Belfast Telegraph

America will always get its man, whatever the cost

By Sharon Owens

So Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida, has been shot dead in a Pakistan compound by US special forces. He was offered an opportunity to surrender, they said. Clearly, this opportunity was not taken up.

The body of bin Laden was treated with respect, confirmed by experts, offered to Saudi Arabia, refused by Saudi Arabia, and swiftly buried at sea. It was all so sudden after almost 10 years of the biggest and most expensive manhunt in modern history.

Most of us still remember 9/11 in vivid detail: that worse-than-apocalyptic day in September 2001 when hijacked passenger planes crashed into New York's Twin Towers and then the Pentagon.

A fourth plane - possibly destined for the White House or Capitol Hill - was brought down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania by a passenger mutiny.

Thousands of innocent civilians died and America's sense of military omnipotence was challenged for the first time.

At the time of 9/11, I remember saying to myself, it isn't known yet who did this, or why they did it, but I know one thing: Americans will not let this outrage go unpunished.

The United States of America is one nation you just don't want to take on in a fight, either in a conventional war, or in a guerrilla war, or in any kind of war.

It's useful to remember this if you have a grudge against the US, for this nation may be based on personal freedom, but it comes down hard on offenders, both native and foreign.

This is the country that dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 and which, alone of all the Western democracies, still employs the death penalty in some states for capital crimes.

So who in their right mind, knowing all this, would mount a terrorist attack on some of America's most cherished national symbols? As the months and years wore on, it turned out to be the brainchild of the son of a Saudi billionaire building merchant, one Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden, the 17th child of a reported 52 children, was himself a husband to several wives and father to many children. His motivation: a hatred of the West. And, gradually, the name of al-Qaida entered popular consciousness.

I'm still baffled, even today, as to how or why bin Laden thought he was ever going to get away with it.

Westerners will never give up their hard-won personal freedoms and become part of a global Islamic family ruled by Sharia or any other form of religious law. How could bin Laden have ever thought this was possible? I've no doubt whatsoever that, if Westerners thought there was even the remotest chance of a takeover by Islamic extremists, they wouldn't hesitate to dust off the old nukes once again.

How could bin Laden have brought this hellish situation to his family, to himself, to the global Muslim population?

Before the smoke and dust of 9/11 faded away, the CIA would have been planning its retaliation. 'Wanted Dead or Alive' the posters used to declare in the lawless Wild West and, eventually, bin Laden's bearded and turban-topped face would appear beneath those iconic words.

A bounty of $25m was placed on bin Laden's capture. The US vowed to do whatever was deemed necessary to see justice done. And now, apparently, it has.

The saddest thing about 9/11 is the legacy of intolerance it has left behind. Not for generations will Muslim and Christian nations feel completely at ease with each other. For now we are defined more than ever by the labels of our birth and not by our humanity.

Once, Westerners looked at their eastern neighbours and saw mystery and beauty: now they see a rigid religious ideology that repels them. Once our eastern neighbours looked at us and saw discipline and achievement: now they see decadence and oil-grabbing.

A message to all terrorists out there: think twice before planting that bomb, or hijacking that plane. Please consider the consequences of your actions before you start killing innocent men, women and children.

And, if you plan to attack the US, well, make a will before the deed because your own days are surely numbered.

And while terrorists ply their deadly trade around the world, remember this: 24,000 children die every day, of hunger. How many meals and medical clinics could be bought with what the world collectively spends on defence and military intelligence?

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