The world is abuzz: Osama bin Laden is dead. This is a historic day. But are we right to feel good? Is this justice or revenge?
I think it’s both. “We got the guy that got us,” is one response I’ve already heard, and I agree, we did. This guy hated the United States, hated the West, and hated us more than he loved his own family, according to his own son. He was an evil human being, one who corrupted himself. And now he is dead. He is to blame for this outcome. Justice served on a killer, a vicious man removed from the face of the earth.
But this is also not perfect justice. Perhaps he could have been captured. He certainly would have been a valuable prisoner, and his imprisonment would have denied Al Qaeda a martyr. It’s too bad we didn’t get him alive, not to mention one more thing…
This was a human being, in his core, like you and me. From the Judeo-Christian tradition, made in the image of God, like you and me. Reveling in his death is not good – that instinctive reaction harms us, it does not make us better people. Bin Laden was a bad human being, but he was still a human being. Deeply corrupted, but still human. We should not enjoy this moment.
It is a sad end to a bad life. Bin Laden brought this upon himself, but I think we can still feel sorry for him, sorry for his choosing to live such a hate-filled life and for dying such a pathetic death. This is what evil looks like: death. If only he had not chosen so wrongly, if only he had not taken the wrong path, if only. But history did not conspire that way.
Make no mistake: it is good bin Laden is dead, and he deserved it. But we should not be happy about it. Instead we should learn from it and see if we can figure out how to make this final step – killing a deeply corrupted man – not have to happen any more. I know that’s impossible, humans will always choose the wrong path, but we can try harder to stop things earlier on, before necessitating these extreme measures.
I don’t really know how, other than to try to extend the rule of justice and universal goodwill to all people (and many people do not want that). That is what the US government says we are trying to do with our wars. Maybe it will even work… maybe. I have serious doubts. One does not establish goodwill through violence. And the problems involved here are cultural and deeply embedded into people’s psyches. Hate runs deep.
But the only way to kill hate is with love. Returning hate with hate just leads to death. To turn one’s enemy into one’s friend must be the ultimate goal for creating a peaceful world: a peace of love, not a peace of the last man standing. And we know in our core that we Americans and Westerners are not a people who want to win by being the last humans standing. We would rather be friends than killers. But we don’t always have a choice.
I hope that we can somehow find a way to end this terrorist war not by killing, but by reconciliation. That may be impossible. Our enemies are truly vicious, and we Americans have a long memory for returning wrongs (think of Cuba and Iran). But it must be considered a possibility if it is to ever occur. We are not prepared to kill so many as to be the last ones standing. And if we are not prepared to do that then we must be prepared to reconcile. May we have the strength and wisdom to someday figure out how.
UPDATE: More thoughts here, especially on how this can be a good outcome but not worthy of being happy about.