Posted by: dacalu | 3 May 2011

Reflections on the Death of a Terrorist

Dear Friends,

Several people have asked for my thoughts about Osama bin Laden and his death.  In many ways, the subject is complex.  We must not ask only “what is right?” but “what is practical?” and “what is pastoral?” for the billions of people whom he effected in his lifetime.

To begin with, I pray for the soul of Osama bin Laden, as I pray for all the departed.  I have heard Muslim friends say that Allah reserves 99% of his mercy for after death.  I can only pray that in some unimaginable way, God will pull off a miracle and a life that caused so much suffering may be redeemed.  God asks us not to judge, and that can be exceedingly difficult in some cases.  Still, I aim for the ideal.

Second, I believe deeply in pacifism – not passivity or fatalism, but the profound thought that the intent to harm another person can never be the best option.  From a theological standpoint, Christians should not kill people.  Here I stand; I can do no other.  So no, I do not believe that the US should have killed Osama bin Laden.

Justice is not served.  No harm done to one man could make up for the harm done by bin Laden.  Born to privilege, he gave up family, country, and the respect of the majority of Islam for the sake of violence against those of differing opinion.  His actions caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and fear for millions more.  Worse to my mind was the violence done to Muslim “collaborators.”  Bin Laden brain washed so many people to hate so many more.  Killing him was neither justice nor retribution.

We must be ever so careful, though, in our judgment.  The kind of pacifism Jesus preached results in poverty, suffering, and death.  We cannot, as the most rich and powerful country in the world, pretend that military pacifism is morally clear.  True justice would require us to give away the wealth that requires arms to defend it in the first place.  If you are a true pacifist, deeply concerned about American coercion in the world, military and otherwise – then I hope you will stand with me in saying that all killing is wrong.

Third, I am a chaplain and a pastor.  It has been my great honor and privilege to meet some of those people who make command decisions in the United States.  I have never known them to be callous or foolish, apathetic or mean spirited.  No doubt some of them are, but surprisingly few.  A country as large as ours requires people who make tough choices about military action.  Many do so out of deep faith, compassion for the people of the US, and a desire to work for the good of the world.  I would be, and am disappointed when they are disparaged blindly out of naive pacifism.  So let us be explicit about events.

Once one has accepted that some people may hurt and kill others for the benefit of the whole, one must ask questions of who, how, and why.  Bin Laden devoted his life to holy war against the United States.  He corrupted Islam and manipulated nations.  He took credit for horrors done to innocents.  He showed no remorse, no indication that he was amenable to reason (religious or secular), and no promise of repentance.

[To me, one must allow for all to repent, but that’s deep pacifism once again.]

The United States publicly and vigorously pursued bin Laden, showing a willingness to expend lives (allied and enemy) for a decade.  Having judged it expedient to end his freedom, and if necessary his life, the US secured permission from the local government and sent in troops.  Those troops acted to neutralize a threat to US interests and to peace.  To have dallied instead of taking decisive action would have caused more deaths.  Sadly, for good and ill, having decided to do harm, reasoned carefully through the process, it is better to act decisively.

I loath the ideas of honor and sovereignty that make killing part of statecraft, but if I am to accept those things, I feel that I must accept that this was done well.  In the vast realm of evils a state may commit, this was public, direct, limited, and intentional.

Fourth, it is never proper to celebrate death.  Not much commentary needed there.  We may be relieved or satisfied, but each killing makes the world a colder, deader place.  Again, if you must accept violence, accept it as a shameful necessity, but never a joy.  Killing begets killing.

Will this increase violence in the world?  I think not.  Those who hated the US before, hated us enough to destroy us utterly.  The removal of a leader will not incite them more.  If anything it might increase American acceptance of revenge and bloodlust; but once again, I think we’ve peaked on that with regard to terrorism.  I hope that the death of bin Laden will decrease American hate and fear.

Let us kill less.  Let us rejoice less in death.  Let us know, deep in our hearts, that domination, hoarding, and war do not bring happiness.

A large group of people in the US government judged that the world would be a better place without Osama bin Laden at large.  They found support from countries around the world.  They acted decisively and effectively toward that end.  I cannot support those who would judge this as revenge.  It was more cold blooded than that, and more understandable.

If you wish to judge the US, we have plenty of ground.  The deaths of countless Iraqis, Afganis, illegal immigrants, and the poor remind us daily of our callousness toward life.  Do not judge us on this.

I do not judge.  And again.  I do not judge.

I pray for the soul of Osama bin Laden.  May God find a place for him.

I pray for the souls of those who sit in climate controlled rooms and decide who should live and who should die.  They have taken on a great burden, perhaps too great, but they – like all of us – must work that out with fear and trembling.

I pray for the souls of soldiers who partially resign their conscience to the needs of nations and the will of the people in the war rooms.  May they find grace in what choices they have.

I pray for the souls of those who think violence is the only answer (no matter which side they are on).

I pray for those who have suffered violence, particularly the violence on September 11th, 20o1.  May the 10 years interval bring them the perspective they need to grieve well and find grace.

I pray for all who judge.  May they turn their indignation into compassion and their justice into service.  For only by love can the world be better tomorrow than it is today.

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