Monday, 2 May 2011

No winners

I am currently listening to a Radio 4 extended news coverage of the death of Osama Bin Laden and at this moment to people in New York. It is interesting to note the range of  responses, some people expressing intense exultation and a sense of victory, but with some reports of  a more sombre reaction,  people lighting candles and remembering the dead. I have just seen the comment on twitter of one 9/11 survivor, Harry Waizer: "I just can't find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden".
Like everyone I was shocked and horrified by the events of 9/11 and found it hard to imagine the scale of  the terror, loss and suffering. Perhaps I am unimaginative, but I found it difficult this morning to feel any sort of emotional reaction to the news of Bin Laden's death.  I could not find it in myself to feel anything other than it is a good thing that he is gone, at the same time I felt our main focus should be upon the implications of his death, whether it will make us safer or less so, whether it will make any long term difference to global terrorism, which surely lies in ideologies as much as in individuals.
 I suppose I should make some attempt to consider the moral issues around this killing, but I am loathe to do so because on the one hand there is so much to say and on the other hand so little. We are clearly told to love our enemies in the bible. We are told a lot of other things as well, things which contradict the idea of loving our enemies, which just goes to show how isolated verses don't take us that far!  I guess that when Christ said love your enemies he also meant mass murderers, not just love those who are a little bit nasty to you, but never in the real world is the USA going to love its enemy in this context! Love and forgiveness are not always practical or possible on a personal level either; how many of those, whether Christian or not, who lost loved ones in 9/11 would say that they have forgiven, much more that they love those responsible? Which of us would really argue that they should, or must do so?
Listening to some of those interviewed today I heard the unmistakable note of revenge, one man expressed his view that the devil had been destroyed. The events of 9/11 were evil, but it was not an evil that came from nowhere, but an evil rooted in ideas and ideologies, no doubt Bin Laden thought "justice had been done" when the towers collapsed. Nor does the death of Bin Laden even out the score, nobody is a winner in this situation. The dead of 9/11 remain dead, the suffering cannot be erased and the fact that we are capable of carrying out atrocities, or repaying our hurts without a thought for human suffering and that we will carry on doing so for the whole of human history, makes us all losers. I am not very good at forgiving; if I had lost someone in 9/11, I might be rejoicing at Bin Laden's death. As it is, I feel more like lighting a candle - not for him but for us all.


  1. Exactly, Sue. As I've just commented elsewhere, my fear is that this will prove to be an illusory achievement, replacing a fugitive leader whose influence may well have been waning with a dead martyr whose blood, to some, will cry out to be avenged.

  2. I am sure you, like me, can remember your teacher or mother telling you – usually after you had just belted a fellow pupil or friend over the head, claiming you were only paying him/her back for some crime they had committed against you – that two wrongs don’t make a right.

    The problem is in the way we remember or perceive ‘demon’ characters like Bin Laden. They assume a similar property to that of Melchizedek, in that they are without lineage – at least within the popular imagination and the popular media. Few people in the Western world are interested in the rise of Al Qaeda other than the fact it is an organisation that is an enemy of the West. Yet enmity is seldom created out of thin air. Few in the West question its interference in the wider world. There was a time, in the 1980s when the West (particularly the US & UK) along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were happy to fund Islamic terrorism. Of course in those days we funded Islamic groups trying to overthrown the puppet government of Afghanistan, because it was an agent of Soviet expansion. Reagan, Thatcher, Ibn Saud and Mubarak were more than happy for Islamic extremists from the Middle East and the UK and Europe to go off and fight against the Soviets. When terrorists are funded by the West, we call them freedom fighters... But this is just an example of semantics, they were terrorists, but just in the pay of the West and her allies.

    The Wall fell, and Soviet style Communism died a death and no one gave a thought to Afghanistan. No one thought it would be a good idea to bring back the battle scarred ‘freedom fighters’ and reintegrate them into society. Of course they went on to form the basis for the Fundamentalist theocracy that gave way to the Taliban and a nice melting pot of religious extremism, military know-how and a blind eye being turned to the training camps and economic misery that are the breeding grounds for terrorism and violence.

    Few questioned the strange anomalies of Western thinking when it comes to economic sanctions and the threat and actual military action against Islamic nations for not doing what the UN tells them to do. Whereas, Israel, a nation which happily ignores UN directives, gets away scot free, for the simple reason that US & UK political parties don’t like to upset the Jewish vote – and like to have a friend in the Middle East, even though that friend commits many of the violations (and worse) of human rights its Islamic neighbours are chastised for.

    It is difficult to mourn the passing of Osama Bin Laden – the man was a vile, cruel ideologue, who has blood on his hands – probably less blood than President Bush or Prime Minster Blair – but blood nevertheless. Yet lessons have to be learned sooner or later and it is no good just pretending hypocrisy doesn’t happen, in regard to Israel or ‘Friends of the West’ Islamic states that don’t have democratic government and where human rights are happily ignored (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain etc.).

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, and it is doubtful anything good will come from the death of Bin Laden.

  3. Thanks for this, Peter. You know more about the rise of Al Qaeda than I do, but I did know some of the background you outline above, which was one of the reasons that I wrote that 9/11 was not an evil which came from nowhere. Atrocity and evil acts are usually rooted in other injustices and in political, social, ideological contexts. You are also right that we define right and wrong from our own political and ideological perspectives - although a lot of people find this idea very difficult to accept!

  4. Another dimension is that it is easier to demonise someone as personified evil than to look at our own responsibilities in complex relationships. If he's evil, so uniquely evil that he's almost outside our comprehension, then we don't have to try to comprehend, we don't have any responsibilities other than to get rid of him.
    It's a natural human response but it's ultimatley counterproductive.