Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the news. Osama bin Laden, the terror of America for the last ten years, is dead. Just like that.
Here in America, it’s all over the news. Papers have headlines reading ‘We killed the bastard’ and ‘Rot in Hell’. Crowds cheer and celebrate. The nation has practically thrown an impromptu holiday over a person’s death.
And maybe they have that right. But I can’t help but feel that all of this is cruel. Yes, bin Laden directly or indirectly caused the deaths of thousands. But does that give us the right to hunt him down, kill him, and then parade the news across the country, gloating at our triumph? Does it give us the right to decide that some deaths, rather than being tragic things, are not just necessary but welcomed? Who made us gods, to decide who lives or dies?
I am not condoning bin Laden’s actions. Murder is never right – the operative word being ‘never’. He did terrible things. But we have to remember that in his mind, he was doing the right thing. To himself and his followers, he was a hero saving the world from a great evil. We just happen to be that evil.
The problem is, a belief system that calls for the destruction of a whole people can never be tolerated. That’s why bin Laden could not be tolerated, not when he called for innocent blood. But now, for better or for worse, we have his blood on our hands, as well as the blood of countless others we’ve killed in the War on Terror – guilty and innocent both.
This is why I’m not cheering as news of successful DNA tests and victorious gunfights trickles in. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from history class, it’s that we will always find another boogeyman to fill the place of the old. And that one will be even scarier, and we will be just as determined to destroy it. But at the moment we forget that our opponent is human too – full of wishes, hopes, dreams, loves, and fears – that’s when our own humanity begins to slip away.
It happened to bin Laden. Don’t let it happen to us.
This whole situation reminds me of a quote I always liked, from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. It’s a discussion between Frodo and Gandalf, about the creature Gollum, and it goes like this:
“What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!”
“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.”
“I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.”
“Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”
Back in 2006, when Saddam Hussein died, my mother told me her religion group was going to do some prayer. “Don’t forget to pray for him, too,” I said.
Everyone is human. No one is black or white, good or evil. Everyone has a story. And everyone should have someone to mourn them, or at the very least not treat their death like a carnival and holiday all rolled into one.
If that person has to be me, so be it.