The Miserable Death of Osama bin Laden

In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, I have been deeply disturbed by the rejoicing at his death.

Obviously, Osama was responsible for dreadful crimes, and it is understandable that he should be hated. I still remember after many years reading his horrific ‘poetry’ celebrating the death of US soldiers in the bombing of the USS Cole. Debates about the legality and ethics of the operation aside, the US has eliminated a loathed enemy just as any state would do.

So I can understand relief. I can understand closure. I can’t understand celebration. Nothing has been won. A lamentable human being has been killed. The scenes of his corpse-ridden residence are squalid and sad – this is the great enemy who has terrorized the ‘free world’ for a decade?

Osama’s legacy has been fading for many years already. The astonishing wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world currently will be seen as far more significant in the long term than the ill-conceived and misnamed ‘war on terror’. And they are not about fundamentalism, but about Enlightenment values: freedom, equality, justice. Underlying them is not religion, but the reality of material scarcity and insecurity, problems that will only become worse in the next decades.

Killing Osama changes none of this. It is more suffering, for his family, for those that loved him: and yes, I believe that it is possible to love a monster. Osama was a cruel, narcissistic fool; and also an idealist who truly believed that his murderous beliefs were the height of spiritual truth. He was complex, contradictory, and dangerous: in a word, human.

The death of a human should never be a cause for celebration. When we see the crowds whooping it up because of a human death, how far have we come from the days of parading your enemy’s heads on a stick?

Each face in the crowd, each expression of hatred, each crowing of victory and vengeance does nothing but fuel more hatred. Extremists over the world will be galvanized, pumped up with even more hatred and lust for violence.

The death of Osama bin Laden does not call for rejoicing. It calls for sober reflection. It calls for understanding as to what has really fuelled this past decade of madness. And it calls for us to consider how we, as human beings, ought to regard each other, even and especially in such cases as the miserable life and death of Osama bin Laden.


21 thoughts on “The Miserable Death of Osama bin Laden

  1. I would like to cite Phra Paisal Visalo, a well-respected monk in Thailand.

    “After the 9/11, which resulted in over 3,000 deaths, many people, especially those in the Middle East, shouted with joy as they saw that ‘justice has been done’. Ten years later, bin Laden was killed; Americans and their allies rejoiced, saying, “Justice has been done.” A point to ponder: Is death necessary for justice to be done? How many times is killing needed to give justice to all parties?”

    • ..the sad thing is my 15 year old son and his friend think there will be a retaliation against us here in NYC yet again. He was in Kindergarten when this all began.

      I let him know to just enjoy each day; never live in fear of death.. because we live on. I joke too as listening to Ajahn Brahm Youtube’s inspired me. I say well then I won’t get too old and wind up in a nursing home. And I just Let Go of Fear. It keeps our home life calm here in NY. (of course I have some fears – I’m human; but I address them; and let them dissipate). Basically it has been peaceful for the last 10 years here; so worrying would have just been for naught.

    • The Buddha said: Hatred never ceases with hatred but by love alone is cured. Dhp 5
      It is unfortunate that it had to come to this, but then again we’re reminded that this is samsara. Samsara will always be like this, it’s the nature for people to have defilements and act on ill will and delusion. Noone will ever be able to save the world. That’s what mara tried to do to the Buddha, convince him that he can be the world turning monarch and the Buddha saw through that craving and decided to end samsara instead.
      So maybe this can be a reminder of the urgency to keep on the practice and just get out of this samsara business.

  2. I live in NYC. My 15 year old son informed me of what happened and put on the news. It was sad seeing everyone celebrating ‘Death’. Humans causing more violence to others. The happy faces seemed so sad. What is there to celebrate.. More Violence? Killing one of our insane brothers; .. when someone does wrong it means we all failed as a society of this Universe.

    When I was young people tried to assimilate me into their thinking. I was told I was naive and gullible and living in a ‘bubble in my head’. I think NOT. I think that if we all believe ‘peace and kindness to all living creatures-it could be Real’.

    So many I know are fear-based; and the ego feels threaten and needs enemies; and causes to celebrate violence? I find it confusing; even now at 50 years old.

    I do not get into any debates now. I just state my feelings quietly… and I do see people I know having a glimmer of understanding. (they get out of that crowd mentality).

    Thank you for this article ..

  3. A more charitable view of the celebrations is that they are an expression of happiness that the war(s) started on 9/11 could be major step closer to ending in victory, not necessarily that he is dead. My guess is that you would have seen the same outpouring had Osama been captured without bloodshed. I think of it more like the VE/VJ day celebrations in WW II. Since we don’t have a conventional government that can “surrender”, the incapacitation of the leaders of our declared enemies serves a similar role in our social consciousness.

    That said, I agree with you Bhante that it would be better if instead the occasion was marked by sober reflection on the costs of this conflict. War is always horrible, regardless of how justified, and we should be focused on ending the suffering of all involved as quickly as possible.

  4. He sounds like a monster and his actions cannot be justified …but then if someone hates them and all they see is the hate and justify that to think ‘oh I don’t have hate’ so I am superior, instead of trying to understand why someone hates them, are so impressed and self righteous about their own ‘rightness ‘ that they think they are blameless, they care so little about anyone else that they do not even try to understand why they are hated, then these things will happen.

  5. When someone does something really terrible that hurts many people and he has no conscience about it and keeps doing it, keeps hurting people that is. What should be done. As Buddhists do we sit by and allow it or do we take a stance to stop it?

    • Hi Flower,

      That’s a very good question. I do believe that as Buddhists we are too often passive in the face of suffering, especially the suffering of others.

      In this kind of case, i would suggest that the problem arises from focusing on the symptoms, the acts of violence. These acts are perpetrated solely to create ‘terror’, and responding with violence and panic is exactly what the perpetrators want.

      The better response is to look at the causes of the problems. Of course, there are some extremists who will never be satisfied. But they are only a small minority: most people want to just get on with their lives. If we look at what the genuine issues people have and try to help them, the world ends up a safer place in the long run.

      I am not saying there should be no security-based response; I am saying that the response to 9/11 was massively skewed out of proportion, and if there had been a more balanced and compassionate response there would be less extremists today.

      The US non-military aid budget is 33.9 billion.
      The US military budget is $687 billion.

      The imbalance is not limited to the US.

      Check out this analysis of what ‘could be’ if the priorities were to helping people rather than military options.

      If the world were led by compassion rather than fear, I believe we would see these figures reversed. What kind of world might that be, i wonder?

  6. Those who celebrated should at least question whether Osama was in fact killed or not. There is no proof to believe that Osama died just a few days ago – did he die due to natural causes? Was he killed long time ago? Or is he still alive? Not many will know the answers to these questions. Celebration of the ‘closure’ appears to be a staged media event for the consumption of the gullible. Those who celebrate would benefit from reading the Kalama Sutta….:-)

    • That’s a good point Guptila. When i did some googling, it showed no clear evidence to any conclusion. Just shows how the media feeds us with any agenda they have in mind…

  7. It not good the way people reacted to his death, understandable, but horrific in someways. It says in the paper that the troops are moving out of Afganastan very quickly – because the cost ‘financially’ of having troops there is so high and Obama has now assured himself the Presidency again. Lets hope his motivation was for more lives to be saved if Osama he is dead (and not more lost through revenge attacks) than if he were alive and it wasn’t just done for financial and re-election purposes..umm is there a reason there is only one letter difference in their names.

  8. Osama Bin Laden should have had a trial. The US produced another hero and “martyr” for believer in Islam “holly war” by killing him like that. It was oil on their fire.

    He might even get more powerful now than he ever was :|.

    I don’t think, this action had any real wholesome effect apart from traumatizing some soldiers, killing human beings, and serving revenge- and “allmighty” “we-can-do-it”- feelings of a whole people.

    • Srini, who reported about the Al-quaeda statement? I did not think that Al-quaeda has their own broadcasting services. I guess it was reported by CNN or BBC?? If that is the case, say no more!

  9. Those who still believe the Bin Laden story may want to listen to this audio clip.

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  10. Just to make sure that this discussion keeps within the scope of this blog – all I am saying is that we need to keep an open mind about what is being dished out by the so-called free media. As Buddhists we should not buy into any of the theories just because they sound good. All I was trying to do was to highlight there is another side to this story and that story to me sounds more convincing – I admit that I could be wrong! Hopefully, this will bring the ‘political’ discussion to a closure!!

    • Thanks, Guptila, i appreciate that. I am fine with the occasional political comment on the blog, but i wouldn’t want it to escalate into a full-blown discussion on such matters – there’s plenty of that elsewhere on the net!

  11. Thank you Bhante for this…I’ve been troubled since all the celebrating and only just read this. Brings the sanity of Santii just a bit closer.

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