While Americans rejoice over our retaliatory killing of Osama Bin Laden, the meaning and impact of his death remain to be seen. In many ways, this impact varies between negligible and negative.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 2, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

The Meaning of Bin Laden's Death

As in virtually all major political and world events, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden has mainly symbolic significance, with its real consequences remaining more deeply buried. The major symbolic victory-message for Americans is that we have conquered all, and avenged the murder of 3,000 Americans on 9/11.  This has led to rallies where people shout "U-S-A, U-S-A" and sing the National Anthem, and to self-congratulation by American political and intelligence figures.

Here are the most important actual implications of Bin Laden's life and death.

  1. Barack Obama will be re-elected. There has already been a sober realization by Republicans that Obama may be a tough guy to beat in 2012. His supervising the capture and killing of Bin Laden - given the accusations that he wasn't sufficiently anti-Islamic-terrorist - virtually guarantees his re-election.
  2. It took us a long time to catch Bin Laden. Although he was our number-one focus in the war on terror, it was nearly a decade before we captured the auteur of 9/11. A realistic assessment by a would-be terrorist is that, assuming such a person doesn't acquire Bin Laden's notoriety, he is unlikely to be quickly knocked out.
  3. Muslim allies don't really love us. Pakistan, ostensibly our ally, was not involved in the apprehension of Bin Laden, even though he lived in a lush mansion in a suburb of Pakistan's capital. The Pakistanis were obviously not intent on capturing him - they left us to do our own dirty work.
  4. Bin Laden was already passé. While we are relishing our success in ending Bin Laden's terrorist career, for some time it has been known that the locus of power in al Qaeda has shifted away from Bin Laden, and from Afghanistan-Pakistan, where we remain bogged down, to other terrorist cadres in Yemen and elsewhere.
  5. We haven't figured out the next phase of Arab-Islamic nationalism. While we were chasing Bin Laden - and welcoming any Muslim leaders who half-heartedly helped us -- citizens in Muslin nations have been taking the bull by the horns in seeking their own liberation. We don't know how to react or what to do about these movements.

So, it's fine to rejoice in the death of Bin Laden. But our joy shouldn't last too long. We are still adrift in a large, shifting, mysterious (to us) universe.