate telling of these events, but… yeah, well, sentences that start this way always have a “but” … I am instead relying on my memory of reading lots and lots of articles at the time.

      I think the problem was that there were a lot of people who wanted to go to war: they were hurt, they were upset and they sought an answer that matched the way that they felt. At the time I was a contributor to a forum and there were a lot of people on that forum (and in the media and in politics) who seemed to jump straight into some sort of revenge fantasy. I read a number of posts that were written by people who said that they were cleaning their guns (on something of the sort) and went on to speak of the attack as an unimaginable evil and of how America was impossible pure and … well you know the good vs evil narrative. This was the sort of evil had been imagined in movies like Red Dawn and in Tom Clancy novels and people seemed to want to follow that sort of narrative. They now just needed to find someone to hurt on a scale that seemed proportional to their own pain, and in a way that was narratively satisfying. Those that raised legal arguments or suggested diplomatic solutions were clearly the enemy, and were generally accused of been anti-American.

      Reading the newspapers at the time the main problem seemed to be that a court case was just not the sort of closure that people desired. However, part of the problem was probably the uncertainty of the judicial approach. The Administration claimed to have proof, that it showed to other governments, who dutifully stated that they were convinced by it. It also claimed that it could not produce this evidence to the public or a court as it would compromise intelligence assets that would be hard to replace. Some commentators suspected that the real reason for not pursuing extradition was that the evidence was not sufficient to prove that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks. I expect that they were right.

      Rationally: wars are between nations; Al Qaeda was not a nation; so a war was not appropriate. A nation has a just cause to go to war when another nation attacks it or gives it due cause to believe a war to be immanent. Afghanistan had not gone to war with the USA, and such a war was not immanent, so there was no real case for a war against Afghanistan. A group of people (much larger than the 19 hijackers) had committed a conspired to murder and murdered a lot of people. They had committed a crime. When somebody commits a crime you investigate it, and when you have sufficient evidence you arrest/charge/extradite the suspects and then prove (or fail to prove) your case in court.

      I suspect many of the people in a position to make a decision were just following their emotions and the logic of the narrative. If someone did consider the options it may have been that they felt the choice was between a court case that might go nowhere for lack of evidence and a short brutal war ending in the assassination of Bin Laden. I can also well imagine that if these were the choices, most political pundits would favour the second as better PR and consider that to be the deciding argument. Questions of morals or laws are not their forte.

      I don’t know, most of the evidence suggests that they just really wanted to go to war – in Iraq! Whatever the case, there was a choice and a great many politicians in several countries made the wrong one.

      September 11 2001 was horrible, but I fear that the damage that has since been done to the worlds democracies is far worse. Which, I think, is one of Sheth’s points. These were not really mistakes made in ignorance – people saw them coming and protested against them – and they were not mistakes that were forced upon our governments – people protested against them. They had a choice and the choice to invade and not extradite was the wrong one. And to make that choice, to play Dirty Harry or Jack Bauer, they had to attack the rule of law. The rule of law is the alternative to the rule of powerful people, it is the alternative to the melian argument. Without the rule of law there are no civil rights, there is no democracy and no real justice nor security.

      I admit that I do not really care one way or the other about Bin Laden. I don’t care that he died. I don’t care believe that he might have been innocent. I wish we had made the right legal, moral and just choice and ended this a long long time ago with fewer deaths and other “side effects”. And failing that, yes I would have liked that belated a court case.


  • Melina Lindsey

    It’s really disturbing to me how dismissive people are being of the professor’s opinions and any criticism of Obama.

    Osama’s death will not end terror and cruelty. The multiple wars we started will not end. The millions of dollars that have been funneled into the military will not be redirected to education and social services. People who died on 9/11 will not come back to life. Neither will the thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have been killed in wars that we started.

    So, no, I’m not going to be out in the street celebrating this man’s death, because it does not signify victory to me. Victory would be making sure that people in this country had their basic needs cared for, regardless of their identity or citizenship status. It would mean restructuring our foreign policy, and ending neoliberal and imperialist policies. We obviously aren’t there yet, and I’m not going to shy away from criticizing a president whose policies are shockingly close to George W.’s just because he was progressive once upon a time.