It’s strange, but the controversy surrounding Rolling Stone’s recent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cover helps me understand why America keeps coming under attack. We’ve argued endlessly about the ethics of the image, but there has been almost no debate about the substance (or lack thereof) of Janet Reitman’s piece or the editors’ dubious claim that her work helps us “gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens”. Osama Bin Laden, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Michael Adebolajo, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev… all these men have told us in very plain words why they did, what they did. Why do we refuse to listen?
There are two one-hour CIA dramas on cable networks right now: One of them, USA’s “Covert Affairs,” is a law enforcement romcom in the same genre as ”Bones” or ”Castle,” this time with an international backdrop. Its politics are pretty straightforward – the CIA almost uniformly represents a force for “good” against shadowy worldwide evils. It’s a simplistic approach to American triumphalism, in which the “good guys” exchange witty banter and navigate sexual tension while upholding democracy around the world. It doesn’t spend a lot of energy on CIA secret prisons, torture allegations or any of the other problems that have beset the Agency in recent years.
“No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.” – Terry Pratchett
Osama bin Laden, perhaps the world’s most hated man, is dead. There are few who would mourn him. Republican politician and Fox News talking head Mike Huckabee declared “welcome to hell, bin Laden.” Outside the White House and at Ground Zero last night, crowds of Americans celebrated the demise of their enemy, chanting “U.S.A, U.S.A.” like they had won a sporting match. And perhaps they had; for those watching from the safety of their couches, the War on Terror could have appeared as just another sporting event, a decade-long tournament spanning the globe. America versus Al Qaeda. Or perhaps it was that great American movie genre they had been watching, the Western. The bad guy had been vanquished, justice had been served. Roll credits.
For the two weeks following the September 11 attacks, the U.S response to terror was codenamed “Operation Infinite Justice.” Though it was quickly changed to “Operation Enduring Freedom” in response to Muslim objections (“infinite justice” is reserved for God), the phrase has lingered, haunting the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 8 years ago, President Bush stood upon an aircraft carrier and declared “mission accomplished,” but it was not. Last night in his speech, President Obama repeatedly iterated that the operation to kill bin Laden was an action to “bring him to justice.” Justice. Infinite justice.