Saturday, May 7, 2011
The Fine Line Between Vindication and Vengeance
Recent events compel me to speak again: this time, on the death by sniping (?) of one Osama bin Laden, popularized in our collective consciousness as “the” terrorist, leader of Al Qaeda and mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, now in the process of being rebuilt at Ground Zero. There was celebrating in the streets, chanting of “U.S.A,” among other things such as “F*#% Osama” (Which I haven’t heard yet, probably haven’t looked or listened hard enough), and singing of “God Bless America”. There were also Facebook memes that popped up, and rumors propagated of what was going to happen to the body, or whether Osama was actually dead or even allegations that he had been dead for years by some theorists. It was decided that he would be buried at sea, though I’m not sure of the exact nature of the burial, except presumably putting his body in something that floats and pushing it out into the ocean. This was on two points, 1) No country would take bin Laden’s body, for fear of desecration and general security risks and 2) Since they couldn’t bury him in the ground by general Muslim custom (within 24 hours), he was instead buried at sea, which is apparently permitted by a degree of flexibility many would not expect from the oft cited “dangers” of Sharia. There was another aspect of the sea burial considered by scholars, which was the alternate burial method for martyrs, which likely contributed to the decision to bury him at sea also. You wouldn’t want followers using their leader’s martyrdom as a stepping stone to more extreme acts of terrorism, would you?
The more pressing and personal issue to me is not my feelings of any sort of vindication or justice at the death of this man, since, as far as I know, not a single person of any significance to me in terms of direct relationships, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I’ve had at least one classmate that was probably killed in action because of Muslim terrorists inspired by Osama bin Laden, but that still doesn’t give me any real right to speak as if I’ve been affected on the level of people losing family or dear friends in the war on terrorism or the terrorist attack that inspired that war. No, what I’m talking about is the difficulty I have with people making such a ruckus over this assassination. It would be one thing if, all of a sudden, troops were pulled out of all the major areas in the Middle East; that would actually be a justified incident for people to chant what they did, excluding of course, “F*#$ Osama”. It would be a fine example of patriotism towards those people that fight on the field to protect basic liberties and the like. But when all we’ve done is kill one person that happened to be associated with so much hatred and hostility and then make a huge celebration of the event, it worries me about the human condition from a Buddhist perspective, let alone the Christian perspective I’m nonetheless familiar with.
There is a defense of the celebration on the grounds that this is a sign of progress. But I wonder, did we celebrate to the same extent when Saddam Hussein was overthrown, or more importantly, when he died by hanging by the Iraqi interim government? I’d say no, but this is for reasons that those defending the celebrations would bring up. The important distinctions are twofold; 1) Hussein was convicted by trial and executed by a human government and 2) He was executed not by our government, but by another country’s practice of capital punishment. These two factors already separate the incident almost 5 years ago from the one several days prior. Bin Laden was killed by a group of Navy SEALs authorized by the President of the United States, controversial Barack Obama. In this way, it differs from Hussein in two ways; 1) He was killed in a firefight, in a military operation, as a combatant would be killed, and 2) He was killed by people under American authority. In this way, people feel much more connected to this killing of an ‘enemy of democracy’ and such. The argument has sound distinctions for when you bring up any other example, for the most part, of the deaths of dictators and tyrants through history, such as Hitler or Stalin. But the argument still seems to fail on the grounds of a direct ethical justification of the celebrations. The response to people like myself, who would initially state that they are celebrating the death of a person, is that they are not celebrating bin Laden’s death, but are celebrating the promise of less death and future life for the free world with him no longer in it.
But this only seems to shift your focus on the future possibilities instead of the present actualities. There may be one less dead terrorist, but hundreds may take his place, even if he is not considered a martyr in his burial. There will be terrorists as long as there are humans who see violence against anyone and everyone as a means by which to spread a message. The problem is, this works both ways. Even those who may try to spread democracy through the use of military force can easily be accused of being terrorists as long as we continue to use more and more powerful force which causes often dismissed “collateral damage”. Before we had nuclear capacity, or even explosive weaponry dropped from planes, there was much less possibility of collateral damage. But now we can kill civilians and still consider ourselves justified in having killed evil people en masse. To celebrate and rejoice in the death of evil only seems to make one appear more evil themselves in not responding in respectful silence to the death of a human being, however much they may not appear to be so from the perspective of those at the receiving end of monstrous actions. I only hope we can balance military action with pacifism and compassion in the future. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.