It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden is Dead: Thoughts and Feelings on Justice and Victory

Last night came the big news of Osama bin Laden's death in a U.S. commando raid on a luxury, fortified compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The punditry has already begun and will certainly continue to flood the airwaves and netwaves in the hours and days and weeks to come. The meaning and implications of this momentous event will be sliced and diced from myriad perspectives -- political, military, historical, religious, economic, legal, and so forth. Here are my own two cents: feelings and thoughts on justice and victory.

 My feelings about bin Laden's death are a mixture of relief and sadness. Definitely not jubilation or vindication.

Relief in that the hunt is over, the paramount symbol of the "War on Terror" has been dematerialized. OK, but why the sadness? Not because he died. After all, he wanted it that way and made his choices and took actions in life that all but guaranteed a violent end. So, why sad? A few reasons emerge from my feelings through my fingers as I write.

Partly because it's not really over. The War on Terror, that is. The anti-Muslim/anti-West antipathy. Not over. It may well even intensify through a cycle of retribution and vengeance on both sides. The symbol, after all, can have so much more virulent and energizing power in its ethereal incarnation than it ever had in material form. For both sides. This cycle of violence is not inevitable. It's a choice we each will make, and we'll know the choices taken real soon, that's for sure.

Why else sad? Two headlines in today's paper. One quoted Obama's announcement last night, in which he declared that, "Justice has been done." Justice? Is the death of the perpetrator of a crime "justice?" Sadly, in our culture, justice is too often equated with getting even, taking retribution, wreaking vengeance, "an eye for an eye," or in this case a life for a life, or rather hundreds of thousand of lives for three thousand. Such justice never solves anything, and the violence never ends. Never.

The second headline announced that, "Obama can claim a defining victory." Victory? Is a successful commando raid and the killing of a criminal a "victory"? It seems to me that it is bin Laden that has had the bigger success in accomplishing his aims and so may yet have the last laugh.

Yes, bin Laden is dead. Before dying, though, he managed, through that one terrible act 10 years ago, to exploit our own internal fatal flaw, not very hidden after all, and thus triggered our own self-destruction. That act of bringing down the World Trade Center and killing three thousand of our citizens, as horrific as it was, triggered our own 10-year process of bringing down our civil liberties, our Constitution, and our democratic freedoms and ideals, and of killing perhaps hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, and others, and thus turning ourselves into a paranoid police state. Mission accomplished!

Is there a victory here? If so, whose?

But that's the past. Over and done with. As of this moment, as always, we have a choice in how we move forward from here,  including deciding in what direction forward lies. Ten years ago we chose a path of self-destruction and our own brand of global jihad. What will we choose now? Let it be a path of healing and unity, not just of America and Americans but of the world and all humanity.


  1. It seems to me how we, the USA deal with his body will guide our future in dealing with the Muslim world.
    If we allow a dignified burial on his home soil, if the Saudis will allow it we can show the world we took the necessary action but are not 'Christian' savages.
    I will be interested in how Obama deals with this, as an opportunity to began healing or as a political tool for his reelection bid.

  2. How we deal with it? From what I've read his body has already been given a "sea burial." Tradition or getting rid of any evidence? Hard to believe there are no pictures of his body.

    You are right Mike, who won? Mission accomplished has turn our American Dream upside down.

  3. ‎"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

  4. I generally define justice as a process of making whole again something that was broken or disrupted... in this sense we are far from achieving justice and are living in an even more fractured world. Few of our responses to 9/11 have been about justice. I am thankful for groups like the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows whom have illuminated this perspective and have condemned violent action in their names. I think many will falsely assume that OBL's death will give them wholeness, but upon reflection I hope they will see the bigger picture.

  5. I agree with Mike. The chest thumping and the equating of justice with revenge made me feel sick and ashamed. I hope that America can be better than that. Your point is well taken that we lost 3,000 lives plus 3,000 more of our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then probably a hundred thousand more people died as a result of our war in Iraq + Afghanistan. We went mad with rage and killed as our response. This makes me worry that the cycle of violence will be unending. And the sight of our young people on college campuses dancing with joy was truly frightening.