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Master dies, but terrorism lives

Will the killing of the master of terrorists, Osama Bin Laden, by a special unit of the United States armed forces bring an end to high-level international terrorism?

The US President, chief of the armed forces, does not think that. He placed his country’s security resources on high alert after the get-Bin-Laden mission was completed. Whether it was completed as successfully as desired is a matter for ongoing debate.

According to the revised official accounts, Bin Laden offered resistance when members of the special unit burst into his Pakistan compound. But it was not armed resistance. The two shots that killed him, therefore, one to the head the other to the chest, tend to suggest an execution, rather than a combat killing.

Also, the unauthorised incursion by American armed forces into Pakistan raises questions of whether this was the correct way of going about it and in fact whether the US president wanted to exact vengeance at all costs, even implying a dead Bin Laden was better than a captured live terrorist leader.

The Americans had enough reason to harbour a sense of vengeance and retribution against Bin Laden. He masterminded various lethal assaults on them, the most conspicuous and blood-chilling being the 9/11 aerial attack on New York’s twin towers and the devastation that ensued. Even that would not have justified the way Bin Laden was taken out, were it not for the fact the terrorist was so loathed all over the world that only his fundamentalist followers mourn his going.

Significantly, leading Muslims, in Malta too, welcomed the man’s death. His actions purportedly in the name of Islam had given the religion and its followers, the bulk of whom reject terrorism, a very bad name. The terrorist’s end served as an occasion for modern-day Islamists to, once again, nail their true colours to the mast of public opinion.

There are two key considerations among many to reply to the question opening this column. One is that Bin Laden, though he did his best to escape detection over the years, saw his killing by the enemy as a good thing.

It would turn him into a martyr for the cause, a burning rallying cry for current and future followers. That the hated American enemy killed him when he was unarmed gives the event greater significance, according to the terrorist’s presumed reasoning.

The other key consideration is that for several years Bin Laden has been mainly an iconic rallying point to his followers. He was no longer active in attack preparations. His close aids, who were in charge of that, still remain at large.

It is a wonder, in fact, that the Pakistan mission was not accompanied by concentrated attacks on Bin Laden followers elsewhere. For, if it is a controversial matter whether Pakistan’s security services did or did not known of Bin Laden’s bunker in their midst, little doubt can be expressed that the US government has information about where a number of his active lieutenants are hiding.

Given these key considerations it is little wonder that Bin Laden’s violent end brought cheer to America’s leaders and far beyond – yes, but it also brought fresh dread.

The security high alert may flush out early attempts at revenge by Al Qaeda leaders. But it is hardly probable that they will rush into anything. There may not be many of them, but there are enough to stretch out a carefully prepared terrorist campaign at a time of their own choosing.

The drying up of Bin Laden’s financial resources and his symbolic figure in the background will have its value. More governments will be emboldened to try to hunt down Al Qaeda. On its part Al Qaeda could switch tactics, not going for big operations, like the twin tower bravado, but co-coordinating smaller though still lethal efforts elsewhere.

Suicide bombers, used by non Al Qaeda terrorists, or nationalists, as they see themselves, are termed to be an ‘efficient’ if heartless use of ‘resources’.

Hunting down and killing terrorists is necessary. Even more necessary is to remove the factors which give sustenance to terrorism, especially poverty, injustice and misrule.

Fundamentalists like Al Qaeda will probably always find justification for their actions. Yet such justification can be and should be combated if the terrible threat of terrorism is to be, at least, minimised.

Loss of a great Man of letters

The untimely death of Frans Sammut has deprived Malta of one of its greatest men of letters. He was a vivid, robust character who lit up wherever he was active. Whether engaged in civil exchange of ideas or in heated debate, he always stood out as an electrifying personality.

He was an intellectual in the true sense of the word, never at peace, always questioning, probing, researching, challenging.

Like many others I will always remember him above all for his mastery of the written word, particularly in the Maltese language he loved and nurtured so well.

At a time our language is both unnecessarily bastardised and unfairly under attack, Sammut not only defended it – he also gave masterful, exquisite examples of how it should be written.

He burst on the literary scene in the early 1960s with a gripping collection of short stories – Labirint – which gave more than a broad hint of his capabilities and future prowess. He went on to write the novel Il-Gaġġa, which has become an all-time classic. While never giving up the short story, he moved added further novels to his output.

Sammut is gone, a great loss to his wife and children, and to Malta. His magnificent works will keep his memory alive forever.

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