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May 02, 2011

Why I can't celebrate bin Laden's death

The reported death of Osama bin Laden has saturated the news media all day. In style of this communications era, I heard via SMS. My response was minimal, if slightly saddened. I often find myself saying words at a funeral which intimate that the death of the person is the death of a part of each one of us. I'd take that one step further - our response to the death of another is indicative and formative of who we are. As I have listened to reports and responses in the hours since, I find myself ever more deeply saddened. The first words I read were those of President Obama, who lauded the American achievement. "Tonight is a testament to the greatness of our country," he said. I wondered if he really meant what he said, or even fully understood it. After all, it only took 10 years, more than one trillion dollars, the death or mutilation of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, the almost complete destruction of two countries, and the sacrifice of hard-fought freedoms, but this great nation caught its one target. Perhaps we should take the president's statement with a little hint of irony, I thought.

And then I cringed at the response of our Australian political leaders. Osama bin Laden "had been brought to justice," declared the Leader of the Opposition. Really? I thought he was dead. No court on this planet can bring justice now - at least not in the way I thought the West understood it. And our PM welcomed not only the news of bin Laden's death, but the death itself. His death is one more tragedy in a long line, bringing about neither greater peace nor security.

People rightly point to the terrorist acts which bin Laden designed and/or inspired as justification for their rejoicing in his death. The use of destructive force against other human beings is rarely, if ever justifiable. We too easily overlook the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, regarded as collateral damage in pursuit of a larger cause. That this justification could readily be employed by both sides and gain a supportive hearing depending on the context is a stark reminder that the line between terrorism and pursuit of justice is an indistinct one, and is shaped by where one is born on this planet. Even President Obama recently declared - unashamedly - that resorting to violence to solve an argument was inappropriate. Such a response underlines the insanity which pervades political debate about war and violence.

Ought we celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden? He was a human being created in the image of God. What motivated him remains a quandary, but in order to find the way of peace and hope, we must find our common humanity with him, and others like him. It is when we dehumanise others that it becomes easier to kill them, to regard their lives as less than our own. Al Qaeda and its supporters celebrated the deaths of those in New York on September 11. While we celebrate his death we demonstrate ourselves to be alike him in ways we would not care to admit. From the perspective of his supporters and those who loved him, such celebrations are insensitive in the same way we regarded the earlier 9/11 celebrations of his supporters.

It always intrigues me to see photos of infamous killers as babes-in-arms, innocent and hopeful, loved and embraced... it gives me pause to wonder at what transpired to shape them into cruel and sadistic killers. Osama bin Laden was such a babe-in-arms once. What life, what world, took him down the pathway which was his life? The answer to that question might give us pause for thought when we consider celebrating his death today.

Posted by gary at May 2, 2011 08:44 PM

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