The Killing of Osama bin Laden

BinladenxlargeA symposium over at Dissent:

Dissent writers to offer reflections on the killing of Osama bin Laden—on how it was carried out, its potential impact on government policies, and its meaning to and reception by the public. Their responses, beginning with Dissent co-editor Michael Walzer’s, are below.

Michael Walzer – “Killing Osama”
Lindsay Beyerstein – “The War Paradigm”
Feisal G. Mohamed – “The Theater of Counter-Terrorism”
Fred Smoler – “The Particular Case of Osama bin Laden”
Bhaskar Sunkara – “Pakistan at War with Itself”


It was, as everyone said, a famous (symbolic) victory. What was wrong, then, with the celebrations in front of the White House? There is an old Jewish commentary on the book of Exodus, which says that when Pharaoh’s army drowned in the sea, the angels in heaven began to celebrate, and God rebuked them: how can you rejoice when my creatures are drowning? There must be a secular equivalent to that story. It would say that we should celebrate the ending of wars but not the killing of our enemies. And the war against Islamist terrorism isn’t over.

But are we actually at war? There are many people on the left who reject the very idea. Osama bin Laden was not an enemy to be killed, they argue, but a criminal to be brought to justice. From the beginning, that has been the critical debate: was the 9/11 attack an act of war or a crime? The two positions are generally held with great certainty; each one excludes the other. But the truth is that each one is right, some of the time, in some places.