The announcement last night that Osama bin Laden was killed in a military operation against him was, I believe, welcome news to most of the world. My initial reaction was simply indifferent. I mean, he's certainly symbolic of terrorism and 9/11, but he had also become largely irrelevant. Anyone that high on the wanted list simply can't operate anyway. But still, the symbolic value is certainly huge, and I tip my hat to the guys who busted in there and did it.
Shortly after the announcement, I have to admit that the celebration in the streets also made me extraordinarily uncomfortable. Sure, I'm glad the planet is rid of that asshole, but cheering about it doesn't feel like the appropriate response. A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., started making the rounds on Facebook today, and it really captures what I was thinking:
"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."
(There's another part that people have been posting, but I can't attribute it to any of the King text out there: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.")
From an emotional standpoint, whether you were directly affected by 9/11 or not, there is satisfaction that the job was done. Let's be honest, it was a revenge hit, and even if it largely symbolic, it's a hell of a symbol. The guy got what he deserved. What I find uncomfortable is drunk college kids celebrating in front of the White House. It just doesn't seem like something Americans do.
Personally, I would've liked to have seen him captured alive, and tried as a criminal. If he was sentenced to die, so be it, but part of what makes our country special is due process. I'm sure people would argue that the victims on 9/11 had no due process, and you'd be correct because they didn't commit a crime. Victims aren't tried, so the comparison makes no sense. I like to think that we're simply more civilized.
The thing I still find unfortunate, and I've felt this way for ten years, is that people are generally unwilling to ask what motivates a crazy person to do what the terrorists did. It doesn't help that we had an inarticulate moron in the White House for years that insisted it was just people who "hate freedom" and are simply "evil" without cause. These guys get no pass for what they did, but how can you not wonder what made them radical in the first place?
It's a hard question that has no simple answers. The policy of western nations to intervene in conflicts in the Middle East, but not places around Africa, the former Soviet republics or Southeast Asia, certainly leave the perception that we're at war with Islam. One might perceive we've played favorites in Israel for decades as well. Of course that isn't the case, but it might appear that way to otherwise rational people there. I honestly don't know what the solution is to that problem, but a willingness to admit that it's a problem would be a good start.
So what has changed since yesterday? Al Qaeda has not disappeared. It's a network of terrorists, not one with a strict hierarchy. The crazy radicals are likely energized by this, maybe even feeling justified now. We're not going to pull everyone out of Afghanistan now or stop looking for terrorists. We won't get the victims of 9/11 back.
I'm glad the guy is gone. The optimist in me feels like the spreading desire for democratic states, and growing belief in hard core capitalism, will over time transform the Middle East. I was reading on al Jazeera that a lot of Arabs are hoping that bin Laden's death is a turning point that will get the west off their backs and let them begin a new and peaceful era, on their terms. I hope that's true.
Celebration that we killed a guy doesn't seem appropriate, but I think it's a good reason to reflect on how our lives have changed, what it did to bring people together, and of course to thank the people who volunteer to put themselves in harm's way, whether they agree with the mission or not. I can get behind that.