Tuesday, May 3, 2011

among the gods, who brought this quarrel on?

To start, let me say this: I have no sympathy for Osama Bin Laden. I think anyone who plans the deaths of thousands and inspires others to kill is evil.

I think, though, that his death should not be a cause for celebration but a time to step back and reflect on the last decade. Because, really? Ten years and thousands of lives, military and civilian, have been lost. And it makes me twitchy to hear chants of USA! when I think about that. Is this the end (in the sense of purpose) of what we've done in Afghanistan? (Iraq, I s'pose, is a different ball game.) The whole thing seems a Pyrrhic victory.

And then there's the fact that I am, as a Christian, called to "love my enemies." Many other people have written about this. Surprisingly (because I am, at heart, a renegade), I found the response from the Vatican rather appropriate and thoughtful: ‎"Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace." (Fr. Federico Lombardi)

Other voices that I've found interesting or thoughtful:

No Tears for Osama, No Cheers For US Imperialism:

Let me be clear: I shed no tears for bin Laden, whose murderous beyond-the-State reign, left nothing but death, grief and trauma across multiple continents. But the pursuit of bin Laden was not justification for what has been an escalation of violence and de-stabilization in the Middle East and Northern Africa, by two American Presidents. 
"USA! USA!" is the wrong response
This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history -- the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.
Beyond Retaliation

Matt Daloisio, who co-coordinates the Witness Against Torture Campaign, sounded a note that we find far more authentic than triumphal celebration. “10 years,” Matt wrote. “Over 6000 US Soldiers killed. Trillions of Dollars wasted. Hundreds of thousands of civilians killed. Tens of thousands imprisoned. Torture as part of foreign policy. And we are supposed to celebrate the murder of one person? I am not excited. I am not happy. I remain profoundly sad.”
Waking Up in a Post-Osama World
I hope that those who lost loved ones on 9/11 feel some sense of closure from the death of Osama Bin Laden.

I know I am supposed to feel like celebrating, but I just feel a deep sense of sadness as I grapple with a flood of memories from the day the planes flew into the World Trade Center and the events that followed.
So, yeah, I feel sadness, not so much at Bin Laden's death itself, but at the events of the last ten years. I, fortunately, didn't lose anyone in 9/11, but my roots are in New York, and we have family still there. 9/11 happened four years after we moved out of New York, but I remember the panic I felt at the announcement--I was a senior in high school, sitting in English class, and I ran down to the main office to call my mom to see if we knew anyone who worked in or around the Towers. My grandfather, who was a Brooklyn firefighter, lost people he trained. My aunt worked in the WTC for years; she moved in '92, but she knew people who still were there.
A year and some later, people yelled things about 9/11 at me when I said that I was against the war in Iraq. Half of those people had never been to the damn city.

Anyway. There's a sort-of "I don't really know what to think" thing going on with me. I've ended up with it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and lines from Wilfred Owen ("What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?") and Matthew Arnold (yeah, ignorant armies and stuff) going through my head. And then there's hold onto the good and love your enemies, which is funny, because I'm not one for quoting the Bible at anyone, including myself...

Now I'm rambling. I'd love to hear others' responses.


  1. Bin Laden was someone who orchestrated horrible acts of violence that resulted in the deaths of thousands (at least) of people. I am glad to know that he will not be able to hurt anyone else, even if the only way to ensure that was through his own death.

    And yet, I have no delusions that his death will mean the end of terrorism and its horrible acts of violence, resulting in thousands more deaths. As such, I do not celebrate the man's death, nor do i see it as any sort of meaningful victory. In the end, his death will likely change nothing.

    The only way it will change anything is if we choose to make it that change. So I say let his death represent the end of the so-called "war on terror," and let us look for more effective -- although I'm sure they will also be more difficult and exacting -- solutions to our problems.

    Let us take an honest look at the legitimate complaints foreign parties have with U.S. foreign policy. For while their complaints certainly do not justify terrorism, neither does terrorism justify our choice to deny those legitimate complaints. Let us look for a way forward to build bridges in the Middle East, so that we may find ways to not only live together, but find ways to fight the evils of terrorists and other extremists together. For they lessen us all.

  2. ShifterCat posted a link to a CBC journalist's take:


    ...which I (perhaps cynically) think hits a bit closer to the mark than the idea that we were dragged down by the events of the last ten years. We weren't dragged down so much as we were shown to never have been as good as we thought we were. Our pretenses of enlightenment were stripped away in a few places - maybe not even all of them.

    I'd like to think of this time as a punctuation mark, a fullstop on the last decade that will allow people to start speaking a new sentence on a different subject. Whether or not that will actually happen, I have no idea. The death doesn't seem worth celebrating, but I'm hoping the consequences will be.

  3. I can't celebrate any death, but I am coming to recognize that sometimes the closest we can get to justice on earth does involve the death of a person responsible for galvanizing others in mass-murder. I don't believe it's final justice, and I still sort of cringe at the use of the word because it seems to imply finality and also retribution. I believe ultimate justice is restorative; I pray for the soul of Osama bin Laden, and for the souls of all his victims, and of all the dead from the wars of the last decade.

    I disagree however that "He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed."

    Violence and warfare have always been a part of our narrative as a nation. From the American Revolution to "speak softly and carry a big stick" to what is widely revered as our nation's greatest moment, the collective effort of our country to defeat Hitler in World War II, violence and warfare and Empire are very much a part of our psyche. We are the child civilization who has grown up with stories of our parents' and grandparents' heroism and wanted to be as great and accomplished as them, but more.

    And so when the towers fell, the talk was of war. Not because bin Laden had introduced the idea of violence to us, but because the event fit neatly into an already established national narrative as our generation's Pearl Harbor moment, a moment that would galvanize us against a clearly defined enemy. It was a chance to wash away the ambiguities of our involvement in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, of our lack of involvement in Rwanda, and yes, our decision to leave Iraq without toppling Saddam Hussein. And Osama bin Laden was our Hitler (because realistically, the Emperor of Japan has always been only a nebulous figure in the American consciousness.)

    The peace movements throughout our history have always been more the exception than the rule, but the experience of the last decade has revealed the cracks in the national narrative of violence. The question is, will we remember those cracks the next time? Or will we be swept up in the moment again?

  4. Ya'll are so eloquent. You put me to shame.

    There's an article on one of the Times blogs that says, "Bin Laden is dead. But we have more than enough war to carry into the years ahead."

    And that perhaps is one of the problems I'm having: Bin Laden's death is not a solution, and like Rebecca said, I'm not even quite sure that it's justice in its final sense.

    I'm in agreement, too, that bin Laden didn't "drag us down"--the celebrations over violence are part of our culture. And that makes me, as the VCNV people put it, profoundly sad.

    I don't really know what to do, except, you know, do life-affirming things. I went home yesterday and helped my roommate shovel soil for our new garden.

    Anyway, perhaps more thoughts later.