Memphis, History & Politics

Thursday, May 05, 2011

This Just In... Osama bin Laden Is Still Dead

Stephen Colbert made this joke on his show last night and which joke is clearly a reference to an earlier joke so famous it now has its own Wikipedia entery. The significance of which is more than the fact that this now immutable fact, that a dead person tends to remain that way, is going to dominate the news in spite of the fact that there will be no change in the overwhelmingly significant single fact of newsworthiness. One of the offshoots of this story is the President's decision not to release the photos taken of bin Laden's corpse. The official reasons and the latest update on the official (for now) facts of the raid emphasize the worry about inciting anger and violence among those sympathetic to bin Laden and al Qaeda. Those, like Senator Lindsey Graham in the above cited article, want the photos published because, he says, we need proof of bin Laden's death.

Bin Laden was killed to protect the safety of America and the rest of the world that al Qaeda had and continued to target. If bin Laden is dead, the job is done. We don't need proof in order to get the full effect of his death. This is not comparable to the need to published a long form birth certificate because a leader requires an effective degree of legitimacy, even if that legitimacy is challenged by a completely false assertion. If bin Laden is gone then it does not matter how many people doubt that it happened, it still has the same benefit.

Asking for the photos to be published is really a solution to a problem that does not exist. Even those sympathetic to bin Laden acknowledge his death. I suspect that most of the thirst for these pictures is motivated by a simple emotional need to see the bloody vanquished body of someone once very much feared. I don't think that justifies that release of the photos. If anything it supports the position that releasing the photos makes the U.S. look like we are parading the body about in a way that really might incite unnecessary anger and violence. We'll just have to console ourselves with the fact that bin Laden will continue to remain dead.


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