Monday, May 2, 2011
By now, I'm guessing most of you know that Osama Bin Laden, founder of the terrorist network al-Queda, was killed yesterday by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs. As a Buddhist and yoga practitioner, who has placed non-violent action at the forefront of his life, I was uncertain how to respond to the news when I first heard it last night.
It leaves quite a bitter taste in my mouth that this man was found not in Afghanistan or Iraq, where hundreds of thousands have been killed over the past decade, but in Pakistan. Seeing crowds of Americans cheering the man's death and singing patriot songs at the Capitol, in Times Square, and other places around the country also left me feeling uneasy.
My initial response upon hearing President Obama's speech, where he masterfully justified the War on Terrorism without naming it, equated justice with murdering a man, and generally sounded like a toned down version of his predecessor - my initial response was to stay up late and clean my apartment. Sweeping floors and scrubbing winter cobwebs from the walls, I thought of all those who had been killed. Killed under Bin Laden's twisted direction. Killed by American, British, Canadian, and other soldiers who were told they were defending their nations from Bin Laden's organization. Soldiers killed by terrorists, and other desperate people who were told to hate every foreigner to the bone.
As the reports trickled in on the BBC, playing on my ancient clock radio, I changed the sheets and swept the dust from beneath my bed. It was nearly 1 am when I finally fell asleep and by 4 am, I was awake again, there to lay in bed listening to the birds tweeting in the new morning.
I can imagine that family and friends of those killed on 9/11, or in the Kenyan embassy, or in London, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt, and numerous other places feel some sense of relief that Bin Laden is dead. Some are probably totally elated.
All I can say is that any feeling that justice has been done will be fleeting. Bin Laden's dead, but the roots of terrorism are still alive and well. The guy was certainly the international poster child of terrorism, and an inspiration to all these younger, desperate folks out there taking up guns, bombs, and the rest. At the same time, if you look at recent history, Bin Laden has been a fading figure whose ideas have spread to the point where he hasn't really been needed much anymore.
In the eyes of most people around the world, Osama Bin Laden ranks right down there with the worst of the worst in history. Besides the fact that Bin Laden was a human, just like you and I - something too many of us forget when it comes to people who commit terrible crimes - there's not much to say in his defense.
It's really hard, even for this Buddhist writing these lines and who is committed to the Bodhisattva vows, to feel much compassion for the man. Growing up wealthy and privileged, he opted to use those advantages to destroy life and inspire hatred. He warped the teachings of his religion, and spread that phoney version of "the truth" so widely that it will be generations before the stain he and his followers have put on Islam will fade. All in all, here was a man in a position to be a game changer in a region of the world in need of great leaders, and he was - a game changer in the worst of all possible manners.
Perhaps losing his father at the age of 10 had something to do with this. Perhaps what began as a struggle to overthrow an occupying giant - the Soviet Union in Afghanistan - engulfed this man to the point where he couldn't see through the power, hatred, and prestige. Perhaps witnessing the cynical way of American foreign policy under President Regan aided in turning the man's mind towards world wide terrorism.
Who knows. In some ways, it doesn't matter now because the guy is dead, and the world will be moving on to something else in the coming weeks.
To be honest, I still don't know what to think about it all. It's kind of like we killed a ghost out of belief that in doing so, the world will be a safer place. But there's no knowing if that will be the case.
And even if murdering this murderer ends up leading to a massive weakening of the world wide terrorist networks he inspired and funded, I wouldn't call it justice. Nor do I think it's something to cheer about.
Osama bin Laden is dead and my apartment is clean. Those are really the only two definite statements I can make about it all.