“If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!” Psalm 139:19
“As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” Ezekiel 33:11
I was living in Canada on 9/11. I was 18 and had just moved there to begin university–the first time I’d ever lived outside of the US–and I felt so cut off from the world I knew. I spent the whole day glued to CNN, desperate for every detail I could learn about the attacks and the efforts to rescue survivors. It all seemed so far away, and I wanted so badly to be home, to mourn with friends and family. I don’t recall feeling any desire for vengeance, but I was proud of how my country reacted to the tragedy. I also supported “the War on Terror” when we sought to fight back in the coming weeks. I cheered when Bush vowed to “fight and defeat the forces of evil wherever they are,” and I followed the search for bin Laden with great interest.
In the ten years since then, however, I’ve lost whatever confidence I had in our ability to pinpoint the “wicked” and destroy them. For every terrorist we were told had been killed, how many hundreds of others lost their lives? Is the Middle East safer now than it was in 2001? Maybe, maybe not. We killed a dictator, and since then a number of others have seen their regimes weakened or toppled. The US has not been attacked again, and things in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be more stable than they were a few years ago. Perhaps–hopefully–the situation will continue to improve and in the end the Middle East really will be a more peaceful place thanks, in part, to America’s intervention. I hope that is the case, but I do not know that it is, and I do not know if it was worth the cost.
I am living in Germany now, where just last week three men suspected of being members of al Qaeda were arrested for plotting high-profile bombings. The thwarting of such attacks is indeed a reason to celebrate, so how much more the downfall of the leader of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden? This morning I woke to find Twitter buzzing with news of his death, but also with the news of celebrations in D.C. and New York. Once again I feel very far from home, but this time I have no wish to join in the reaction. I understand the desire to rejoice that evil has, in some small way, been defeated, but I cannot join in. Did bin Laden deserve death? Probably. Are we safer because of it? Possibly. But we should not celebrate the man’s death. A letter posted on Brian McLaren’s blog expresses my feeling better than I can:
Perhaps everyone is right. Perhaps the death of Osama Bin Laden has made this world more safe. I do not believe, however, that his death has made this world more beautiful.
By all means, celebrate the rescue of the innocent, even if it required the defeat of an enemy, but don’t cheer the death itself. Don’t celebrate that an evil man was killed; lament that he could not be saved as well.