Bin Laden compound

Published February 27, 2012

IN an operation which began Saturday night, the authorities on Monday finished demolishing the three-storey house in Abbottabad’s Bilal Town where Osama bin Laden was discovered and subsequently killed by American forces last May. However, it is not clear what prompted the state to send in bulldozers several months after the world’s most wanted man was hunted down in the garrison town. Is there any justification for erasing a structure that, notwithstanding its uncomfortable implications for the country’s security establishment, was a potent symbol of the ongoing war against terrorism? As head of the Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind a wave of terrorism that left communities divided and changed the course of history. Hence, the fact he was living in relative obscurity in Pakistan for several years undetected was a major embarrassment to the authorities.

While some countries have indeed attempted to erase uncomfortable symbols of their past, many others have retained them as reminders of the oppression they once witnessed or even perpetuated. Nazi concentration camps and segments of the Berlin Wall are prominent examples in Germany. Structures such as the now demolished Bin Laden house too have symbolic significance and should be left intact so that present and future generations can view them as a past that should not be repeated. Meanwhile, the wholesale demolition — that too virtually overnight — of Bin Laden’s home could raise some uncomfortable questions: for instance, did the authorities have something to hide or were they just in a hurry to get rid of a lingering symbol of their ineptitude? The theory that the house would have become a shrine to the Al Qaeda chief does not hold, for apart from a small jihadi fringe which lionises him, most Pakistanis remain indifferent to his death.

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