Celebrating the Deaths of Bad Arab Men

This morning I was awoken by a text from a friend which read “Gaddafi.” I stopped for a minute, to think, responded and went back to bed. I didn’t want to deal with the Twitteratti or the Facebook status updates or the emails that would crowd my inbox. This avoidance was not due to the impending high probability of information overflow, but rather due to an unwillingness to deal with the brief statements of celebration, condemnation and unsolicited 140 character opinions that I’ve increasingly been finding annoying. Including, most especially, my own.

A man I greatly admire once said, to paraphrase slightly, ‘Do not speak ill of the dead, for they have received their fate.’ Being that this man’s general wisdom is of the nature that I plan to take to my own eventual grave, upon hearing these words, that struck a deep chord within me, I began to frame what I saw within the parameters of these words. Celebrations of death, in particular, had always caught my breath. I had never been the sort to celebrate anyone’s death; it has always come across as in bad-taste to me. The silencing of death as well as its universal character makes it hard, at least for me, to find any morsel of a source for celebration. And this is made especially hard when these celebrations are short-lived, futile and often are followed by greater ‘evil’ than any good.

Celebrations of an individual’s death lack a feeling of real justice – whatever that means, I suppose and that’s always debatable. When the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was killed, on December 30th 2006, the celebrations were existent but not boisterous. His pathetic [and rather sketchy] end made it hard to feel that any justice had been served. Perhaps the Shi’a and Kurds of Iraq felt a level of relief that the man who had terrorized them for so long was officially no more – but the foreign occupation that had destroyed the country more than he had and instilled the greater tyranny of sectarianism, made it hard to feel and see any end to the plight of the Iraqis. Thus, any celebrations that may have taken place were ultimately empty in the grand scale of things. After all, the American invasion and occupation had made, in comparison, Saddam Hussein near-well irrelevant. What was striking was how Hussein’s death made him into an inappropriate martyr. His death was not seen as something delivered by the Iraqi people but rather one delivered, without taste or proper execution etiquette (?), by the foreign occupation and the new tyrants.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2nd 2011, celebrations broke out across the United States. For years Bin Laden’s name, image and ideas had terrorized the collective American mind. And for years he had been used as the ultimate face of the War on Terror. With his death many Americans, particularly those affected directly by the events of 9/11, felt some sort of relief whereas many others celebrated the death of a bad brown bearded man who, they had been told since they were teenagers, not only hated their way of life but also was evil incarnate. As a Pakistani and Muslim, I had a right to feel anger at Bin Laden and, as some would say, even joy at his death. It was his work, ideology and organization that had also ripped into many parts of Pakistan (to discuss this in the least nuanced way) and it was in his image that members of my faith were all painted. Yet his death allowed for little enthusiasm. His life had been used as a prerogative for the subjugation and oppression of millions through occupation and disregard for civil liberties. This is not to mention, of course, as well as the murder of countless of innocent lives. And was justice given, beyond perhaps a few hours of initial joy, to those who had been killed or affected directly by the work and words of this man? The man’s flesh ceased to be a part of this earth, but his image and the character created around him continued to roam freely. It was thus unsurprising that another big, bad bearded brown man, the greatest threat to our freedom and way of life, emerged.

Images and mentions of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born Muslim cleric, flooded our television screens, being touted as the next leader of Al Qaeda. As I’ll discuss in another blog post, this declaration was perhaps slightly distanced from the actual truth. Nevertheless – we went from one evil brown man to the next. There was no cause for celebration, because a war on nothing needs a face to show something; anything.

And then Awlaki was killed on September 30th 2011, by American forces assisted by the Yemeni regime. Once again, many of my proverbial neighbors celebrated, not knowing a damn thing about the man or his relationship to Al-Qaeda or exactly what sort of threat he represented. His death, as again I will discuss later, led to fears regarding American civil liberties, as well as the general lack of government transparency when it comes to these allegedly extra-juridical killings. As a Glenn Greenwald blog title aptly put it: “the due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens [was] now reality.”

How is this a cause for celebration? And how is any justice achieved?

I, in bad taste and regrettably, watched the end of Muammar Gaddafi. His bloodied, confused old face, straggly hair and tattered clothes provided a stark contrast to the Gaddafi we’ve all seen for decades. For all his past luxury, flashy authoritarianism and obnoxiousness – he looked pathetic. He begged for his life as hoards of Libyan rebels pushed his near-lifeless body around and celebrated his end, which had been assisted by NATO. I have no sympathy for Gaddafi – the man is amongst recent history’s worst tyrants. His end is fitting for the life he led.I have nothing but hope that Libyans will finally sleep tonight, knowing that they are embarking on a new era in their lives and their country’s history. Yet despite that, the death of Gaddafi brings little reason for enthusiasm or even a brief moment of celebration. Despite the role of the rebels, Libya remains strongly in the hands of NATO forces. The death of Gaddafi means official transition of power and ‘re-building’ Libya. The death of Gaddafi means increased American access to rich oil reserves. The death of Gaddafi means an Africa Command Center [AFRICOM] that finally will be in Africa. The death of Gaddafi means another foreign occupation; another neo-colonial state.

I hope I’m wrong. The Libyan people are strong and the recent uprisings across the world, not just in the Arab region, have shown the fortitude of The People to take back their agency and demand righteous governance and fair ability to lead their lives as they wish.

The celebrated deaths of prominent Arab despots and bearded evil-doers in recent years, however, leave a discomforting precedent.

5 thoughts on “Celebrating the Deaths of Bad Arab Men

  1. It has been a season of extrajudicial killings. One gets the feeling that the American killing machine is getting deadlier and deadlier by the year. You are right, all this spectacle and celebration is unnerving.

  2. Very well written. For some weird reason, I always tend to find out about these things via Facebook, even though I should be finding it via news sources.

    There is something grisly and bloodthirsty in the way people mock and celebrate death. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Like your wise person, my mum always also says (very curtly) “don’t speak badly about the dead”. She…erm… gives no further reasons for this.

    I don’t know how to react to any of this. Because he was obviously a very bad man, so it’s not like you cannot speak badly of him. But at the same time, there is something wrong about people declaring their happiness over someone’s death, in a detached way, in 140 characters, on their computer screen.

    “Celebrations of an individual’s death lack a feeling of real justice”. I sort of get what you mean here. After a dictator has been killed, I see no point of joyous celebration. Because all the people that they killed, they won’t come back to life. At most, it gives a sense of closure. But you feel like they just died in an instance, and they never really paid back for what they did.

  3. I do not know why you continue to refer to American killing machine. Arab dictators have killed extremely large numbers of their own people under the guise of governing! Not that I defend the USA. It, as a power, behaves just likeall governments, even Arab ones.

  4. Of course they have. But I’m a Canadian (passport) and American (by 12 years residence) and the actions of the governments under which I live, in particular, concern me.

  5. Well-written and thoughtful. Unfortunately what we call justice should be called revenge. In most case that’s what it is. I have much respect in the First Nations take on justice where repair prevails over revenge.

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