“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. 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” – Martin Luther King Jr. (H/T @BaghdadBrian for the quote) UPDATE 05/03/2011: Apparently, the above quote is fabricated. The first sentence has been added in. I still like the sentiment, so I’ll leave it up, but refer to Megan McArdle’s post in The Atlantic for more detail)
From the moment I switched on my TV last night to follow the breaking news story about Osama bin Laden’s death, I was immediately taken aback by the scenes of celebration in front of the White House. I spoke with a friend who said it reminded her of when Obama won in 2008. Personally, it conjured up images of extremists celebrating the deaths of Americans, burning American flags and generally having inappropriate responses to solemn news.
I’m sure I lost a few people by writing this, but, honestly, the death of Osama bin Laden does not feel like a good time to be elated and to chant “USA! USA! USA!”. Some people said “Why not come out and celebrate? It’s a time for American unity.” I don’t see it. I understand that “getting” bin Laden was really important for the U.S. Indeed, once the dust settles, this will hopefully help bring closure for a lot of Americans, particularly people in NYC or D.C., and those who lost loved ones in bin Laden-mandated attacks (not just 9/11, but also World Trade Center in 1993, USS Cole…)
For me, seeing the headline “OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD” has brought up a different set of emotions: a time to reflect on the human, political, social and financial cost of this decade-long manhunt and the objectives of the war on terrorism, and most certainly a reminder that we live in a dangerous, complex world where an act like the assassination of bin Laden will most likely not be without consequences.
In sum, a murderous religious extremist was killed. The U.S. has erupted in a collective orgy of national pride and renewed faith in the efficacy and righteousness of military force. Other than that, the repercussions are likely to be far greater in terms of domestic politics — it’s going to be a huge boost to Obama’s re-election prospects and will be exploited for that end — than anything else.
I guess I feel a sense of relief about bin Laden no longer being a part of this world, but I’m not rejoicing. I think this will make us less safe in the short term (possible reprisal attacks from Al Qaeda and/or its affiliates), and potentially safer in the long run (if you target America, consider the fact that you will never live in peace again.) I also think it’s unfortunate that bin Laden was killed and not captured to be put on trial. While this would have carried its own set of political complications (c.f. Saddam Hussein’s trial), it would have been closer, I think, to justice than a “kill-operation.”
Celebrating someone’s death with cheers – even of a heinous man like bin Laden – is never appropriate. It shows an ugly side of the human spirit. I hope that, as civilized human beings with a conscience, we can rise above the instinct to cheer, and instead pause, reflect and remember why we’ve gotten to this point in the first place.