Osama bin Laden death: In The Ring

Richard Weeks

     After almost ten years, Osama bin Laden has been killed. This conclusion to years of searching for the al-Qaeda founder came at the hands of a daring operation by US Special Forces: namely, Navy SEAL Team 6. As part of the operation, photos of Bin Laden were taken and there has been a debate as to whether or not they should be released. Obama’s decision to not release the photos was the right one for moral reasons as well as strategic ones.

     Displaying the pictures would be an act of triumphalism which would not help the image of the United States. The US already has a reputation for storming into other countries, releasing the photos would not help that. In the past and in other places in the world, the body of an enemy would be paraded. While not quite as gruesome, releasing the photos would only serve as a western equivalent of parading the body. This would be disrespectful in general but specifically toward bin Laden’s family who have done nothing wrong. This blatant disrespect for other cultures is seen as characteristic of America and these photos give the US a chance to disprove that. In fact it is this characteristic that people in foreign countries tend to focus on so any opportunity to prove it wrong should be welcomed. If Obama doesn’t back down from his decision, the world will most likely view it as a positive change in America’s attitude.

     Another complaint against Americans is their opinion of being morally superior. In the case against terrorists, this is actually true. As we know, most Americans don’t go around praising God in the streets and denouncing the rest of the world because it isn’t the US or plotting to blow up the Middle East. Meanwhile, extremists are denounced by the majority of Muslims around the world as not representing the faith. Groups like the Taliban have been known to parade bodies as an example and printing the pictures would bring the US to their level. Hypocrisy is never a good thing and condemning others for such gory acts while doing the same is unnecessary and even dangerous on the world stage.

     Not publishing the pictures also deprives extremists of an opportunity to proclaim faults in America and recruit others to radical regimes. While they are already reported to be seeking revenge, the injustice to bin Laden’s family would be a potent recruiting tool. Misrepresenting the facts around bin Laden’s death and showing the gruesome images to angry young men would work well to push them toward extremism. Not only is this true but the idea that allowing universal access to the photos would strike a blow to terrorism is false. Al-Qaeda is not a centralized organization that revolves around the leadership of one man: it has a loose structure that works to fund anyone who wants to commit acts of terror in the name of Jihad. Terrorism is much broader even than this one man; it is the result of prevailing conditions in the area.

     Many people in the Middle East view America as the problem rather than the solution, saying conditions will improve when US forces leave. Currently, much terrorism is directed at western forces in Afghanistan and at Pakistani officials who are seen to be helping the west. Bin Laden’s belief that the US is fighting Islam has gained ground and is alluring to those who have only seen destruction since American intervention. Extremism is also helped by the crushing poverty of the area as well as a corrupt and disorganized government. With all of this, it can almost be expected that people will turn to violence against an occupying force. Bringing bin Laden’s photos out will not crush anyone’s will; if anything more people will want revenge. There is already debate about the legality of the operation and subsequent death but if the US were to flaunt the evidence of bin Laden’s death it could be seen as a deliberate attempt to kill him rather than bring him to justice, giving more evidence to the United States’ supposed war on Islam.

     All of this is ignoring the blatant immorality of celebrating the death of an enemy. While he was responsible for acts of atrocity and it must be relieving to those who have lost loved ones, it does not change the fact that reveling in someone’s death is wrong. If the photos were released, the news media that triumphantly declared his death would do the same again with these images. Overall, publishing the photos of his corpse would have little positive impact while giving ammunition to America’s enemies.