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thoughts on Osama's death

In case you haven't seen the news yet, Osama bin-Laden is dead. I wanted to write about it last night but chose not to, as I had an important exam today and thought I needed to focus on that. And since the internet moves at warp-speed it is in many senses already old news. But I want to do more than just report on the death. I want to reflect on it. I am actually having a very hard time seeing how I should react to it. It feels almost unpatriotic not to be happy today, to be celebrating Osama's death, yeah?

The problem is that as a Christian I am supposed to love my enemy. I am supposed to not take pleasure in anyone's death. And as a pacifist I am not supposed to relish the use of violence, full stop. But I am glad he's dead. NYC is my adopted city, and I very much feel a connection to the events of 9/11. That kind of reckless hate makes me angry. Terrorism, whatever the form (and yes you can see terrorism among other circles, too), is always - always wrong.

And speaking more generally, as an American I should be repulsed by today's events. I grew up loving my country precisely because it was supposed to be a land where ideas gained influence on their merits - not because the powerful had chosen to force us to go one way rather than another. There's a reason we don't have royalty or even nobility on this side of the pond. And violence is in that sense an admission of failure. It is the necessity we see when some side is no longer able to be reasoned with.

How is that an occasion for celebration?

Don't get me wrong, Osama was a truly nasty piece of work. The world is a better place now that he is no longer a part of it. And this particular military action was well-focused - much better focused than *cough* certain gulf wars we have fought in the past, and much more successful. But violence is in its essence dehumanizing. When I act violently toward you, I am saying you no longer have the right to make a rational decision. Your opinion no longer matters. That hurts me, too, because I'm essentially saying that my argument wins, not because it's actually better, but because I'm stronger than you. I in essence take away my own ability to act rationally (or at least throw out an opportunity to do that) at the same time.

And the violence doesn't stop. This is evidenced by our reaction to yesterday's events: we're concerned about counter-attacks. No mistake; this is precisely what we should be concerned about right now. (West Wing fans, think about the reactions people had when Jed Bartlett assassinated a foreign national in Posse Commitatus, eventually leading to Zoey's kidnapping.) But the very fact that we are concerned about protecting ourselves shows me that this current way of doing things is no good. It divides the world into us-vs-them - the kind of thing that MLK identified as the very epitome of an immoral law. There is no law here (which is a whole other issue!) but I think his analysis of the general situation is basically sound.

So I will not be celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden. I will be mourning it, and mourning as well the position he has put my country in. And the events Americans and others took in the past that made him hate us so much, for that matter. We should never have needed to kill him, and I think a bit of Americana died yesterday as well. Certainly the way I view my country has been radically changed, and not just for the good.

I think that's patriotic, in its own way. I love my country so much, I hate to see it torn to shreds. But to paraphrase Rob Bell, love wins. I have to love Osama because he's a human, and that's something worth loving no matter how distorted the humanity is. So I can't relish seeing it destroyed. It's just not in me, and no matter how hard I work not to hate him, I still can't help noticing that when we destroyed him that was not a good thing.

By the way: I tend to keep this journal fanfic free, but I recently wrote two stories on the futility of war. They both feature on Elrond and his reaction to Isildur's choice not to destroy Sauron's ring at the end of the Second Age. (Gil-Galad and Maglor also feature in.) Those of you familiar with Tolkien's books might enjoy them as a meditation on yesterday's events.

"Jus Ad Bellum" (PDF / HTML)
"Jus in Bello" (PDF / HTML)

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
labourslamp
May. 2nd, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
I find it hard to feel much of anything about bin Laden's death, honestly. Maybe a bit of... satisfaction? But certainly nothing like pleasure. It's happened when other really bad people have died as well... I just can't be bothered. I think it's because, as you suggest, as a Christian, one shouldn't take pleasure in anyone's death, even the most wicked. That, and I don't feel the emotional connection to New York the way you do. I suspect, if I had, I'd be struggling with the same conflicting feelings.

But your words on violence in general make me think, because of the old political science theory that a government is an entity that has a legitimate monopoly on violence within a given territory. In a very horrifying way, how can we not live with violence in this respect, given the alternative? You say you'll mourn not only the death of bin Laden, but also all of the things that led up to that death. As well you might mourn the whole of humanity, our inability to judge perfectly, our inability to communicate, and our inability to account for unintended consequences, or simply to foist them off on the next generation for the greater good (I'm thinking, for example, giving weapons to the Taliban in order to bog down the USSR). As well you might mourn history itself--I do every day.

If I didn't believe in a God who loved us enough to physically enter history on our behalf, I'd be a very, very depressed person.
dreamflower02
May. 3rd, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
I have very mixed feelings myself. I mean, I feel relieved that he's gone and can harm no one else, and I feel glad that some of the victim's families can have a sense of closure, but really, how can we celebrate the fact that someone had to be killed?

And yet somewhere inside me was a vindictive little voice that said "Won't he be surprised?" Because really, I do think that there is an extra level of judgement upon people who not only think that God approves of killing others and of hatred, but that lead other people to think and act on that...


fallingtowers
May. 6th, 2011 11:17 am (UTC)
I'm not an American, obviously, so I have no stance on how Osama's death and public reasctions to the news tie in with US patriotism, but other than that, your very mixed reaction describes exactly what I was thinking when I heard about it.

Also, on a completely different note, I hope your exam went well.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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