But He’s the Wrong Kind of Terrorist: Bin Laden & the Ethos of Revenge

It is not bad. Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values

–Robinson Jeffers, The Bloody Sire

On May 1st at 11:08 pm I received a text message from my good friend Efad which read “Check news. Laden is dead.” Reading this text message I was overwhelmed with a strange feeling. Not a feeling of joy nor a feeling of sadness but one of unmanageable anxiety. Osama Bin Laden, America’s favorite villain, had been gunned down in Pakistan by a fleet of US troops. Watching television I was bombarded with images of people crowding ground zero and the gates of the White House chanting “U-S-A” and singing the national anthem.

I have never took much interest in these expressions of national pride but this particular event was unsettling to me. It wasn’t that I held any sympathy for the man Osama Bin Laden but there was something about watching thousands of people rejoicing over the death of another human being that made me realize that my conception of human life was radically unorthodox, some would even call it dangerous. Indeed, to respect the life of the official enemy is dangerous especially when this enemy is made to be the manifestation of evil, an existential threat on an unimaginable level.  

Sure, Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the senseless killing of thousands of Americans, Afghans, and many other civilians but what did we really accomplish on the night when he got a bullet to the head? Was this truly justice or was it a mere act of revenge? Would the killing of Osama Bin Laden undo the Saudi-funded terrorist network responsible for the 9/11 attacks or resurrect the hundreds of Pakistani women and children killed by US drones in an effort to “root out” the Taliban? Would his assassination undo the legacy of destruction that has overtaken Afghanistan, splitting apart families and inflicting psychological violence upon impressionable youth?

We rejoice in the streets when our enemy is killed ignoring the fact that many of his victims will wake up tomorrow ensnared in the same world of misery he helped to create. Raising these points is not a defense of Bin Laden’s terrorism but a defense of the innocent people whose deaths have been obscured by our simplistic thinking.

Watching the news you can’t escape suggestions that since Bin Laden’s now dead the “war on terror” is over and we can go home now. These reporters should understand what they’re saying. So the systematic destruction of an entire civilization in Afghanistan in fact was not carried out with the noble intentions to protect the Afghan people? Rather it was to satisfy our narrow desires for another man’s blood. Who cares if thousands of innocents are slaughtered in the process, they’re poor and brown and they probably hate us anyway.

Posada in the center

This kind of moral immaturity is embarrassing on a profound scale. Our celebrations prove that retribution is preferred over justice and we would rather bask in ignorance than ask serious questions about who we are. We are forbidden to point out the fact that well known international terrorist, Luis Posada, is now living in Florida in the face of overwhelming evidence that he was responsible for the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing 73 people. But what he does isn’t terrorism because he hates that Commie, Fidel Castro, just like us. As for Bin Laden , we are supposed to rejoice in his death because he killed Americans not a bunch of Cubans we don’t care about. Posada isn’t Bin Laden. Bin Laden was the wrong kind of terrorist.

So what am I to think when people no different from the people I see every day, the people I befriend, those I admire, and those I communicate with on a daily basis erupt in joy at the murdering of another man? Should I stifle my humanity and banish Bin Laden to Otherness so that I too can believe that killing is what makes America, using Obama’s words, “a great country”? Or shall I commit the unspeakable heresy and point out that the US government kills innocent people on a regular basis (always making sure to clothe it in democratic rhetoric)? Whichever option I choose I just hope that after the flags are folded, the hymns are over, and the horns have grown silent we still have an ounce of our humanity intact.


3 thoughts on “But He’s the Wrong Kind of Terrorist: Bin Laden & the Ethos of Revenge

  1. Oh the joy of revenge! Every patriot is a Count of Monte Cristo today. This article is beautifully written, Xavier. Put in a section on uncle N’s exploration of justice and this essay reveals the face of the patriot even more. Even in my wildest delusions if I were to side with the joyous crowd, I still find it unreasonable to celebrate without evidence that this incident really happened. For all the advanced gadgets that US army possesses, we still don’t have a picture of Laden. It just goes on to show how badly people wanted him ‘dead’ and that just a little push of words by the President makes them see what they always wanted to see, without questioning if it ever happened or not. At this point, let me quote my favourite character Joker who said, “All that madness needs is a little push…”

  2. I’ve been having these same kinds of thoughts all day. Killing this guy doesn’t FIX anything. Killing people has never fixed anything. It doesn’t bring anybody back to life – not soldiers, not civilians, not children. It doesn’t put bombed-out places back together. It certainly doesn’t take oppressive fundamentalists out of power.

    Nothing can be healed with killing. Nothing can be healed with hate. It sickens me to see people acting like this. I mean, when bad things happen to “our people” and we see “them” celebrating in the streets, “we” say how awful they are. “We’re” acting no better than “them.”

    1. I agree. When I was watching the celebrations unfold last night it reminded me of celebrations that happened this past January in the Punjab province of Pakistan after their governor, Salman Taseer, was murdered in broad daylight for speaking out against a blasphemy law. I feel that same dogmatic commitment to revenge manifested itself last night in Washington and New York. Ghandi famously said “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind” and we are reaping the consequences of that principle.

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