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.