Osama Bin Laden: Fatality

That was some big news for a Sunday night.  It’s the kind of news event where you’ll always remember where you were when you heard it.  Like, of course, September 11th.

I was at home, checking out NYTimes.com when I saw the Breaking News alert.  I turned on my TV and waited for Obama’s speech.  And then I went out and drank with friends to celebrate (a birthday and a deathday).

As Facebook filled with responses, the unsurprising reaction of most people was jubilation.  But, it being Facebook (and my friends), there were contrarian responses, too.  The one I saw the most (other than the “America, Fuck Yeah!” response) was one of chagrin at celebrating over the death of an enemy.  This was mostly expressed in pious words of dismay: “Should we really be happy about his death?  Shouldn’t we have hoped that Osama found Jesus?”

No, seriously, that’s the sentiment.

Besides being blisteringly obtuse (yes, the way to confront religious fundamentalism is with more religion; endsarcasm), it’s also just plain ridiculous to believe that a man who had devoted his life to a faith and the deaths of thousands (millions?) of people would ever convert to the ‘opposing’ team.  That’s cognitive dissonance times a gazillion.

(“God” killed off the entire population of the world besides for one family because he was mad at us.  I hardly think his judgment on justice is worth a damn.)

But the hand-wringing isn’t limited to Christians.  Even atheists can question the wisdom of expending so many resources (humans, weapons, money, years) to kill this man.

As everything was unfolding on the news and my FB feed last night, I couldn’t help but think of a scene from Band of Brothers (unsurprising since I just watched it).

The soldiers hear that Hitler has been killed and there is a somewhat stunned, somewhat confused pause.  Then one of the soldiers ask the question that everyone is wondering: “Is the war over?”

The answer, of course, is “No.”

Still, there was a feeling of, the tide has turned.

The parallels between Hitler and Osama are more symbolic than actual.  For one, we were fighting a very different type of war back then, against an army rather than ‘insurgents’ (for what that’s worth).

But the similarities are what matters.  Our fight in World War II might have been jingoistic in nature and less noble then history has recorded it, but these facts exist:  Hitler was a horrible man (no Post-modern reconstruction can change that), killing millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill and other “undesirables.”  And our involvement in the war helped end Hitler’s life and the Holocaust.

This is why I can never be a true pacifist.  There are reasons to fight.  There are people who will never be stopped by anything short of force.  War (or “military intervention”) should be a last resort.  I do not support the war we fight in Iraq because we were taken into it by lies and the personal vendettas of those in power, and I don’t believe we exhausted all other means before going in. 

I do, on the other hand, support the fight against Al-Qaeda.  Partially, it is because of the September 11th attacks (and other attacks over the previous two decades), but mostly it’s because they are a group of people forcefully attempting to subjugate humanity under their religious doctrine, killing and destroying lives throughout the world.  To me, that is about as black and white as it gets.  This isn’t a “cultural” thing.  Some say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”  True.  But there are causes I can believe in and there are causes that are vile.  A theocracy is not a cause I can support in any form.

Their cause is not just.

That is not to say that America is the one true beacon of Truth and Justice in the world.  Our foreign policy (the one we practice, not the one we preach) is a dangerous mix of oilmongering and dictator building.  We have put our support behind horrible regimes because it temporarily benefited us, and it’s no surprise that such actions have come to bite us in the ass time and time again.

In an alternate universe where we didn’t pursue our own goals at the cost of other nations, maybe we could afford to be pacifists.  Probably not.

But, we don’t live in that imaginary Candyland.  We live in the world that we have, one that has been created in part by our mistakes, but also in large part by the hatred and ignorance that religion breeds (I don’t feel like qualifying that sentence for the religious; even loving, intelligent religious types should see this is a truth, if not absolute).

So we fight.  And we should fight.  Because there is evil in this world.  And as an Atheist who doesn’t need a holy book to give me my morality, I can tell you what evil is:

Killing innocent people.
Inflicting your religious/political control over people with the threat of death.
Taking away other people’s freedoms.

This is why we fight.  It’s why we fought Hitler.  It’s why we fought Osama.  And it’ll be why we fight unknown dangers in the future.

Maybe Osama’s death is merely a symbolic win for us.  At the same time, it’s a symbolic loss for them.  And symbols, for better or worse, matter.

Will killing Osama end the Al-Qaeda threat?  Of course not.

Will killing Osama mean we can bring our troops back?  Of course not.

Will killing Osama turn him into a martyr?  Probably for some.  Then again, it very well could be the act that causes some fence sitters to jump up and run away from terrorism.  We really can’t know the full impact.

But it will have an impact.  No amount of ironic detachment or pious grandstanding can change that.

The death of Osama is a day worth celebrating.


Is the war over?


But maybe the tide has turned.

7 thoughts on “Osama Bin Laden: Fatality

  1. Well said. I had a big discussion about rhetoric and symbols this morning. Wish I could discuss more, but lunch is wrapping up and the children of the world need my psychological services.

    • Don’t leave those children waiting. They will be lost without you. Lord knows I am.

  2. I agree it is of course very good that Osama was taken out. After perusing Facebook to see what types of people were making ‘pious Christian comments’, it seems to me that they are exactly the types of Christians you most admire under other circumstances (though of course would not share faith with). In other words, the comments they are making are along the line of ‘We shouldn’t be rejoicing about somebody going to hell, etc.’ They are the types of Christians most likely to take a balanced approach and think about viewpoints on all sides, not your bible-belt ‘guns, flags, and bibles’ Christians who are usually the subject of the most criticism. And I don’t doubt many (most?) of them would also disavow Theocracy, as you or I would. There’s a very large difference between celebrating a strategic objective that benefits humanity, and celebrating revenge or the joy of someone else’s damnation (i.e. Huckabee’s comment “Welcome to hell!”).

    It is a VERY good thing that Osama was taken out, something to be celebrated. However, the celebration should not and *cannot* be about revenge for a Christian. This isn’t about Christian piousness…laying down the impulse for revenge and ‘praying for your enemies’ is a primary thrust of the Christian message.

    Of course I realize that in this instance, this means that the Christian runs the danger of not celebrating American superiority, of looking disloyal to the flag, or worse, being a party-pooper when the streets are filled with joy over Osama’s death. But that’s okay; if skipping this particular party is the price of admission for more nuanced thought in areas in which many Christians (and Americans in general) have been accused of NOT having compassion or objective thinking, then that’s okay.

    To clear up any confusion about this post or where I am coming from: I am a Christian. I am opposed to the death penalty. I embrace the church’s ‘just-war’ theory. Violence is at times necessary, but always with the understanding that the early church was radically anti-violence for its first 300 years before it became part of the empire. When church and empire join hands, bad things can happen. America is the largest and most powerful empire the world has ever known. That doesn’t mean we American’s don’t do good things in the world. It just means Christians need to make sure we don’t blur the line between the goals of the empire and the mission of the church. Because sometimes (many times) the pursuit of America’s best interests are not in the interest of peace. A serious discussion about America’s consumption of oil can’t be held without tripping over that fact.

    • Daniel, good comments. I too share a deep reluctancy to ‘celebrate’ someones death, anyone’s death really. Its a tragedy that bin laden used his resources and sow so much hate and violence. But, his death is a suble reminder of the type of destruction and oppression sow in many parts of the Arab world by American foreign policy. bin laden wasn’t so much at ‘war with the west’ and Christianity as much as he was really at war with certain policies in west. Namely, collusion with oppressive dictatorship and regimes, and the dehumanizing treatment palestinians have experienced. bin laden was and extreme violent reaction to those types of policies.
      When a specific foreign empire flies drones around your country taking out terrorists and in the process killing thousands of innocent civilians, some people react. Other people are sympathetic to those who react. The entanglement of security interests and economic interests is almost indistinguishable.
      What is both saddening and hopeful is that many parts of the world where the population is largely muslim are undergoing radical changes. Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, will look every different for our kids than they did for our parents. The reforms which are happening right now, bin laden didn’t live to see fully played out. But I think the popular sentiment toward terrorist violent type of opposition to oppression is fading. I pray that continues to be the case. The last few months have shown us that you can actually change these governments in a way other than running into a crowd and blowing up yourself and innocent civilians. And that might be a more effective way of getting rid of the old regimes, and shaking the shackles of being a vassal state of the west. What bin laden represented to Arabs and muslims, from what I gather, is opposition to Western control and exploitation of muslim populations. That attitude dates at least back to Churchill, although anti-Arab sentiments and racism have obviously existed since forever. I think we are still wrestling with our own demons in that area. (Who gets frisked in the airport?) bin laden’s method and ideology is fading. I really think it is. And the revolutions by students in parts of the Arab world are signals that’s the case. That is something I can celebrate.

    • I appreciate both of your responses. Daniel, you are right that most of the Christians who are siding with the no-celebration view are those who tend to be more left leaning on most issues (not entirely, but somewhat; there is a certain contingent of the group who is vehemently anti-Obama and wrap themselves in piousness at any opportunity to stand opposed to him, but that’s a matter for another time).
      I understand the ‘turn the other cheek’ mentality, and I believe in it (even as an atheist). I am, personally, not a fighter.
      That said, I believe in justice. I don’t believe in hell or heaven, and even if I did, I don’t believe that a mass murderer getting the same punishment as an atheist is ‘just’ (I realize these aren’t your opinions, but Biblically, my sin of ‘non-belief’ is equal to Osama’s crimes).
      The world we live in is gray, and we cannot pretend that Osama was a singular evil that rose up out of nothing to attack us. We helped created our own enemy, as a matter of foreign policy. Our foreign actions suck, we cannot pretend to be innocent.
      But the 3,000 people killed on September 11th did not enact that foreign policy. Our nation probably deserves some form of retribution for our sins, but it is not for our citizens (or the citizens of other nations that Al-Qaeda has also attacked) to pay that debt.
      Osama deserved to die. I don’t believe in the death penalty for individual crimes on a domestic front. But I believe there is a point where we cross from murder and rape to widespread atrocity, and whether or not we can definitively distinguish that point on some sort of scale, Osama was far on the other side of it. His crimes, like Hitler’s, deserved a punishment with finality.
      Just as the Nazi party needed to be dismantled from the top down (even though Nazis still exist), the Taliban must have its leaders taken out to dismantle that force (there will still be terrorists, but their ability to fight as a unified front will be undermined).
      So I celebrate Osama’s death. Not dancing in the streets celebration, but I’ll give my friends a hug and toast to the fuckers death. If we are to believe in evil, then there should be joy when the purveyors of evil are extinguished.
      (Since I don’t believe in heaven and hell or any Grand Jury Beyond the Dead, I take my satisfaction in earthly justice, knowing that no amount of prayer would have ever stopped Osama; unless you count the prayers asking for his death.)

      • I appreciate your clarification. I pretty much am on the same page with you, then, as far as Bin Laden is concerned. One further comment you made caught my attention: “…Biblically, my sin of ‘non-belief’ is equal to Osama’s crimes.” I don’t think that’s true. What Osama did was certainly worse than ‘non-belief’. The hell that Osama created on earth was much worse than what occurs when someone doesn’t embrace Christian beliefs. I think it’s a misconception to say that all ‘sin’ is white-washed under Christian thinking (i.e, that its all the same). I think the scriptures are clear that each ‘is judged according to their deeds’.

        Certain activities and behaviors are more harmful than others. In God’s sovereignty, actually, who’s to say that your blogs on religious belief and atheism aren’t actually helping to eliminate dehumanizing religious practices, and instead causing Christians to be more thoughtful, thus furthering God’s purposes?

        He’s a tricky dude.

      • Pretty sneaky, God.

        While I would like to think that my writings/life could have a positive effect on the world, I suspect that there are some who would argue my atheism is the unforgivable sin, blaspheming the Holy Spirit, as you may.

        At least one verse, Revelation 21:8, puts the ‘faithless’ in the same pit as murderers and sexually immoral people (so, you know, good company).

        It’s no skin off my teeth, but I think it is worth noting that, if we are not saved by deeds, but by faith alone, then I’m a goner.

        (I tend to think of the famous quote by Bertrand Russell when asked what he would say if he died and came face to face with God: “Not enough evidence, God. Not enough evidence.”)

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