Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A feast of fools

Nothing could have been further from my mind as I scanned the morning's news yesterday than spending the best part of the day exploring the recent history of Osama Bin Laden's many deaths.

If, as increasingly seems likely, but not yet proven to any satisfactory degree, Bin Laden has finally been despatched, then all the previous commentators – including heads of state and senior government officials – who confidently asserted that the man had already been killed, were wrong. Further, the journalists who wrote the stories publicising these views were portraying falsehoods. They too were wrong.

As it stands, however – and certainly as it stood yesterday – those, including those in the US government, who were asserting that Bin Laden had now been killed were offering no more or better evidence than those who went before them.

Further, the source of the claim was the US government. And like all or any governments, it is prone to error, to deception and even outright lying. No such organisation has any right to expect trust, and anyone who unconditionally trusts any government is a fool.

Thus, as of yesterday and still, until the US government has proven its assertions, we reserve our position. We do not disbelieve the US government, but nor do we believe it. We simply expect a reasonable level of evidence which translates acceptance of its claim from one of unsupported belief to one of reasoned conclusion, thus also enabling us to reject previous claims as wrong.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and sense would, on reading my piece, readily have divined that this was my position. Two, however, did not – one was Tim Montgomerie who used his fool machine to label me an "OBL denier" and the other Tom Harris MP, who on the basis of Montgomerie's jolly little intervention, decided on the label "nutter". That Harris is an MP and should know better does not surprise me in the least. We expect very little from our elected representatives these days.

Subsequently, however. we see reported that White House is weighing whether to release photographs of Osama bin Laden's corpse "amid calls from some key lawmakers to do so to prove the Al-Qaeda chief is truly dead".

John Brennan Obama's anti-terror adviser responds by saying: "We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nobody has any basis to try to deny that we got Osama bin Laden." And that now includes determining whether to release the photographs claimed to have been taken.

"It may be necessary to release the pictures - as gruesome as they undoubtedly will be, because he's been shot in the head - to quell any doubts that this somehow is a ruse that the American government has carried out", says Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman.

Senator Susan Collins, the most senior Republican on Lieberman's committee, declares she has "absolutely no doubt" Bin Laden has been killed, but adds: "... I recognize that there will be those who will try to generate this myth that he's alive, and that we missed him somehow, and in order to put that to rest it may be necessary to release some of the pictures, or video, or the DNA test."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, says US officials are working through whether to release photos of bin Laden's corpse. "We want to make sure that we maintain dignity - if there was any - in Osama bin Laden, so that we don't inflame problems other places in the world and still provide enough evidence that people are confident that it was Osama bin Laden," he adds.

None of them have precisely got the point, but they are closer to it than either Montgomerie or Harris. It is no part of the duty of a responsible and alert citizen to believe unsupported assertions made by governments – and every bit a duty to exercise sensible scepticism. Neither governments nor anyone in authority should ever be given an easy ride. If they make claims, they should be required to support them.

Interestingly, the White House's original plan had been to bomb the house, but Obama ultimately decided against that. "The helicopter raid was riskier. It was more daring", an official said. "But he wanted proof. He didn't want to just leave a pile of rubble". The president wanted proof – which is deemed reasonable. When we ask for the same, Montgomerie and Harris would have us as "deniers" and "nutters".

The very fact that clever sophisticates like Montgomerie and Harris could not see this inconsistency, and resorted to their silly comments, tells us we have a problem. For all their cleverness, they are too gullible, too trusting. They are fools at large – dangerous to themselves and the rest of us. And there are far too many like them.

The meaning of the picture, incidentally, may be obscure, but the title of the website from which it comes makes the point. You may chose who is who.