For over a decade, the United States has been on a manhunt for the individual who many believe single-handedly shaped our foreign policy for the last decade. That man of course is Osama bin Laden. The recent report of his demise has been met with a mixed sense of victory and relief by Americans. In addition, it seems some of us have portrayed the death of this man as a triumph of good over evil. While there are many reasons to appreciate the removal of a terrorist from the world scene, it is vital we are aware of the realities this situation has brought to light.
Osama bin Laden’s death does not signify the end of terrorism or the wars in the Middle East. While he was responsible for a great deal of suffering and death, he was but one man. Websters defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” It only takes one individual to strike fear in the hearts of a population, especially when those being targeted do not have all the facts. While, Bin Laden’s demise may bring temporary relief, he was not alone. Those around him will not merely stop fighting because their ailing leader has left this mortal plane. In addition, the Middle Eastern wars are far more complicated than merely the whims of a single individual. There are a multitude of regional and political factors at play. In addition, many of the extremists believe in ideals that we as a nation do not coincide with. These ideas do not die with a single man. Simply put, Bin Laden was but one player amongst several and until we shift the perceptions of those players to one that does not involve direct conflict with our country, these wars will continue.
Celebrating the individual demise of leader makes us no better than the perceived enemy. In the immediate aftermath of the death of Bin Laden, many Americans took to the streets cheering the end of a man who came to signify opposition to freedom. This kind of jubilation over the death of any individual should be a cause for concern. The following quotations put it best;
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” — Jessica Dovey
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, 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.”– Martin Luther King Jr.
While the actions of this man were inexcusable, it does not justify such jubilant celebration. If anything, we should be reflecting on what drives a man to take so many innocent lives or the cost of engaging in two wars to exact our revenge. According to the Washington Post, over 5,000 Americans have been lost as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This is almost twice as many lives as were lost during the attacks on 9/11. While one could debate the justification of these wars till the end of time, the sheer loss of life our decision to pursue violent retribution has caused is worth thinking about.
The complexity of an individual’s motivations make attributing absolute good or evil difficult. I think Obi Wan Kenobi put it best when he said, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” While we can not all be Jedi, we can heed these words when approaching the world. A great deal of the depictions of Osama bin Laden both before and after his death involved some version of the word evil. The problem with this definition is it assumes a desire to do harm based solely on the darkness in an individual’s being. It completely ignores the influences and motivations behind one’s actions. While the deeds of Bin Laden were definitely wrong and in violation of human life, we can not be certain what lead him to this place. Perhaps, it was his religious beliefs or maybe it had to do with the perception western culture threatened everything he held dear. While these do not justify the sheer amount of pain he caused so many, it gives one pause when writing off a person’s operation as merely the result of an evil nature.
While no one will argue what Osama Bin Laden did was unforgivable, it is important we learn from the mistakes of the past. If we are to limit the effects of terrorism in places like the Middle East we need to limit things we do that depict us in a negative life. Exuberant cheering of anyone’s death does not help our cause. Demonizing and disrespecting other people’s religions like was done when individuals in this country decided to burn a Koran does not help either. While it may seem like simple justice and our right to celebrate the downfall of one who has caused so much pain, we must be conscious of the ramifications of seemingly innocent revelry. We must as a nation, take the high road, lest we succumb to the very senseless hate we are trying to prevent.