Leading newspapers and magazines in Europe have provided saturation coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden. Although initial media reaction in Europe was overwhelmingly supportive of the American commando operation, media outlets in many countries quickly regained their composure and anti-Americanism has now returned as their default position.
European media, almost without exception, have focused particular attention on the news that bin Laden was not armed when he was killed by American operatives. Many Europeans have criticized what they describe as America’s “wild-west” concept of justice. Dozens of European newspapers have published lengthy philosophical essays by sundry intellectuals that examine the morality of bin Laden’s killing. Many argue that bin Laden should have been tried in a court of law.
In a reflection of the acute sense of moral superiority that is so common in contemporary Europe, secular analysts who are normally highly disdainful of Judeo-Christian moral codes have gone so far as to accuse the United States of violating the Fifth Commandment, without a hint of irony.
In Germany, the media reaction has been especially noteworthy for its near unanimous criticism of the American raid. Many German analysts say the American action was illegal under international law and some Germans have called for an international commission (similar to the Goldstone Commission in Israel) to investigate the U.S. foray into Pakistan. Unanswered remains the question of whether European activists will accuse U.S. President Barack Obama of war crimes and seek a warrant for his arrest as they did for George W. Bush, who recently was forced to cancel a trip to Switzerland.
In Britain, the left-wing Guardian newspaper ran a story titled “Osama bin Laden: U.S. Changes Account of al-Qaida Leader’s Death” which says:
The U.S. has backed away from its initial account of the killing of Osama bin Laden, which claimed that the al-Qaeda leader was carrying a weapon and fired at U.S. troops before he was shot dead.
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[Q]uestions [are] being raised as to why Bin Laden was shot dead, and whether he was executed, rather than taken into custody.
Another Guardian story is titled “For 10 years, Osama bin Laden filled a gap left by the Soviet Union. Who will be the baddie now?” It says:
Neoconservatives, “terror journalists” and Osama bin Laden himself all had their own reasons to create a simple story of looming apocalypse.
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But he was also in a strange way a godsend to the west. He simplified the world. When communism collapsed in 1989, the big story that had been hardwired into citizens of western countries – that of the global battle against a distant dark and evil force – came to an abrupt end. Understanding the world became much more complicated until, amid the confusion of a global economic crisis in 1998 and the hysterical spectacle of the Monica Lewinsky affair, bin Laden emerged as the mastermind behind the bombings of embassies in east Africa.
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With bin Laden’s death maybe the spell is broken. It does feel that we are at the end of a way of looking at the world that makes no real sense any longer. But the big question is where will the next story come from? And who will be the next baddie? The truth is that the stories are always constructed by those who have the power. Maybe the next big story won’t come from America. Or possibly the idea that America’s power is declining is actually the new simplistic fantasy of our age.
Finally, the Guardian, echoing many other European newspapers, hopes the demise of bin Laden will accelerate the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.