What was your emotional response to the news that Osama bin Laden is dead?
Here’s how it went for me. I was half-awake, bleary-eyed, sipping coffee, and going through email before starting some work. As I quickly scanned Facebook, one post almost gave me a heart attack.
Osama and Obama look so similar (half-awake and sleepy-eyed, anyway) that I thought the president was dead. I looked again. Osama. Not Obama. Phew! That’s different.
I went downstairs to get some more coffee, then I buzzed through the online headlines and got on with my work. But not without processing a little of what I was feeling about bin Laden’s death.
I felt dark and morbid—some feeling of horror hovered around the edges. What next?
A faint sense of relief mingled in with something like worry or fear. But there was also distrust—when it comes to terrorism, I’m especially cynical about what I read or hear in the news.
But yes, Osama bin Laden is dead, as we all know by now. President Obama authorized it. American military forces—people, human beings just like you and me—stormed in, shot him in the chest, and blew part of his head off. Three other men and one of bin Laden’s wives were also killed. Fun.
Ding, dong the witch is dead. The wicked witch is dead!
I hear there’s been a lot of celebrating. Celebrate?
Not here, thanks. I can’t celebrate the killing and death of another human being because, no matter what the man has done or would conceivably be capable of doing in the future, killing people is—how shall I say this? I’ll stick with blatant simplicity.
Killing people is wrong. It’s not nice. It’s not a good thing, no matter who it is, and it wasn’t very pleasant for the guys who did it. It’s not a video game.
Killing is not a peaceful, loving, or kind thing. Killing someone is a very somber, serious matter.
If I celebrate or find any sense of joy in another human being’s death—no matter how sick or depraved that human being may be—what does that make me?
A huge bonfire comes to mind, a throng of merry-makers dancing round and round, a public stoning, wild laughter in the streets, the head of John the Baptist brought to Herodias’s daughter on a silver platter—to celebrate death makes me equally reprehensible and a part of the whole scene.
Celebrating bin Laden’s death only puts me in the same camp with him and his followers. It doesn’t make me a more peaceful person. It makes me one of them.
That’s not to say I disagree with killing Osama bin Laden. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been done. It’s my understanding that he would have been taken alive if that were possible, and I don’t know any better way to deal with the situation.
But let’s not get too comfortable. Violence doesn’t create peace, and I don’t see it as a time to celebrate.
I see this as a time to meditate or think on healing, compassion, and understanding. When I think of bin Laden and his followers, I don’t send hatred their way. I send thoughts of peace, love, and kindness hoping that they can catch a glimpse of it.
But if all they see in Americans is hatred and anger, how should they respond?
We have to find a way to stop violence, of course. If need be, we have to put the men responsible in prison. But the important thing is to look deeply and ask, “Why did that happen? What responsibility do we have in that happening?” Maybe they misunderstood us. But what has made them misunderstand us so much to make them hate so much?
Former President George W. Bush calls bin Laden’s death “a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world.”
Killing someone is not a peaceful act, it is not what peaceful people do, it does not engender peace, and it doesn’t bring back anyone who was killed. It doesn’t change what happened on September 11, 2001 or any other day.
It’s only the exact same action repeated.
Have you ever watched a tennis match? Back and forth, back and forth goes the ball and our heads. Pow! Bam! You’re out!
Back and forth it goes again. Bam! Now you’re out!
That’s what I’m seeing. I’m standing back, watching. I’m not a part of it. I’m not cheering anyone because I’m horrified no matter what the score is.
But it’s not a game. It’s human lives and serious business.
Where will it lead? President Obama and all Americans, including me, have blood on our hands. That’s nothing new. My question, though, is where will it lead? What’s next?
Even when violence appears to be the only practical, sensible way to halt another person’s acts of violence, let’s save the celebrations for peaceful events. Let’s stop the violence right there. Enough.
For additional reading:
Osama bin Laden’s death: Reactions from a Buddhist or mindful perspective
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