In a spectacular night operation US gunship helicopters flew to Abbottabad, Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden: This has been the biggest story in the last week and if you are not aware of it you probably do live in a cave. I have no qualms about Osama’s death: He was a mass murderer of innocent people and died of the same kind of violence that he himself idealized and perpetuated.
What I question here is the new era of death squads. Previously, two nation-states have successfully used death squads to eliminate those that they deemed as people who had harmed their citizens, posed a threat to their security, or were declared “killable” due to their views about these two nations. This honor of sending death squads into foreign countries, ironically, was previously shared by Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While there is not much written or said about Israeli death squads, the Irani death squads of the mid seventies raised quite a few hackles in the west. Trained and despatched to take out the fugitive leaders of the Shah’s regime, the Iranian death squads specialized in killing all those deemed responsible for murdering Iranians during the Shah’s regime. People like Daniel Pipes, one of the darlings of American neoconservatism, found this quite wrong: Pipes actually makes it the main point of his book on Salamn Rushdie. Pipes, of course, is silent about the Israeli death squads.
With the killing of Osama, we have now entered a highly technologized stage of death squad tactics. Here is what has happened: United States deployed its special forces to take out a wanted man while flying illegally over the territory of one its closest allies in the region. The operation also involved invasion of a house and then, of course, the execution of this wanted man.
As I said earlier, I don’t care much about Osam’s death, but this new practice of a nation sending a death squad into the territory of another sets a dangerous precedence. And since the action was taken by the US government, it is even more dangerous as it will certainly be emulated by other nations. So, while most Americans are rejoicing over this victory, they should also keep in mind that if this kind of tactics is normalized, the world will become, at the least, quite an interesting place. There is now a possibility that the mercenary security companies that do provide death squads to the corporations in Africa and South America could also start bidding for the contracts on such global ventures. The question is also deeply philosophical, especially about the very nature of modern state of exception. As Agamben has taught us, “the state of exception is the norm,” so would this new phase of technologized kills now become a norm. I see no reason for it not becoming so: there is immense popular support for it in the US. How would this shift in the role of justice restructure our desires and expectations of justice itself? Would this instance make it convenient for sending our death squads to take out all those declared “killable” by a particular nation-state? Will the private citizens, or non-state agents, also use the same methods to take out their “killable” others?
As a Pakistani, naturally, my concern is mostly about Pakistan. It seems the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani intelligence agencies need to answer some very serious questions. And they are not answerable to the people of United States and its government but to their own people.
A simple question: How could have Osama lived so close to the Pakistan Military Academy, in a heavily guarded house without the ISI or the MI knowing about it? For five years?
A more serious question that the military brass must answer, preferably in a public National Assembly hearing, is about the failure of their conventional air defense systems in detecting the flight of US gunship helicopters over their territory? I am not suggesting that they should have prevented a strike on Osama, but that they should have, at least, detected it.
We say in Punjabi, which translates very crudely to English, “Do not rejoice on the death of your enemy, for those you love will also die one day.” So, I have no reason to shout in joy on Osama’s death: he was, as I said earlier, a washed out terrorist responsible for the murders of thousands of human beings, Muslim and non-Muslim. I would have preferred if he had died in obscurity of kidney failure.
I am also not worried much about Osama’s death, somehow, mobilizing more fundamentalist terrorists in Pakistan: It seems that the mullahs and their fanatical followers were doing quite fine already and this is not likely to affect their “enrollment” rates much. The manner of Osama’s death, however, has given him the kind of posthumous credential that a natural death would have denied him: for all practical purposes, in the eyes of his followers and sympathizers, he is a Shaheed. This, in the long run, would create and sustain the Bin Laden mythology for the Muslim fundamentalists. The techologized, hi-tech elimination of Osama bin Laden, it seems, will become, within the logic of mythic narratives, a fine didactic tool for the Alqaeda and other terrorist groups.
So, let us start working on a counternarrative of hope and life or this mythologized narrative of death will come to haunt us with its immense symbolic and material power.