Rama: Last night I saw a beautiful dream. I saw that Ravana guy was climbing a tall palm tree. As he was climbing, suddenly he slipped and fell and - cadens mortuus est!
Jambuban: Then that fellow must have really died. The king’s dream is never wrong.
Everyone: Never, never, it can never be wrong.
Rama: I told Hanuman “Go and throw the fellow into the ocean.” Hanuman came and told me, “No need to do that – he is completely dead.”
Everyone: Wow! Great! Completely dead! What else do we need? Let us all rejoice!
That’s Ravana’s chariot there, see? And that’s Ravana himself, that guy with the stick on his shoulder…
Everyone: What? Still the fellow isn’t dead? He seems to be quite tough to kill!
Jambuban: This fellow Hanuman here spoiled everything – throwing Ravana into the water then would have settled everything for good – but no, he had to show off his intelligence – “He is completely dead!”
Vibhishan: No use shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted…
The above opening lines, loosely translated from the play Lakshmaner Shaktishel, Sukumar Ray's immortal humorous take on the Ramayana, must have been at the top of Barack Obama's mind on last Sunday when the US Navy SEALS finally managed to kill Osama Bin Laden. But Obama was not making the same mistakes as Hanuman. Even though Bin Laden was apparently "completely dead" the US Navy threw his body into the Arabian Sea.
Which brings us to the point of this post. Jokes aside, the act of a hurried sea burial for the terrorist leader only shows the dilemma the US government finds itself in after finally being able to kill Laden. On one hand, the people want to celebrate, to rejoice having avenged the death of their countrymen ten years ago. On the other hand, the more importance Osama gets now, the more free publicity the terrorists get for their cause.
The government, I think, got their act right. Obama made a matter-of-fact speech saying Osama was killed, and they dropped him into the ocean like another nameless common criminal. The media, on the other hand, completely lost it. On Monday morning, every newspaper in the world looked like this:
Could Osama Bin Laden have asked for better publicity? Ten years after he hijacked those four planes, he hijacked the front page of every newspaper in the world. And what message does all this press coverage send? The message that I see here is that you can attack the US and get away with it for ten years. Laden's death sentence was written the moment the first plane hit the north tower of WTC, the only question was when and where. And for us Indians, even the answer of "where" was more or less known. Then why is this such big news? Even Osama himself must have known this was coming.
Moreover, Bin Laden's serene smiling face is hardly the kind of image that we need to mark such a person's death. Sure, the masses are happy, but why can't we have focus on pictures of the celebrations? Anything other than that full-page face would do - the media is almost making a martyr of that man. This is why I feel the White House should have released pictures of the corpse - it would have given newspapers something solid to publish. Now every newspaper in the world is behaving like an Al-Qaeda mouthpiece, giving the killed man a voice beyond his watery grave. Does the word restraint mean anything to the media? As I mentioned once before, the media goes all out in showing photos of mutilated dead bodies after a terrorist attack. Then why can't we have some humiliating photos when the perpetrator dies?
The story that should be of interest now is Pakistan's role in the war against terror. Indians have been crying themselves hoarse for the last few decades about Pakistan's active support of terrorist groups, and USA has always chosen to remain silent on the issue while giving billions of dollars in military aid to them for their alleged involvement in the war against terror. Now, when the Pakistani officers say they had no clue of Laden's whereabouts it raises some serious questions. Firstly, what kind of war against terror are they fighting if they never tried to find out who was living in a million dollar fortified mansion right next to a military academy? Secondly, does USA really trust their allies if they kept them in the dark about this operation for the last few years? And finally, and this point goes against the other two, if Pakistan was indeed in the dark about this operation, why didn't the Pakistani air force detect and attack the US helicopters when they flew hundreds of miles inland over Pakistani airspace to Abbottabad? It is pretty evident at this point that Pakistan has been playing a double-crossing game, helping terrorists to hide on one hand and when under pressure, helping the US find them on the other. The government is too scared of a backlash from the fundamentals if they accept they had anything to do with Osama's death. On the other hand, if they deny it, they lose face in the international community.
When I saw the people in New York City celebrating on the streets, I knew exactly how they felt, even though I also knew the war on terror was far from being over. Almost exactly a year ago, when I had rejoiced at the death sentence to Ajmal Kasab (a sentence yet to be carried out), I had faced a lot of criticism from my friends. "How can you express happiness at the death of another human being?" one friend said, while another reminded me that killing Kasab was useless since it would do nothing to stop terrorist attacks in the future. I had said at the time that I wanted Kasab to die because that was justice, and today, when thousands of Americans feel justice has been done to their dead relatives and friends, I completely agree with their feelings. "Civilized nations such as the US don't hand out death sentences," another friend had told me. I would like to know what they feel about this now. I don't believe the highly trained Navy SEALS couldn't have captured an old man alive if they wanted to, when he was trying to hide behind a woman. But they chose to shoot him in the head - an excellent decision to ensure that he was indeed completely dead.
I just hope he is completely dead. As a friend pointed out, he may have horcruxes, and that would really spoil the party.