Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ding dong bin Laden's dead

bin Laden's dead, ding dong the wicked terrorist is dead. (Sung to the tune of the Wizard of Oz song about the wicked witch.)

Ok, yes it feels good to get vengeance on the bastard responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the US. The blood lust is thick and heavy in the US with not just his death but the manner is which it was executed, shot in the head at close range. The left eye, to be exact. An eye for and eye and all that. We feel relief that he was murdered in cold, calculating foresight, which by the usual legal standard is 1st degree murder. Ah, but this is war, where all is fair, eh?

Now I'm not a bleeding heart liberal though I am most certainly a progressive. I get that war is sometimes necessary, and that part of war is killing. And I'm also in favor of the death penalty in certain criminal cases, so I'm not completely anti-killing. After all, "death to all fanatics,"* the famous slogan of Hassan i-Sabbah, the reputed leader of the Hashashin assassins** at one time, is one of my favorite catch-phrases. Still, I have pause to wonder about the animal fury that we've taken up as a people on the news of this execution.

Is it a legitimate moment of revenge? A necessary time-out to revel in justice done? And/or does it reduce us to the level of the savage murderer that perpetrated the crime against us? Does it incite further acts of terrorism when said terrorists see that we are just as blood-thirsty as they, in the name of our God? And where does religious forgiveness play into this? How do we meet pragmatic and insular political ends through the usual religious motives of compassion and love? Just wondering.

* Which slogan ironically includes those who utter it, since they too are fanatics and must kill themselves. It's a sort of Sufi koan to wake one up to their own contradictions.

** Double irony that our elite Seal force that executed bin Laden were modern day Hashashin assassins.


  1. It is not a coincidence that the tune from WOZ comes to mind. That story is ingrained in US culture and has some significant morals that we as adults subconsciously (re)enact. For example, that particular song rejoices in the death of a wicked witch who was killed when Dorothy's house, unearthed by a tornado (i.e. "an act of God"), fell on her. So it wasn't D's intention to kill the witch but it happened nonetheless and it was cause for celebration. It is implied that the forces of good (God) expressed through D is what overcame, i.e. killed, the bad one. The story teaches us that good prevails, it's ok for God to kill in the name of good, and it's ok to celebrate the killing of evil. All that in a children's story!

    It also teaches us to draw straight lines between good and evil, not see how it's typically a gray mixture. And such strict lines lead to project our own unacknowledged evil unto the other, where it's fine to de-humanize, kill and celebrate in their demise. Not a far jump from being the agent of God thereby letting Him do his Will though our human vessel, e.g. kill in his name. Granted there are a lot more fine morals in the story but the above are most certainly there as well, albeit not as transparent and thereby much more insidious.

  2. Balder replied in the IPS discussion on the topic:

    Good set of questions in your posts, Edward. And it's funny -- I've been humming the same Wizard of Oz tune to myself since I heard the news. Jon joked about the need to feel ambivalent about the situation, but the truth is, I do feel ambivalent about it. I do not mourn bin Laden's death, but I also do not relate to the celebratory chanting and shouting that erupted in our streets over his killing.

    Part of my ambivalence is distrust of my own ambivalence: does it hide shadow somewhere? Am I afraid of such vengeful jubilation? I know the feeling of schadenfreude, for instance; or the joy of seeing someone who has tormented me finally getting his due. But I can't revel in it, for some reason. I remember when I was a boy, and used to be bullied by a kid a few years older than me, and finally I "lost it" and went berzerk on him and chased him all over my neighborhood, beating him up, finally pinning him to the ground underneath me with a clear opportunity to pummel his face as much as I wanted. But when I stared into his face, I just couldn't do it. I gave one punch to his forehead and asked him if he gave up, willing and anxious to put an end to this and even to make amends. I like to think of this as the virtue of empathy, but maybe this is a character flaw. Because he said "yes," then attacked me as soon as I let him go. (I fought back and ended up chasing him straight into his house until his mother whipped us both.)

    I tell this childhood story because, while I feel distaste for blood-revelers, I also think we may need them; they probably keep us safe. While folks like me, with a willingness to capitulate and make amends, would probably get us killed, as long as there are blood-revelers really out to harm us.



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