By now, we’ve all seen the celebrations.
They took place spontaneously at Ground Zero, at the White House, on campuses throughout the country, and, most likely, in the homes of the nearly 3,000 families whose lives were permanently altered close to a decade ago, in the early morning of a clear Tuesday.
I understand the outpouring of emotion at Bin Laden’s death, the feeling that “justice has been done,” as President Obama announced in a televised address last night.
I support his somber, not gloating tone, and appreciate the assertion he made again that we are not at war with Islam for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Osama Bin Laden killed many Muslims.
Still, a part of me feels uneasy at the celebration, even though I have to admit that, had I been there 66 years ago to the day when Adolf Hitler took his life in a Berlin bunker, I’m pretty confident I would have been cheering, too.
Dr. King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I’m inclined to agree.
I mourn the loss of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed, yet somehow have trouble rejoicing at the murder of the architect of their death.
I remember reading once what Gandhi said just hours before his assassination when asked by legendary journalist Margaret Bourke-White about how he would confront an atomic bomb with nonviolence. She recounted the following:
Ah’ he said. ‘How should I answer that? I would meet it by prayerful action.’ I asked what form that action would take. ‘I will not go underground. I will not go into shelters. I will go out and face the pilot so he will see I have not the face of evil against him.’
Gandhi went on to say,
“But the longing in our hearts that he will not come to harm would reach up to him and his eyes would be opened.”
Sound ridiculous, or, at the least, hopelessly idealistic? Sure, on some level.
I also remember reading famed Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh, when asked about what he would say to Osama Bin Laden after the September 11 attacks:
If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.
After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will.
Again, easy to dismiss as a praying fool, and is there absolutely nothing there.
I’ll be honest.
My thinking on international intervention has evolved, starting with the U.S.-led bombing of Kosovo in 1999. In that case, I thought Noam Chomsky was wrong when he called for the United States to do nothing.
I also understand that, while nonviolence is not only laudable, but the philosophy around which I have organized my adult life, there are limits to it and, indeed, at times there very well may need to be another way.
I also have read the work of Tim Tyson and other historians who have pushed back against what they perceive as the mythologizing of the civil rights movement, pointing out both that nonviolence worked because it was in the context of more violent alternatives and that some of its most renowned practitioners, like Dr. King, carried guns.
I understand all of that.
But I’m also thinking about the section in the Hagaddah when G-d chides the angels who are celebrating the demise of the Egyptians in the Red Sea after letting the Jews pass through safely.
Although he closed the sea on them, he also did not want people rejoicing at the destruction of any of his creatures, even those who had chosen evil and caused great harm.
I am glad that the evildoer is gone, yet I do not rejoice at his death. Although I am not a religiously observant person, I did relate to the following verse from the book of Proverbs, ““Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
I hope that you take this post in the light in which it is offered-an honest attempt to sift through a wave of contradictory and inconsistent thoughts, emotions and positions about the death of a man whose evil actions brought and continue to bring so much pain to so many.
As always, comments, discussion and opinion are welcome.