It’s been a week, now, since I picked up my phone to see a message saying President Obama was going to be announcing that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had been killed.
My first reaction was one of disbelief, so I immediately reached for the remote and turned on MSNBC. While listening to the coverage as the nation, and the world, waited for Obama to address the nation, my disbelief changed to disgust as the news coverage was showing the breakout of spontaneous celebrations, chants of “USA,” and singing of the national anthem. I wondered if I was the only one who found the celebration of the death of another person as distasteful. Thankfully, I quickly found others expressing similar feelings on Facebook.
I’ve never been a violent person, but as I’ve gotten older, my instinctual aversion to violence has led me to becoming a pacifist, a supporter of non-violent activism and a student of Just War Theory. Osama bin Laden was murdered, plain and simple. We can claim “we’re at war” and “it was necessary” and “the bastard deserved it,” but I just can’t bring myself around to that line of thinking. I don’t believe in “an eye for an eye,” but rather that violence begets violence and until someone breaks the cycle, people, innocent or otherwise, will continue to die at the hands of terrorists, soldiers, despots, criminals, and the like.
I don’t believe in the death penalty under any circumstances and, with maybe one exception, don’t believe in the necessity of war. As a Jew, I’m occasionally challenged by friends and family whether I believe World War II was a “just war,” whether I believe it was truly a war of necessity, a war of “good” versus “evil.” Admittedly, I struggle with this question, though instinctively, say no. Even a war undertaken for a just cause quickly degenerates into a war comprised of monstrous acts: rape, torture, the “unfortunate” killing of innocent civilians, etc. Inevitably, then, I’m forced to denounce any war as unjust.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel for the families that lost loved ones on that September day in 2001; it was awful and the images of the burning and collapsing World Trade Center are seared as dark and horrific memories in my brain. But does bin Laden’s death bring back those loved ones? Nope. It might bring solace to some, but I don’t believe it changes much….
Since the world received the news, I’ve been struggling to put into words how I feel about this and what it means for the U.S. and the world.
Can we honestly believe that his death will suddenly make Arabs and Muslims hate America less? President Bush used to say they hate us for our freedom, for our way of life. That is, quite simply, not true. They hate us for our hypocrisy. We condemn violators of international law, but shrug it off ourselves when it serves us (or our allies). We criticize countries for their human rights violations, but have ourselves a poor human rights record. We decry vile the deeds of dictators and despots, unless they do what we tell them, in which case we simply look the other way.
Until the United States begins to truly live up to its potential as a leader, not just a bully, there will always be individuals and nations that stive to inflict harm on us. That bin Laden is dead doesn’t change that.