Is the Archbishop still having sleepless nights?

Moralists who were outraged by America’s killing of bin Laden have said diddly-squat about subsequent assassinations.

Patrick Hayes

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Whatever happened to the ‘uncomfortable feeling’ experienced by so many Western commentators and activists in response to America’s killing of Osama bin Laden? After Navy SEALs shot bin Laden in his bedroom in Abbottabad, there was an outpouring of pity and handwringing from writers, thinkers, bishops and lawyers in Britain and elsewhere, who wondered out loud (and frequently) if actually America was the real terrorist and OBL its pathetic victim. And yet American forces have subsequently killed other leading al-Qaeda operatives and no one has batted an eyelid. No tortured editorials. No homilies from the Archbishop of Canterbury. What is going on?

The lack of response to these subsequent killings reveals much about the motivations of the pity-for-Osama lobby, which expressed concern about America’s ‘gangster-like’ mentality and the ‘perverted’, ‘Wild West’ justice it was meting out to Islamists. The deafening silence following recent killings suggests that the response to OBL’s death was motored more by self-obsession, by a concern for the safety of Westerners, than it was by any principled or consistent critique of American actions abroad.

At the start of June, the senior al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, who was talked about in some quarters as a potential replacement for bin Laden, was taken out by US forces. Kashmir’s death wasn’t conducted by US Navy SEALs, storming his house to check his identity before burying him according to Muslim principles. No, he was robotically assassinated by America’s main method of choice: by a missile fired from an unmanned Predator drone. The missile hit while he and eight colleagues were drinking tea in an apple orchard in the village of Shwkainary in the Federally Administered Tribal Zone of South Waziristan.

The response from gangster-loathing, concerned-about-America observers in the West? There hasn’t been any. It is a fortnight now since Kashmiri was killed, yet there have been no public pronouncements from the Archbishop of Canterbury about wicked America and no editorials warning of US recklessness. No reference to America’s continued invasion of sovereignty in Pakistan. Instead, the story of Kashmiri’s death was reported simply and straightforwardly in the news sections of the papers.

Last week, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a leading member of al-Qaeda in Africa who allegedly masterminded the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa, was taken out by a Somalian police officer when he refused to stop at a checkpoint north-west of Mogadishu. When US secretary of state Hilary Clinton welcomed Mohammed’s killing (the US government had put a $5million price tag on his head), describing it as a ‘significant blow to al-Qaeda’, did any influential observers condemn her and suggest that Mohammed should have been brought to trial? No.

Prior to the killing of OBL, too, the US had long been assassinating al-Qaeda operatives without causing any Western observers to furrow their brows or wring their hands. Consider the killing of Mustafa Abu al-Yazid in May 2010 by an unmanned drone over Pakistan. That American-led attack also killed al-Yazid’s wife and three of his children. At the time, there was barely a single tweet on social networking sites about the attack, or even about the collateral damage it caused, and angry commentary was noticeable by its absence. One wonders if those who felt troubled by the death of bin Laden even knew who al-Yazid was, never mind that he had also been killed in a so-called ‘Wild West’ attack.

The disparity between the reaction to the killing of OBL and the reaction to the killing of these other senior al-Qaeda operatives is revealing. It shows what the pity-for-OBL moment was really all about: not political principle, not a genuine critique of American militarism abroad, but rather a kneejerk response of disgust and fear to the killing of the world’s most famous terrorist.

If this had been driven by a principled opposition to the activities of the ‘war on terror’, then we might expect some consistency; we might expect outrage in response to every act of ‘extrajudicial assassination’. The Archbishop of Canterbury would be having sleepless nights about the killing of Kashmiri and Mohammed, too, not just bin Laden. Commentators would have pointed out the ‘vital moral issues’ raised by ‘state-sponsored assassination’ in response to the wiping out of al-Yazid, too. But they didn’t. Their ‘morals’ suddenly evaporated.

There is an important question to ask about the flurry of commentary and condemnation following the killing of bin Laden a month ago: what kind of conscience is only pricked by the killing of famous foreigners and not less famous ones? A warped conscience, that’s what. A conscience that is really only concerned with engaging in moral grandstanding when the eyes of the world’s media are upon it, as they were after the killing of OBL, and which grasps the opportunity to have a dig at the primitive jocks who celebrated bin Laden’s death. A conscience driven by concern for us over here, and our safety from the ‘Islamist pathogen’, rather than by genuine anti-militarism. This moralistic lobby’s silence in response to recent killings shows just how warped and self-serving was their moral posturing over OBL in the first place.

Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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