April 2018

Monday, May 2, 2011

Time to Celebrate?

"Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones."--The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as quoted by President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. 9 Dec. 2009

For me, this morning's newspaper headline photograph of Americans celebrating Osama bin Ladin's death eerily echoed the images of Palestinian children celebrating in the streets after the September 11, 2001 Al-Quaeda attacks in the United States. As I remember the Palestinian images, the celebrants there were younger and less white, but the enthusiasm in the wake of death struck me as wrong then, and it strikes me as wrong now.

I wrestle with the notion of a just war and wonder if violence is ever justified.  I am tempted to think that war is always wrong. I also wonder, though, if someone with the power to intervene should resort to violence when innocent civilians fall victim to the whims of chaos or despots. Shouldn't the powerful defend the weak?  Could it be wrong to defend those innocents being tortured and killed in lands like Darfur or Rwanda? Perhaps war is sometimes just, but that's complicated.

Perhaps, at times violence is justified to defend those who are weaker from those who are stronger. Perhaps. I wrestle with this issue, but I know I cannot be joyful when I hear that a man was killed.

There are of course practical reasons for reserve: on the radio today, full of talk about America's victory over bin Laden, several people spoke about the spirit of bin Laden that lives on. Said one al-Quaeda enthusiast: There is not one bin Laden. There are thousands. If you kill this one, we still live to fight this mission.

Surely this man who dodged the American manhunt for almost a decade has supporters who have hidden him so effectively for so long. It seems logical that he made a plan for his demise and the continuation of his vision in case of his death. Certainly, he had already named his successor, and the organization has continued to move forward while bin Ladin has been in hiding.

Though bin Laden's death may be an important symbolic victory over the forces that have killed so many in the United States and elsewhere, it's hard for me to imagine that this is a practical blow to al Quaeda. I am more perplexed by the moral argument than by what seems a spurious practical argument.

The path to peace would be something to celebrate, but I don't see that we're any closer to walking this path.

In my high school English classes, I have taught teenagers terrorized still by the violence they experienced in times of war and chaos, and I would celebrate to know that children will no longer suffer, but I cannot imagine that bin Laden's death signals such hope.

I cannot celebratge simply for retribution.

I wonder if I would feel differently if members of my family had been killed on September 11, 2001. Perhaps I would. I can understand the argument that such a violent death is necessary for building a more peaceful world, even if I cannot make that argument myself.

Cheering for a violent death, though? I cannot cheer. I keep hearing, "Vengence is mine, saith the Lord," and I sigh, a bit confused, for a world where such death is cheered. If such violence is necessary (and I'm not sure what I think about that), then this reminder that brutality is on the road to peace does not make me cheer. It just makes me sad. It makes me wonder, darkly, if there is a path to peace.

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