"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bin Laden: Thoughts on conspiracy and jubilance

Ever since the news broke that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by a U.S task force in his Pakistani compound, almost everyone I’ve talked to has suggested that the American government might be making it up.
The desire to see conspiracy theories in practically everything to do with 9/11 is, to my mind, totally bizarre and the credibility of such theories close to zero.
For a start, what possible benefit is there to lying about killing Bin Laden? The only possible one I can think of (that they might just get away with) is that they actually have him in custody, but don’t want Al Qaeda to know. In which case they’ll pump him for whatever they can get then kill him and bury him at sea. But it’s hard not to suppose that Obama could resist the propaganda win of actually having Bin Laden stand trial.
But anyway, that’s not what is being claimed. People are saying it’s a stunt to restore Obama’s popularity, or to cover for death by natural causes but that’s not credible as Al Qaeda could expose either in a heartbeat. Sorry people, but sometimes the world is exactly as it appears to be.

So accepting the fact that he is dead, does it really do the American people any justice to be seen dancing in the streets with jubilation?
In my opinion no, nor is it seemly for their politicians or ours to be claiming a moral win for assassinating an individual on someone else’s sovereign territory. Incidentally, assassination is probably the correct word here, because it seems that the operation was mounted with no intent to apprehend him, only kill.
For one thing, to his ultra-Islamist followers, we have just delivered a martyr. They believe he is in paradise right now. For another, in reality death is no punishment for Bin Laden, as he no longer exists (not even in paradise), so we have denied the world an opportunity to actually make him pay for his crimes. I know, I know… to the Christian right he is suffering that punishment in the fires of hell, but we have no more reason to believe that, than that he’s getting started on his first couple of dozen virgins. If we want people punished we should use due process and the international courts. That’s how we maintain the moral high ground and advance democracy and the rule of law, not by deploying hit squads.

I’m not saying that the world is not a different and potentially safer place by killing Osama Bin Laden it’s just that celebrating the death of anyone, no matter how dangerous to society, seems wrong.
We can be pleased, that for now, the game has tipped in our favour. We can accept that our all too human desire for vengeance had been temporarily appeased. But celebrating in the streets at the death of Bin Laden makes us no better than the Muslims that celebrated the assassination of Salman Taseer
Presumably given his extensive family there will be people who loved Osama Bin Laden as a son, a brother or a father. They will not be celebrating.

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