“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”– Mark Twain
It’s not that I’m happy Bin Laden the man is dead. I would have preferred a trial, public humiliation, and a long prison sentence in Guantanamo or some Saudi shit-hole of a prison … but even as I write that I’m conflicted, because those words descend to a level of vindictiveness that I don’t want to live by. In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Standing By the Side of Love:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.Through violence you may murder the liar,but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.Through violence you may murder the hater,but you do not murder hate.In fact, violence merely increases hate.So it goes.Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,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.(Thanks to Carter for the quote.)
No, mostly I’m happy that Bin Laden the symbol and the excuse is dead. I’m listening to Talk of the Nation’s coverage of Bin Laden’s death on NPR, and one of their Middle East correspondents was talking about how Arabs see this as an end to a decade of collective punishments of the Arabs and other Muslims for the actions of Bin Laden and a few other fanatics. Afghanistan, Iraq, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, Pakistani drone attacks … all of these look from the Middle East like punishment for 9/11, the USS Cole, the African embassy bombings, the first WTC bombing…. Now, finally, we’ve gotten rid of the man who, for the West, represents the deepest evil that Islam has to offer and too often blinds us to the great good that’s present in Islam. True, Zawahiri and al-Masri are still out there, and hundreds of others bent on wreaking havoc on the West and Western installations in the East, but the biggest, baddest wolf is gone. It doesn’t mean we automatically withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, close Guantanamo and put it all behind us, but it’s a powerful step in the right direction.
At the same time, I think it’s important to put this event into context. While Americans are making a big deal out of this attack, Arabs have other things on their minds. Hundreds are dying in Syria every day, and in Libya, standing up to mad, relentless dictators. The outlook for Yemen is not much better. Egypt and Tunisia are busy rebuilding – or, I should say, building – nations they can be proud of. Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Bahrainis, Saudis, Lebanese … they’re all busy with extremely important and emotional domestic issues.
Osama Bin Laden is barely relevant here anymore, and the single desperate act of a fruit vendor in Tunisia deserves more credit for that than a 10-year, trillions-of-dollars manhunt. The youth of the Arab Spring are disciples of Rev. King and Václav Havel of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, with whom some of the April 6 Youth studied nonviolent resistance techniques. Even when they were being attacked with horses and Molotov cocktails on Tahrir Square, Egyptian protesters were chanting “Peaceful! Peaceful!” to hold themselves and each other to a philosophy that rejects violence, even in retaliation for violence. Disciples of Osama Bin Laden still exist, but a much larger portion of Arab youth have found a far more powerful and effective means of expression.