How did ‘I hate bin Laden and I’m glad he’s dead’ become the most shocking thing one can say in polite society?
This week we have shuttled from an atmosphere of congratulation, even muted celebration, over the killing of OBL to what Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and High Priest of the Chattering Classes, describes as a ‘very uncomfortable feeling’ about the killing of OBL. Those who dare to celebrate his death – mainly young American jocks – have been denounced as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘sickening’, and now the main way you advertise your decency, your membership of the civilised, upstanding, oh-so-unAmerican classes, is by wondering out loud if poor old OBL shouldn’t have been arrested and put on trial rather than having a bullet planted in his head.
This pity-for-Osama lobby, this bishop-led congregation of ‘uncomfortable’ moral handwringers, might pose as radical, denouncing America’s military action in bin Laden’s compound as ‘Wild West-style vengeance’. Yet in truth it is fuelled by self-loathing more than justice-loving. These critics are not opposed to Western intervention in principle – indeed, most of them have demanded ‘humanitarian’, political or legalistic intervention in other states’ affairs at one point or another. No, it is a discomfort with decisive action, a fear of what such action might lead to in the future, and a belief that people in the West should douse their emotional zeal and learn to be more meek, which motors the creepingly conformist anti-Obama and pro-Osama (well, almost) brigade. There is little, if anything, in this outburst of concerned liberal moralism that is worth backing.
The most striking thing was the speed with which the great and the good of the Western liberal elite sought to distance themselves from those vulgar, excitable Yanks and to express a more erudite and PC view of OBL’s demise. Barely 24 hours had passed since the dumping of bin Laden’s body in the sea before observers were describing President Obama as a ‘mobster’. ‘Are we gangsters or a Western democracy based on the rule of law?’, asked has-been mayor (and wannabe mayor) Ken Livingstone, who is so used to doing politics in the rarefied environs of London’s mayoral office that he doesn’t realise that the rule of law might not be so neatly applied during a shoot-out in a compound in Pakistan. Elsewhere the killing of bin Laden has already been described as a ‘war crime’ (isn’t everything these days?) while human rights campaigners say it would have been a better advert for Western values if justice against OBL had come ‘from a legitimate court of law rather than the end of gun’.