So this week, as many Americans celebrated the death of the most evil man in the world, and proclaimed our “victory” in the war against al-Qaida, we were told by many commentators that this event marked the end of an era, a chance for closure from the horrific terrorist attack that happened almost ten years ago. Yet not all of us celebrated – I, like many compassionate peace-loving people, felt no urge to dance, sing, or shout upon hearing the news that special forces of the US military hunted down and executed Osama bin Laden a decade after he claimed responsibility for the most significant terrorist attack against Americans, and some two decades after he became a declared enemy of the United States. Some sense of relief, yes, and – yes – some sense of gratitude for the special forces personnel and all other hard-working souls who have in some way put their own lives on the line over the last decade or two pursuing this villain. But celebration? No. And closure? Quite the opposite, actually.
No, my reaction was one of sadness – renewed sadness for the victims of that horrible act of violence on the East Coast many years ago, sadness for the violence that was broadcast on the news last Sunday night, and sadness for all the violence that happened in between, and around the world, every day and in every place. This was just one more act of violence, one more death – several, actually – in a world that has become too tolerant of acts of violence large and small. That many of my otherwise clear-thinking and compassionate brothers and sisters here in the US felt the urge to celebrate upon hearing this news was simply a reminder of how tolerant we've become, and how easily we dismiss another person's humanity because of perceived differences.
So I hold up Julia Ward Howe's call on the first Mother's Day of Peace for women to “now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.. (to) meet first... to bewail and commemorate the dead.”
Soon after I first heard the news of what happened in Pakistan last weekend, I heard our Secretary of State declare that this act would “send a message” – as politicians love to say – to all the would-be terrorists around the world that engaging in terrorism against the United States has consequences. While I'm sure that many messages were sent with this act, I doubt that that is the message heard by those who are drawn to commit acts of violence against the US empire. I'm willing to bet that that particular message was intended more for US voters than any would-be al-Qaida operatives. If I can imagine being a terrorist – a “would-be terrorist,” I would probably hear two messages loud and clear: One, that the US likes to “play ball” as much as I do, and is fully engaged in this ongoing game in which we commit acts of violence to send messages; and two, it took a decade or two for the mightiest military in the world to track down and execute this one criminal whose own influence and power has all but disappeared among his most loyal troops. And we were only able to do this, it seems, by stretching our mighty military to the limits, declaring de facto war on one-third of the world, and bringing the biggest economy in the world to the brink of bankruptcy, all the while watching helplessly as other forces in the Muslim world take power into their own hands. The message is, in other words, yes, we're in the game, and yes, we can be beat.
Yet here at home, we celebrate. Why? Perhaps it is because on some level, we know this to be true, but we'll do everything in our power to convince ourselves otherwise. To do so, we tell our stories, for stories are the basis of identity – not truth, but identity. Well tell the story of old glory, of the rich and powerful U S of A fighting for justice and freedom, and prevailing. And we tell the story of how our mighty military can do anything, even bring “closure” to a tragedy that was born of the very violence our military uses. I'm afraid that this act does not bring us closer to closure, for that will only come to those who recognize the universality of suffering, and accept our powerlessness in the face of tragedy. My thoughts and prayers, upon hearing the news of the death of Osama bin Laden, went to those who have endured the profound loss of death and destruction on September 11, just as it went to the victims of all this senseless violence in all parts of the world both before and after that day. And my prayer is that all might yet join the spirit of Julia Ward Howe and “take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, and each bearing... the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.” That is where we'll find closure.