Shrouded as he was for a decade in an apparent cloak of anonymity and obscurity, Osama bin Laden was by no means an invisible man. He was ubiquitous and palpable, both in a physical and a cyber-spectral form, to the extent that his death took on something of the feel of an exorcism. It is satisfying to know that, before the end came, he had begun at least to guess at the magnitude of his 9/11 mistake. It is essential to remember that his most fanatical and militant deputy, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, did not just leave his corpse in Iraq but was isolated and repudiated even by the minority Sunnis on whose presumed behalf he spilled so much blood and wrought such hectic destruction. It is even more gratifying that bin Laden himself was exposed as an excrescence on the putrid body of a bankrupt and brutish state machine, and that he found himself quite unable to make any coherent comment on the tide—one hopes that it is a tide, rather than a mere wave—of demand for an accountable and secular form of civil society. There could not have been a finer affirmation of the force of life, so warmly and authentically counterposed to the hysterical celebration of death, and of that death-in-life that is experienced in the stultifications of theocracy, where womanhood and music and literature are stifled and young men mutated into robotic slaughterers.
Remaining for a moment with the question of legality and illegality: United Nations Security Council Resolution 1368, unanimously passed, explicitly recognized the right of the United States to self-defense and further called upon all member states 'to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of the terrorist attacks. It added that 'those responsible for aiding, supporting or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of those acts will be held accountable.' In a speech the following month, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan publicly acknowledged the right of self-defense as a legitimate basis for military action. The SEAL unit dispatched by President Obama to Abbottabad was large enough to allow for the contingency of bin-Laden's capture and detention. The naïve statement that he was 'unarmed' when shot is only loosely compatible with the fact that he was housed in a military garrison town, had a loaded automatic weapon in the room with him, could well have been wearing a suicide vest, had stated repeatedly that he would never be taken alive, was the commander of one of the most violent organizations in history, and had declared himself at war with the United States. It perhaps says something that not even the most casuistic apologist for al-Qaeda has ever even attempted to justify any of its 'operations' in terms that could be covered by any known law, with the possible exception of some sanguinary verses of the Koran.
As to the 'Left' I'll say briefly why this was the finish for me. Here is American society, attacked under open skies in broad daylight by the most reactionary and vicious force in the contemporary world, a force which treats Afghans and Algerians and Egyptians far worse than it has yet been able to treat us. The vaunted CIA and FBI are asleep, at best. The working-class heroes move, without orders and at risk to their lives, to fill the moral and political vacuum. The moral idiots, meanwhile, like Falwell and Robertson and Rabbi Lapin, announce that this clerical aggression is a punishment for our secularism. And the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, hitherto considered allies on our 'national security' calculus, prove to be the most friendly to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.Here was a time for the Left to demand a top-to-bottom house-cleaning of the state and of our covert alliances, a full inquiry into the origins of the defeat, and a resolute declaration in favor of a fight to the end for secular and humanist values: a fight which would make friends of the democratic and secular forces in the Muslim world. And instead, the near-majority of 'Left' intellectuals started sounding like Falwell, and bleating that the main problem was Bush's legitimacy. So I don't even muster a hollow laugh when this pathetic faction says that I, and not they, are in bed with the forces of reaction.
At least two important conservative thinkers, Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss, were unbelievers or nonbelievers and in any case contemptuous of Christianity. I have my own differences with both of these savants, but is the Republican Party really prepared to disown such modern intellectuals as it can claim, in favor of a shallow, demagogic and above all sectarian religiosity?Perhaps one could phrase the same question in two further ways. At the last election, the GOP succeeded in increasing its vote among American Jews by an estimated five percentage points. Does it propose to welcome these new adherents or sympathizers by yelling in the tones of that great Democrat bigmouth William Jennings Bryan? By insisting that evolution is 'only a theory'? By demanding biblical literalism and by proclaiming that the Messiah has already shown himself? If so, it will deserve the punishment for hubris that is already coming its way. (The punishment, in other words, that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson believed had struck America on Sept. 11, 2001. How can it be that such grotesque characters, calling down divine revenge on the workers in the World Trade Center, are allowed a respectful hearing, or a hearing at all, among patriotic Republicans?)