News cameras may zoom lustily into Middle Eastern crowds that vow vengeance. Pundits can cleverly parse the praise for a fallen warrior voiced by the usual Islamist hotheads. Cooler analysts will fret over the uses of assassination as a tool of policy, or over the finer points of Muslim doctrine regarding burial at sea. Yet for the most part the demise of the world’s most wanted man has been met, across the Arab and Muslim worlds, with a very untelegenic shrug of indifference.
We do not hear much about the Navy Seals, and with good reason. They are a secret set of special operatives. They are in the news now for their spectacular against-the-odds raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But they have been in the news before, and what they did then was also spectacular.
We give billions in aid to Pakistan’s military and civilian government. Yet Pakistan is harboring our enemies and even the enemies, one could argue, of its own healthy survival. Portions of our money are being funneled into the variety of insurgent networks whose fighters are killing American soldiers, Afghan soldiers, American civilians, Afghan civilians, European civilians, Pakistani civilians—mothers, fathers, children on multiple continents. Why, asks a US army major, did all his friends die in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when the real problem is on the other side of the border? Why, asks a twelve-year-old Afghan girl in Kandahar whose family has been wiped out by US air strikes, are you bombing us? How has this come to pass?
Abbottabad was, from its founding, an important military cantonment where the British stationed part of their Nepalese Ghurka force. Like other Indian hill towns such as Darjeeling, it acquired a British flavor which it still had when I visited it in the fall of 1969.
For three decades Osama bin Laden, the tall, shy, lanky, but mesmerizing Saudi, has gripped the imagination of tens of thousands of Muslims and became the bane of the world’s armies and intelligence agencies. Now he has been killed in a US commando raid on his safe house thirty miles from Islamabad, ten years after he carried out the worst attack ever suffered by the United States and the worst terrorist atrocity in human history. His ideology of global jihad and his acts of terrorism changed the way we all live, our security concerns, and how we conduct politics and business while deeply scarring relations between the Muslim world and the West; his death will have similarly large-scale effects. Many of the security challenges we now face will be more subtle and intricate than the threats posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the past.
Of all the ceremonies staged for the beatification of John Paul II on May 1—the Vatican’s official admission of him into the ranks of the blessed and a crucial step on the path toward sainthood—there may have been none more moving than a Lord’s Prayer sung in Syro-Armenian chant by a Syrian countertenor (Razek François Bitar) in the cavernous Baroque church of Santa Maria in Campitelli. He sang in Aramaic, raising the most ancient of all Christian prayers in the same language that Jesus spoke. His ancestors could have been singing the same prayer nearly two thousand years ago, as could the first Christians in Rome, transplanted from Judaea. There were other sublime moments Sunday afternoon: Palestrina’s searing Stabat Mater, and Handel’s Dixit Dominus, as opulent as its gilded setting in Saint Peter’s. But nothing could surpass the beauty of a single reverent voice.
Across Syria, checkpoints in protest areas have been set up to search people for mobile phone pictures and footage of the violence. Telephone and Internet networks have been cut, and few people have been able to leave or contact the outside world. There are reports of government snipers firing on pedestrians, and residents no longer dare leave their homes. Foreign journalists, who in recent weeks have been harassed and dissuaded from pursuing their stories (and in a few cases arrested and beaten), have now been expelled. The dearth of information has raised questions about who is involved in the protests and what prospects they might have—in the face of such repression—to bring about a broader change. While it has been increasingly difficult to get a full picture of the towns and cities where the government has responded with force, some insights can be gained from the situation in Douma, a Damascus suburb and flash point in the protests, where I was able to visit shortly before the most recent violence.
If William and Kate have three girls and one boy, in that order, it will be the boy, the youngest, who becomes king. There are very few places where there is still egregious and blatant gender discrimination like that, and not only is it not against the law, which it would be in any workplace, it is actually enshrined in the law. In that sense, the royal family is fascinating, because it enshrines a view of men and women and how they relate to each other, and the order of things, that in all other aspects of British life has been reviewed, reformed, revised, or just plain thrown out.
Consider the Supreme Court’s newest electoral reform case. In their earlier Citizens United decision the five justices in the majority—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito—guaranteed corporations a constitutional right to use their own capital for political advertising. They said that the point of the First Amendment is to provide the electorate with as much political speech as possible. They did not deny that the political process would be fairer if candidates and political organizations were more equal in their campaign resources. But the First Amendment forbids infringing free speech for the sake of equality, they said, and so “leveling the playing field” is no justification for stopping corporations or anyone else from spending as much on political advertising as they wish. Some commentators said that the Citizens United decision would make little practical difference: though it was wrong in principle, they thought, it would not actually do much harm. They were mistaken: the decision’s impact has already proved dramatic.