Reacting to Reactions: The Death of Osama Bin Laden
Last night I turned on the television to see in big bold letters, Osama is Dead. That declaration served as the banner to live footage of people celebrating in the streets by waving flags and marching victoriously. As I watched this, I thought about the next day. Would everyone in America join in this celebration of his death, or would there be people condemning the celebration as inappropriate?
At first, all I heard on television and the radio were positive proclamations: we finally got the bastard, and justice is finally served. Facebook was also brimming over with status updates from overjoyed friends, who expressed themselves without reservation. For a second I thought, maybe this is one of those things that everyone agrees on. Maybe it’s like Hitler and the Nazis being evil. But as the day wore on, I started to see a different reaction.
In the span of an hour I came across the same Martin Luther King Jr. quote three times from three different people,
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.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.
A few others echoed this sentiment, and expressed that they didn’t think it was right for people to be celebrating the death of another human being, even if he was Osama Bin Laden; the same Osama Bin Laden who took credit for the murder of thousands of our fellow citizens.
I want to let you into my mind, and more specifically, my thought process as this has unfolded. At first I thought, this is a good thing. A sworn enemy of my country, who made it his mission to terrorize and murder, has been taken out of this world. When I saw the people in the cities marching, I thought that it was an appropriate response. One reason is that Bin Laden was the face of our enemy. In a time where things seem to always be gray and there is great disunity, we had at least one common enemy. Who was about to defend this man? Someone who makes it his mission to murder you and the people you care about can’t be anything but an enemy. To see this person killed removes a threat to innocent life. It is a good thing that this man is dead.
But honestly, I also had thoughts about relativism. I thought about how many people in this country don’t hold to any solid truths and what’s true for me may not be true to you, and who am I for telling you otherwise? This led me to consider that Bin Laden and his followers likely believed in what they were doing, just like Hitler and many of the Nazis believed in theirs. To pass judgment on them requires a greater truth. If all we have is our own individual truths, what makes that any better than the one the enemy holds? This concept of truth is very much tied to ideas of Good and Evil. To live by a certain understanding of what’s true about the world will paint your picture of what is good and what is evil. Is it good to give women the right to abort their babies, or is that evil? Is it good to oppose gay marriage, or is that evil for letting your personal morals restrict another human’s freedom? You see, if this is how you see the world(where no one truth is more true than another), how can you be happy that Osama Bin Laden is dead? If you’re happy, that must be because you believe that he was evil and you (we) are good. But he and his followers thought we were evil and they were good. Clearly, we believe that our truth is greater. Killing innocent people is wrong, and justice must be served.
But what about the Martin Luther King Jr. quote? Are people actually using it to say that we shouldn’t have killed Bin Laden, or are they just saying that we shouldn’t rejoice when our enemy is killed? I can see a line of reasoning that would lead to the belief that no one should be celebrating this.
If we rejoice when our enemy is killed, it is a declaration that their life is less valuable than our own, and that we are better (more righteous) than them. The problem with this is that it conflicts with the belief that all human life is of equal value (that whole equality and made in the image of God thing) and it also challenges the call to love our enemies. How many times have you heard someone in real life or in fiction say, “If we do this, we will be no better than the enemy!” I have heard some compare the street celebrations over here to the street celebrations that our enemies conduct when we are hurt. Maybe we should quietly mourn the loss of a human life, while recognizing that this death was for our good? Is that what we should do? Or, are we right to cheer when a mass murderer is killed?
I think the problem with getting all philosophical and deep with this is that it misses the simple truths of this whole matter. There was a man who believed very much that all of us deserved to die. He believed it so much that he intentionally enacted a plan to murder us. Thousands of us were killed. We recognized and agreed that this was evil, and needed to be confronted. So for ten years we hunted him, and when we found him we killed him. We didn’t take him in for a fair trial, or attempt to love him so that he would adopt our beliefs about life. We killed him because he was ready and willing to help kill the innocent people we love.
So was it right to kill him? Yes.
Should we be celebrating the death of a mass murderer who killed our people? That’s for you to decide. But I wouldn’t stop anyone from cheering.