Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama’s Death and the Human Condition

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ~ Penn Gillete (misattributed to Martin Luther King Jr.)

I, like the vast majority of Americans, was pleased to hear that Osama Bin Laden was eliminated. I joined in with the commemoration online, only to say “wait a moment, this is just too messed up.” Twitter and Facebook saw its greatest ever traffic and Wikipedia was plagued with consecutive edit-conflicts. For the most part, I can easily say that in the past two days, I have seen the best and worst of Americans. I commend the dedication and bravery of the Navy SEALS that completed the mission and eliminated Osama, but impugn certain American people for their vulgar and unethical reaction to the news. Needless to say, this controversy raises puzzling questions about the human condition.

Celebrating Revenge – Thoughts in No Particular Arrangement
An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. ~ Gandhi

I, by no stretch of the imagination, back Osama Bin Laden or the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The actions they have preformed are truly detestable and have placed thousands in states of oppression, loss or death. Nonetheless, to celebrate the death of a human being is truly disturbing and in very poor taste. 
Some of the most inflammatory images from September of 2001 are of radical Islamists celebrating the attacks on the World Trade Center, which, with no doubt, have been imprinted on the collective consciousness of the world as a whole. There are perturbing parallels between the celebration of Bin Laden’s death and the celebration of the attacks on the World Trade Center. In both cases, the death of individuals was commemorated in unethical ways, thereby dehumanizing people. The social media hubbub surrounding bin Laden’s death stoops us down to the “evil” we sought to eliminate. As Dylan eloquently said, we “became our own enemy in the instant that we preach'”.

Because of that, I remain supportive of the military's decision to give Osama a traditional Islamic funeral. Disposing the body in any other way would have inflamed tensions across the Middle East and would have propagated Islamophobia in a nation struggling to open its mind to controversial religious positions.

The vast flood of Facebook pages commemorating the incident is proof of the mindset that young Americans are approaching this moment in history with. For one, before it was taken down, a page titled “And that’s how we outdo a Royal Wedding” reached over a million fans in two days. Ultimately, a vast number of people are attempting to make a joke out of it. Perhaps even more appallingly, people invited their accounts to be hacked in droves in a bait-and-switch scam that promised “Pictures of Osama’s Execution”.
Vengeance begets vengeance. National security is not necessarily better off right now. Obama acknowledged that when he said “There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to peruse attacks against us. We must, and we will remain, vigilant at home and abroad.”

Consider the above cartoon. For many Americans, “Justice” is synonymous with revenge for the 9/11 attacks. If revenge is the primary motive for the celebration of Osama’s death, how can that be considered “Just”? As I said, revenge begets revenge in an eternal negative feedback loop of violence. How can the death of the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks undo the loss of three-thousand lives? It just adds to the death-toll.

Other Thoughts
“Although revenge resembles some conceptions of justice, vengeance is usually depicted as more injurious and punitive as opposed to being harmonious and restorative.” ~ Wikipedia

Some of my social media contacts have made some rather thought-provoking comments, the best of which I will share below. Given the need for anonymity, I have omitted the last names of the respective commenters.
i think if people celebrate his death and him being killed, it's ironic. it's like they're on their way to becoming like him, in being murderous, so it's wrong to rejoice. it's true that the world is alleviated of the burden of the things he does. and that is good. but how are people different from him as a person enjoying murder, if they are celebrating his death? that's the real question ~ Vincent
Mr. Armstrong raised a good point today in the car on the way to practice. He said that people's celebration of Osama's death is mirroring that of the Muslims almost to the point of animosity. ~ Nyan

I've been rather contemplative about what happened. (It's my job). I think it's a commendable military accomplishment. But what upsets me is this: we are the country of the freedom of expression. We invented flight, hand-held computers, and harnessed the power of the atom. But we still have no genuine alternative to the idea that violence begets violence.
Indeed, Obama reiterated the point last night: "we did not choose this war." It is only forced if there is no alternative. And the lack of that alternative, to me, is not in the least worth celebrating. It ought to be our challenge that we, who are capable of such incredible feats, also become the people who answer the question of peace, who rise above acts of hate and respond lovingly, who put an end to the kind of destruction that continues to plauge our condition.
Perhaps. I'm guessing that, at least descriptively, the collective-action account is a good one. But I wonder, for one, whether it's actually *right*, and in what sense. It seems as though the sense in which it's right, here, is a pragmatic one, in so far as it's the most efficient means to a resolution (we still get to maintain our values, life stays pretty much the same for most of us, and we don't have to deal with other violent acts in the short-run).

But it also seems obvious that this sense of "right" is a rather shallow one, and we should be holding ourselves to higher standards. I'm guessing you agree. I suppose the problem you're pointing out is that we lack, at the very least, a practical answer to the question of how to change people's attitudes and (so) behaviors towards violent acts.
My tentative answer is, perhaps predictably, that this is at least the obligation of our educators and other spiritual and cultural leaders: preachers, artists, and especially philosophers (one which, I think, not enough philosophers take seriously). It requires, that is, the "revolution of values" of which Dr. King spoke so forcefully. ~ Josh

I second that it was a bit disturbing that people were celebrating someone's death. I don't mean to give Osama a eulogy and I definitely didn't love him, but he *was* a father and husband, much like many people in this country. ~ Nyan
This is also very fertile ground for not just hating Muslim extremists (which is justified), but also Islam in general. Being Jewish, I have my concerns with Islam and how they treat Jews, but not all Muslims fit the category of "extremist"; I guess I'm in the middle of the road about it. ~ Sam
        The death of Osama Bin Laden IS something meriting celebration. Not because he was killed, but   because our country defeated a enemy who terrorized and would have continued to terrorize innocent civilians the government swore to protect. True, a live capture of Osama would have been preferable... but during a firefight you do what you have to do to make sure you complete the mission and stay alive. Osama was not just an enemy of the country, but also a dangerous man in the moment who had the immediate means and motivation to kill those who attempted to capture him. I find no fault in the action the seals took. Still, the point is valid that Osama's death will undoubtedly cause many more terrorist attacks in the near future, but I need to point out two important points of my to be considered with the threat of retaliation strikes. First, although Osama's death will spark attacks in the near future, how many attacks would he have sparked if he continued living? And how many attempts and threats aimed to secure Osama from US captivity would he have been taken alive? Second, to let Osama live/not capture him at all in fear of a terrorist attacks shows that we have truly refused to do what our ideals dictate due to fear and terror... which is exactly what we are fighting this war against. It is the United State's position to allow absolutely NO NEGOTIATIONS with terrorists, and that is what we need to continue to keep the higher moral ground. ~ Diego 


UPDATE: U.S. Says bin Laden was Shot Unarmed. The plot thickens. 


Diana Khanagov said...

Because Obama couldn't keep it covert, or secret, he risks the lives of US citizens, he raises the ire of the Muslim world, especially when a "Christian" nation buries a Muslim leader. He raises public celebration which lights a fire of Americans to write graffiti on Mosque walls. He raises hate and violence. Think Chandra Levy, there's a reason why criminals don't take responsibility for murder. Obama had options, a military trial rather than execution. Why would somebody who refused to show proof of birth, can't wait to show proof of death?

WikipedianMarlith said...

Obama in no way supported the public's celebration of the death of Osama. Throughout his address to the world marking the incident, he remained entirely level-headed and did not indicate support of the parties on the National Mall. From my knowledge, the most inflammatory thing he said was "this is a good day for America."

Nonetheless, I will be strongly disappointed if this incident causes a new wave of Islamophobia.