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In the wake of bin Laden’s death, a bellicose reaction from the Muslim world has been surprisingly unspectacular. Major terrorist leaders have been predictably preoccupied with honoring the terrorist’s deadly legacy rather than instigating immediate overt acts of violence. Hamas mourned the death of a “Holy Warrior,” and criticized the “shedding of Muslim blood.” Radical imams in Pakistan denounced the US for “an act of terrorism,” calling bin Laden a hero.
This is not to say, of course, that Islamic retribution for the photos’ release is not a genuine concern; it most definitely is. But the question of importance is this: would releasing the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden really make the situation we are in with radical Islam any worse than it already is? Is it really possible to make jihadists angrier, more radical and more determined to kill us? Is there a species of jihadists who don’t participate in jihad and will only do so once they see a picture of dead jihadists? And, most importantly, are we in the business of appeasing jihadists?
What we can assume are reasonable answers to these questions suggests that the Obama administration is not so much concerned about “inflaming” the Muslim World in terms of the violence it would be willing to commit, but “aggravating” it — that is to say, “angering” it. But have we now arrived at a state where American foreign policy is dictated by the emotional state of Islamists? Our governments must now decide what they should and should not do for their citizens based on the perceived temperaments of jihadists? We do not live in a police state. We are entitled to certain information so long as it does not constitute a grave and serious threat to ourselves — not so long as it does not offend radical Islamists.
The president’s own statements indicate that his real worry — one that he echoed twice in his interview with ABC — is that American arrogance (in his vision) will provoke the Muslim world to violence. This view is, of course, in continuity with his overall philosophy that it is America’s “arrogant” position in the world that has brought Islamic terrorism upon America. Thus, Obama believes that the promulgation of the bin Laden picture would constitute displaying a trophy or “spiking the football.”
In making these remarks, the president has shown himself to be completely out of touch with the pulse of the American populace. The American people want (and deserve) to see the pictures, not because they are sitting around hoping to revel in their “trophy.” Yes, naturally, to some extent, within certain milieu, this may be true. But the American people as a whole clearly are driven by the rational and justified desire to possess all of the information possible regarding how their most vile enemy was brought to justice. It is not an interest that the nation should be ashamed of and suppress — as President Obama shows himself to believe.
The president stated that he saw “no purpose” in allowing Americans to see bin Laden’s dead body. Such a statement reveals a tragically naïve and ignorant understanding of the psychological and strategic chess game in war and politics. Showing the dead picture of Osama would deliver a devastating blow to our enemies – and a vital message to the world. It is crucial for America to say: here is a picture of an enemy of the United States who declared war on us and who killed thousands of our citizens. This is what happens to people who engage in this behavior. Showing the photos would be a demonstration of American determination and strength in the War on Terror, while withholding them would produce an appearance of appeasement and weakness before the very people and ideology bin Laden represented. For a leader not to understand the vital importance of this reality is ineptness at its worst.
As a leader in the War on Terror, an American president should recognize that releasing the photos would boost our allies’ morale in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, which have also suffered numerous dead in al-Qaeda attacks. Besides giving our foreign friends a comforting demonstration of American power, victims and their families in allied countries would also like closure and would be grateful to America for doing so. In addition, photos of the dead al-Qaeda leader would increase the incentive of these states and their peoples to continue to follow American leadership in combating worldwide jihad. This is especially valid for countries like the East African states that have a strong al-Qaeda presence nearby in Somalia and Yemen.
Releasing photos showing a dead bin Laden would validate who we are as a people and illustrate our determination to carry on the fight no matter how long it takes or how many blows we receive. It would say in unequivocal terms that we are not afraid and that we will boldly bring those who hurt us to justice. Not releasing the photos denies the American people a confirming moment that would not only be cathartic for many, but, at a minimum, must be done out of respect to the victims of 9/11 and their families, who deserve closure.
The image of a dead bin Laden might trouble some people. But the images of our innocent citizens jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11 were troubling as well — and it is with them in mind that we must frame our decisions as a nation.
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