I awoke this morning to the headline that Osama bin Laden had been located and killed in Pakistan by US Special Forces. This is, of course, unmitigated good news. After almost ten years of hide and seek, the good guys won the game. The news all day has been nonstop coverage of the operation with new details added as they became known; I have listened with great interest to all of it. So why am I not overcome with joy?
I am glad the hunt is finally over and I am glad of the outcome - as long as bin Laden remained at large there was a sense that the most powerful nation on earth was impotent against a lone militant crackpot. Our inability to bring the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack to justice seemed to be a metaphor for our lack of conclusive success against "terror". So now at least we have closure insofar as bin Laden is concerned. While this is an important development I fear it will prove to be largely symbolic; it will not change anything important in the ongoing war on terror.
For starters, the successful completion of this mission will have no long-term effect whatsoever on the level of US combat troops deployed throughout the region or the duration of their operations. It would be nice to declare victory and bring them all home but we all know that is not going to happen.
More importantly I think is that the death of Osama bin Laden is not going to do anything to reduce the antagonism that has grown in the US against our Muslim communities. Sadly, one of the first news reports I heard this morning concerned hateful graffiti painted on a Muslim prayer center in Portland shortly after the death was announced. It seems a sad commentary on the times when such an event would be an occasion to strike out against others whose only crime is to be of the same faith as the murderous radical who was successfully hunted down and killed. In life, bin Laden divided us as a people and made us afraid and mistrustful of one another - this is a success against us that he will carry with him into death. So he is dead but we haven't won a victory.
Let's be glad he is gone, but there is nothing to celebrate.