As somebody wrote to the Guardian this week, it didn't take much to get the Royal Wedding off the front pages. From the restraint of "Osama Bin Laden is Dead" in the UK Guardian to "We Got The Bastard" in the Philadelphia Daily News, the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden dominated the headlines - with the notable exception of Britain's Daily Telegraph which just couldn't quite let go of that wedding. As the week wore on, we were treated to all sorts of diagrams of the assault on his hideout, fake photos of his bloody corpse and, perhaps uniquely, the photograph of President Obama and his closest aides watching the attack live via a miniature satellite camera mounted on the helmet of a US Navy Seal.
In spite of the supposedly impartial evidence of the camera, the official version of the attack changed several times - first, there was a firefight, culminating in Bin Laden using his wife as a human shield before both were shot dead. Then, later, the wife emerged alive and relatively well. She had run at his attackers, but he hadn't hidden behind her. Indeed, it turned out that only one person shot a couple of rounds at the Navy Seals as they landed in the compound, only to be quickly killed by them. Bin Laden was found in minutes, by which time his unarmed son had been killed. The Sheik himself was also unarmed and, by some accounts, naked. But after making a "threatening move" was shot twice - once in the chest and once above the eye.
So why was he killed? Why not instead arrest and arraign him for the murders of 9/11?
The reasons are infinitely more complex that the claim that he made a threatening gesture towards his attackers. They are rooted in the complicity of the USA in arming the antecedents of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the hills of Soviet occupied Afghanistan back in the late 1980s. They cover too the link between the Bin Laden family and the American Establishment - while the conspiracy theories that George W Bush was somehow involved in 9/11 remain seemingly far-fetched, a few incontrovertible facts do raise questions, not least that the only plane permitted to leave the USA after the attacks that day was a private jet chartered by and containing members of the Bin Laden family. Would even the Obama Administration have wanted this mutuality to be exposed and highlighted in any trial?
The death of Bin Laden of course also makes better headlines - and doubtless in due course better movie films - than his capture. And of course the opinion polls already show a huge bonus for President Obama.
And yet, longer term, what does it mean? What about all the hubris of the crowds chanting "USA! USA!" outside the White House following the announcement? What of the fact that the US Government appears to now sanction an illegal policy of assassination? What of the illegal disposal of his body at sea, in breach of all the domestic laws of the USA and international rules around casualties of war? What still distinguishes western policy and actions from the actions of our declared enemies? If we do genuinely believe and wish to be different to the likes of Bin Laden, don't we need to behave and judge ourselves by our own standards rather than by what we perceive to be his?
Perhaps we have to ask what the values we claim to defend actually are. One commentator on the BBC last night vituperatively described the latest video of Bin Laden, seized from his compound by the Americans, as useful to America as it portrays Bin Laden to be "pathetic". Why? Because he was living in a pretty bare house and the video showed him sitting with a blanket over his shoulders.
Of course, what we had been led to expect was more that Bin Laden would have been set up like a latter-day Ernst Blofeld, safely screened off from the world in some amazing super-technological fortress under a mountain, surrounded by hordes of fanatical followers ready to die for him. The spartan compound in a Pakistani town was not quite the SMERSH complex the media had in mind. Yet this in itself betrays the lack of understanding of what Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are about.
Read some of Bin Laden's speeches, and they could have been made by any left-of-centre politician. He calls repeatedly for social justice for the poor, a resolution of the Palestinians' miserable condition and for the disengagement of the USA from its unhealthy relationship with corrupt Arab dictatorships like Egypt's pre-revolution Mubarak and the Saudi King. Unlike these men, the success of al-Qaeda for many Muslims was centred on the fact that Bin Laden, like many Arab leaders in history, was motivated by belief rather than self-gain. He came from a rich family - the easiest thing for him to have done would have been to have embraced their fortune and, as his other family members have done, enmeshed himself in the oil-soaked kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia.
Instead he chose jihad, although in the end it was one which the Western Establishment grossly exaggerated and used to promote its own interests via domestic encroachment of civil rights and foreign military adventures into Iraq,and now Libya. Bin Laden by contrast can be seen to have risked and lost his life for the cause of ordinary people, downtrodden and repressed by regimes largely put in place and sustained by the West (and lauded by the British Royal Family).
And it is by not understanding this that the Americans have made a crass and long term error in killing him. Indeed, given everything else, being killed in precisely the manner he has been was perhaps the only part remaining to be written of the Osama bin Laden narrative. Like Abu Ayyub, the companion of the Prophet who died before the walls of Constantinople in 674, the sacrifice of bin Laden will do nothing to diminish his standing. And that he lived such a simple life will likewise raise his legend higher still.While the thousands murdered on 9/11 by the dreadful actions of Bin Laden's associates were slaughtered in such a dramatically awful manner, what we forget are the thousands who perish, unrecognised and unrecorded, at the hands of the agents of the West in wars, famines and through the injustice of our sponsored puppets in scores of countries. Notably, in one tract from 2004, Bin Laden talked of how seeing the bloody aftermath of women and children killed in tower blocks bombarded by the US Sixth Fleet in the Lebanon in 1982 was the seminal moment he first thought of an attack on the iconic Twin Towers.
30,000 Lebanese, many, many of them civilians, were killed in these days by the US and its Israeli allies during their invasion of that country, a fact conveniently forgotten in the West, just as we are contentedly moving on from the carnage of Iraq. It is this ignored, invisible war of attrition against the impoverished of our planet that gives rise to the likes of Bin Laden, that shaped his ideological justification of jihad and which the grasping leaders of the West continue to ignore at the peril of us all - because this is the real War without End.