One of the biggest surprises in store for the popular uprisings in the Arab world was that for a little while they managed to put all the Islamic forces out of the game and of course, especially the most suspicious and extremist one of all, al-Qaeda – a commercial brand with shady connotations used largely to support dictators, repress any kind of dissidence and divert attention far away from the actual battlefield. Like aspirin and other treatments for a wide spectrum of symptoms, bin Laden reappeared every time there was a need to stoke the “war on terrorism;” he was kept alive to be shaken like a scarecrow during crucial elections or in order to justify emergency laws. This time the situation was too serious not to use him one last time, in a media orgy that eclipsed even the wedding of Prince William and introduced very disturbing side-effects in the world.
Just when it seemed relegated to oblivion, shelved once and for all by the very people who ought to have supported it, al-Qaeda reappeared. An unknown group, operating under this trademark, murdered the Italian solidarity activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Palestine; several days later, at the full height of the anti-monarchy protests in Morocco, a bomb went off in the Jamaa Fna plaza in Marrakech; and now bin Laden himself reappears, not alive and menacing, but in all the glory of a long postponed, studied, carefully staged and somewhat unlikely martydom.
“Justice has been done,” said Obama, but justice calls for courts, judges, summary proceedings, an independent sentence. George Bush said much the same: “It’s a victory for America,” adding “no matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” while thousands of USAmerican democrats gathered in front of the White House, stomping for joy, leaping with barbarous euphoria over skulls and bones. It would be more accurate to call it vengeance. But democracy and vengeance are as incompatible as pedagogy and infanticide, as the alphabet and solipsism, as chess and play. The US loves lynchings, especially from the air, knowing that they are more powerful than principles.
“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda,” said Obama, but at the same time he sounded an alert saying “there’s no doubt that al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.” An alert? A warming? A promise? What relief can come from a murder that simultaneously admits to putting in danger those who it presumably was meant to save?
The time was right. Al-Qaeda once again dominates the stage; al-Qaeda once again saturates the Western imagination. While the presumed cadaver of bin Laden is tossed into the sea, his ghost attaches itself to all the struggles and desires for justice. Obama’s prediction will come true: there will be violent attacks everywhere and the Arab-Muslim world will return to being a bustle of fanaticism and beheadings, whether or not it is what their people want. Between democracy and barbarism, obviously, the United States has no doubts: barbarism fits much better with the “American dream.”
We don’t know if bin Laden has really been killed; what is clear is that the effort to resuscitate al-Qaeda at all costs is an attempt to snuff out the processes of change that began four months ago in the Arab world.