Monday, May 2, 2011

Why I am not celebrating Bin Laden's death

I feel the need to speak further on this subject than the little snippets a Facebook post allows. It is too easy to be misunderstood.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but this is my space, my place to express myself, and so here it is. I'm not celebrating the death of Bin Laden.

It's not because I don't believe he was an evil man and the cause of much suffering and death. It's not because I don't think he should pay for what he did. It's not because I don't support the troops.

Let's get to that last one for a minute, because I have about had it with the opinion that anyone who is against the war - against war in general - does not support the troops. My own opinions of the military machine aside, soldiers are people. They are people who are doing a job, one that is incredibly difficult and requires them to risk their lives on a daily basis for what they believe in. No matter what my feelings about the military as a whole or the war, I have great respect for that. I support the troops as people, which has nothing to do with supporting the war.

Here's another analogy that might help. I have a dear friend who is a criminal defense attorney. I support what she does 100%. Does that mean I support those of her clients who might be guilty of crimes? Of course not. I support her for doing her job, a job that is a fundamental part of the criminal justice system we have designed to make sure everyone gets a fair trial and no one is convicted unfairly and without due process - even if that system is imperfect. Of course some of those people are guilty of crimes, some of them terrible. But does that mean no one should represent them in court? Just as I support the defense attorney without supporting crime, I also support the troops without supporting the war. Ok?

Now back to Bin Laden.

Was he a murdering asshole? Yes, absolutely. Did he deserve to pay for his crimes? Without a doubt. But is his death a cause for celebration? I guess that is where I fall away from so many others and apparently piss them off in the process. Because I can't celebrate his death. I am glad he won't be able to hurt anyone else. And if his death by any measure brings peace to the families of those he killed, then that I am glad for, because they have suffered enough and deserve what comfort they can find. But I am not celebrating his death, because the entire decade of war, death and the pursuit of vengeance just makes me sad.

The problem with vengeance is that it is not the same thing as justice, although it is often seen that way. As humans our history with trying to achieve justice is spotty at best, a nightmare at worst. The trouble lies with an endless difference of opinion as to what constitutes justice; moreover, what constitutes crime. Justice in theory is supposed to provide some form of reparation for the damage that was done by the commission of the crime. For some crimes, this is possible. Money stolen can be paid back. Property damaged can be repaired. But for other crimes, the damage can not be repaired by any act of the criminal justice system, and it is for these crimes that justice becomes almost an impossibility. It becomes instead vengeance.

The desire for vengeance is a natural one. The instinct to pay back to someone who has hurt us all for the pain they visited upon us. I have acted out of vengeance in my life. Done things to "get someone back" for what they have done to me. It never did a damn thing, because at the end I was still hurt and what was done to me was not undone. Some of those things I live with still to this day. Vengeance is not justice, it is simply the only thing we can think of to do because we feel that we must do something. We can not let some acts go without response. Nor should we. But vengeance, when achieved, rarely makes anything better and is almost never something to celebrate.

Vengeance is also a vicious circle, especially when you are dealing with people who have a contempt for human life and who find pleasure in destroying it and are more than willing to give their own lives to see another destroyed. People who are willing to invent excuses to kill are sure as hell going to take the opportunity presented by the killing of one of their leaders to strike again. They are not mourning the death of Bin Laden, be assured. They are simply growing a new head to replace him and planning vengeance of their own. More people will die. More violence will ensue. We can keep taking our revenge, and the death count will rise.

So we have our revenge on Bin Laden. He has paid for his crimes, for the terrible events of 9/11 and for many deaths before and since. He is gone from the world, never to kill again. And we are still here. The families of those who died are still staring at empty places at the dining room table, still waking in the night wondering if maybe it was a dream. That they will roll over and find a husband next to them, a wife, sleeping there peacefully. That their father or mother will be there when they get out of bed to see them off to school. That brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, cousins, friends, neighbours...might not have died and might still be with them. But they are not. They are dead, and now so is Bin Laden. And I don't feel like celebrating.

It is good that one source of evil in the world is gone. But his evil deeds are not undone. There is no justice for the innocent dead. And there is no end to the killing. Death, death and more death. No. I don't feel like celebrating.

If it brings you peace, if it brings you joy that this man is dead, then good for you. I am glad you can find something in it to celebrate. As for me, all I see is the waste. I heard of his death and all that flashed before my eyes was the television footage of 9/11. Story after story of the war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq. Report after report of death - both soldiers and civilians. All I saw was ten years of killing, and beyond this day, who knows how many more. We could say that we have now killed the man who caused it all, but everyone knows it's not that simple.

I am sorry if it offends some people that I see no cause for celebration here. I assure you it's not because I don't care about the people this man killed and the destroyed families left behind. Or that I don't care about the soldiers who have been hunting him and those who died in the process. It is entirely the opposite. It is for them that I grieve again today, for all the people who are now re-living their pain. And for the knowledge that for those people, there can never really be justice. I do hope though, that for them vengeance is enough. It isn't enough for me.

So I am not celebrating today but instead mourning. Not for Bin Laden, no. For humanity and for our inability to stop killing each other. For our never-ending search for a justice that I fear does not exist. For all of the people remembering loved ones who will never return, and the pain in their hearts that will never heal. For the hope of peace that I know in my heart is something we will never see, because we are incapable of valuing human life above all else, and choose instead to kill in the name of religions, politics, nations and other things that in the end, just don't matter. For my children, for all the children who will one day have to learn these horrible truths. For the children who already know them because they have faced them already in their short lives.

I do hope good comes of this. I can be glad of a little less evil in the world. But I can't celebrate death. And I can't believe that vengeance is justice. I just feel sad. And if that offends or confuses some people, so be it.


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  2. "Like" :) (Friend of Kim Howell... clicked here randomly from her page...)