Monday, May 2, 2011

Why I cannot rejoice in Bin Laden's death

Osama Bin Laden was a very wicked man who perpetrated great evil. He was the enemy not only of the United States, but of civilization itself. Doubtless it is a better world, arguably a safer one (although in the short term it will likely be even more dangerous), with him removed from it.

Yet I cannot rejoice in any violent death, not even that of a wicked man, for it necessarily continues the cycle of violence itself. I have never found the argument that capital punishment serves as a deterrent convincing, and I am equally skeptical that Al Qaeda will be deterred from future terrorist activity by Bin Laden’s execution. Fanatics who regard suicide bombing as a spiritually noble way to die are not likely to be dissuaded by the threat “we will bring you to justice, no matter how long it takes!”

There are many lost souls in our world, some of those souls terribly warped and twisted. Bin Laden clearly was in that latter category. I am not saying that he should not have been put to death (certainly he would not have permitted himself to be taken alive), merely that I cannot rejoice in it. My faith teaches that rejoicing is the proper response when a lost soul is reclaimed, not when a lost soul is executed. It had to be done: I understand that, even agree with it. And yet I grieve my own complicity in the cycle of responding to violence with violence.

There is a bit of irony in the timing of his death. After nearly ten years of armed conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bin Laden is finally killed just as the Arab world begins to embrace freedom and democracy rather than the path of hatred he taught. The young in particular, those whose frustration made them so ripe for recruitment by Al Qaeda, are coming to believe that they have the power to shape a better future. People who believe in their future are not likely to become suicide bombers.

Some are claiming that Bin Laden’s death marks the end of a dark era, and I hope and pray that will prove to be true. In the real world eras never end tidily, of course. Some Al Qaeda cells will likely endure for years, even decades. More grievous acts of terror will occur, we will retaliate, and that retaliation will then be used as a tool to recruit more to the path of terrorism. That is how the cycle has always worked: violence cannot bring an end to violence.

What can? Hopes and dreams. In the end we all want the same things: a safe and decent world in which to raise children, friendship and community, love and laughter, and the freedom to pursue our hopes and dreams. Bin Laden is dead. May new hopes and dreams be born in the imaginations of both those who idolized him and those who hated him.