Katherine Gillard (Press Friday May 6th) called Osama bin Laden a murderous coward and cited the initial reports of him having hidden behind a woman. As any good spin doctor knows, even if proven to be incorrect subsequently, this is the image most people will retain – the man who sent young men to die for his cause, using one his wives as a human shield.
I don’t really care that bin Laden was assassinated by an American hit squad. I don’t care about any men of violence - especially those who stay safe in their places of worship or their corporate HQs or seats of government and send young men and women out to die.
The differences between the men who control the biggest military force in the world and men like bin Laden are a matter of ideology and degree. Each would have us believe they are defending all that is good and true and each are at great pains to hide the essential truth - their own calculating self-interest.
Contrary to spin doctrine, fanatics don't all pray in mosques nor are all those who pray in mosques, fanatics. Most who pray in mosques are decent people who want nothing more than to bring their children up in peace and prosperity - and there are many who pray in churches who ignore the important elements of Jesus' teaching.
When it suits, they take up the intellectually and morally undemanding ‘eye for an eye’ credo, replacing gentle Jesus meek and mild with the Old Testament God – fear-inducing, misogynistic, capricious, blood thirsty and above all, vengeful.
And, when people choose to believe they are made in that image, there are no limits to their hatred of difference and capacity for cruelty, violence and vindictiveness.
The poll on Telecom’s Xtra website on May 7th asked if bin Laden should have been caught and brought to trial. The responses - written in the typical schlock Xtra style were : ‘Yes – everyone’s entitled to a fair trial; ‘No – killers shouldn’t have rights’; and ‘Not sure”.
At the time of writing this, 70% of respondents had replied ‘No – killers shouldn’t have rights’.
Now, it has to be said that the Yahoo!Xtra website poll can be depended upon for producing a hefty majority on the politically Right side of most issues - which, from my perspective, is usually the wrong side.
Often the poll outcome is influenced by the way both questions and responses are phrased as well as the way the site presents its stories, which it gives prominence to, how it headlines them and which it allows comment on. But it must also be, in part, a reflection of the people who subscribe to Xtra. And a disturbing number seem to be full of rage and hatred. This is confirmed by the calibre and content of the comments on some stories.
A suggestion that Hone Harawira be gagged by ‘shoving a grenade down his throat’ is not atypical. Xtra fuels this nonsense with headlines such as ‘Hone opens his big mouth again.’ This headline was a link to a blog – usually full of trite nonsense or the voices of unreason.
“So-called justice system, lunatics running the asylum, low-life, mockery, mamby-pamby (sic) criminal lovers, bunch of academics and bureaucrats, spineless politicians, liberal ideology, politically correct nonsense, do-gooders, politically correct sham.”
No prizes for guessing which sensible guardian of law and order wrote a rant containing all the above. It was of course that flag bearer of the Right, Garth McVicar, self-annointed champion of law and order and disciple of Sheriff Jo Arpaio.
The belief that killers – or even all criminals - shouldn’t have rights is worrying; the point of a trial is to establish guilt or innocence beyond reasonable doubt and to determine an appropriate punishment. Dispense with that and we are no better than those our governments gun down in the name of freedom. Even Nazi mass murderers were brought to trial.
But let’s face it – the belief isn’t really that killers per se shouldn’t have rights – it’s just certain killers. The questions of which people deserve summary execution, and who decides and who carries out the executions are ignored because the way through such difficult questions simply cannot be found with a zealot’s moral compass.
His execution may have saved the Obama presidency but that has been at the cost of making bin Laden a martyr and fuelling fanaticism. It paves the way to war.
The USA storms around the world launching military actions in other sovereign states and kidnapping the citizens of other countries – all in defence of democracy. It is of course acting in the defence of the US industrial-military complex and international finance capital. Any spin-off benefits to some of the world’s peoples are incidental and could be withdrawn at any time. Try voting in the wrong sort of government and a lot of us could easily slip from being the privileged recipients of fringe benefits to being hapless victims of collateral damage.
However much it protests after the fact that it was done in the name of freedom and democracy, every illegal action by a state undermines its credibility. It corrupts and erodes the very things it is supposed to protect.
Because we may never know what bin Laden’s crimes actually were, the spin doctors on both sides can now have a field day whipping up different forms of jingoism with those old tried and true fervour-raising agents – mindless patriotism and its boon companions, fear and hatred of others. I repeat that I don’t care bin Laden died a violent death and I feel the same about all men who unleash destruction on innocents from a distance and call it collateral damage - but the current hypocrisy and triumphalism are sickening.
Those who are busy whooping should be aware that a moral high ground constructed by spin doctors is about as stable as the ground beneath Christchurch and no place to build a future.