…. κρῖνόν με ὁ θεός καὶ δίκασον τὴν δίκην μου ἐξ ἔθνους οὐχ ὁσίου ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἀδίκου καὶ δολίου ῥῦσαί με [Ps 43]
My friends are now convinced that the jubilation surrounding the killing of Osama bin Laden is offensive to all intelligent people. (They mean themselves, of course) Civilized people don’t rejoice at the murder of another human being, they tell me, as though we were mere predators and had just brought down a prize tiger.
This isn’t 1888 chappies: it’s 2011. Do you think it’s the wild West? It Isn’t. I’ll tell you one thing: if it was us Europeans [your favourite other civilized group here] that caught him, there’d be a different story.
Yes, there would; it would be this one, that I saw as an endless loop on my TV screen in 1980. Talk about Gloat.
It doesn’t help of course that the happy faces we see plastered across our television screens look to be about 20 years old and thus would have been about ten on 9-11. In the international public imagination, the fraternity party exhilaration has fused with America’s love of guns and violence to convince the world yet again that Americans are still feudal when it comes to complicated ideas–like justice. And it doesn’t help to have W’s words replayed like some ricocheting echo out of Gunsmoke: Osama bin Laden – Wanted: Dead or Alive.
In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter that Osama bin Laden was “evil.” Because, in the minds of some relatively sensible people, America is always more evil, more bumptious, more naive, more whatever it is of whatever it is you don’t like. Now it rejoices in bin Laden’s death and gloats over it in an overt, ghoulish way–a bit like the British papers gloated over Jimmy Carter’s disastrous attempt to free American hostages in the Iranian debacle of 1979. Nothing succeeds for Europeans like American failure. And nothing fails to win applause like American success. Do words like petulance, little England, sour grapes, and gall come to mind?
Osama bin Laden was a medieval thinker who in two fatwahs, 1996 and 1998 ordered devout Muslims all over the world to wage war on American civilians through whatever means necessary. He had no clerical authority to do any of this but relied on a principle he also rejected: Ijtihad, the right given to any Muslim to issue a decree based on conscience.
I was in Malawi when the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Nairobi caused the deaths of African attaches. When Bill Cinton lobbed a few bombs toward Afghanistan, he was accused by the United States Congress (at least the Republican House) of trying to divert attention from what really mattered in international affairs: Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress Impeachment followed. This is American foreign policy at its most banal.
Bin Laden continued with the 9-11 successes (building on the promise of the failed 1993 attempt to topple one tower), and on his subsequent attacks in Madrid, London and Indonesia. The fatwahs spelled out clearly that the crusading armies had to be punished.
There is no real tally of the deaths he has caused, especially the deaths of other Muslims–and particularly young Muslims who had come to worship violent jihad because of him. No Greek hero approximates him in envy and hatred. Not even Vergil in the bloodiest descriptions of the Aeneid or Quentin Tarantino can match him him in pure gore. Osama bin Laden almost singlehandedly turned Islam into Pulp Fiction.
If the arresting (or assassinating) forces had been British or Australian or Spanish or (fat chance) Pakistani, we would be treated to an endless cycle of celebratory replays of the event. We would also be told “Hey, look what we did that America couldn’t do.”
Now America is being told that its complex display of catharsis and dark joy is unseemly. How disgusting.
A lot of the unease about the “celebrations” can be written off to plain, uncomplicated, petulant twentieth century Anti-Americanism: the same kind of thing (frankly) that bin Laden counted on in waging jihad against the West.
He knew as well as the next religious extremist that Islamic populations in Europe and the South Pacific are large enough to influence public opinion, and that the blend of nativist and Islamist anti-American feeling would suffice to aid his side. We’ll see in the days to come the extent to which his “popularity” in the Islamic world remains Islamic, and the degree to which it exhibits itself as nostalgia for his ghastly symbolic presence as the uncaptured punishing angel of the Great Satan. “Don’t let your enemies define you” is good advice for saints; but America has been defined by bin Laden for ten years. Just to theorize: would Iraq have happened if this had happened in 2001? Would the “mission” in Afghanistan? Talk about defining.
It’s telling that, at his death, old resentments have resurfaced. Probably because our friends abroad excel at commiseration but don’t do happy faces very well: thus, America the perennial, overmuscled cowboy has used a shotgun against an annoying fly. Typical. Needs to be brought down to size. That’s what friends are for.
Except: There are many more than two billion Muslims in the world, and most of them have not been reared in California.
Liberal social and religious values aren’t theirs by inheritance. The United States did an enormous favour for these people, unbeknownst, by removing this symbol of toxic religion. His removal from the world scene should be greeted with the same philosophical resignation that greeted the playing of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony–the way Deutsche Welle in 1945 revealed the death of Hitler. Does anybody really assume that Osama bin Laden’s philosophy of life and death was a moral improvement on Naziism? A man who would have killed every Jew, every Christian, every atheist,every Crusader who stood in his way. For this we mourn our own cruelty?
I am all for keeping things in proportion. The images of zealous Americans wrapping themselves in flags and chanting “USA, USA” is naturally obnoxious to every self-respecting European–and many Americans as well. –As though the values of a football match had been superimposed on or substituted for foreign policy. (And the British have so much to teach Americans about etiquette at football matches). But since when do crowds make foreign policy?
My only complaint is that America has had so little to celebrate in 70 years that it has forgot how to sing, and doesn’t know very many songs. We need to work on that. “God Bless America” is one of the most nauseating songs ever written. I wish it could be repealed and we could get “Fascinating Rhythm” instead.
But surely it is not America’s job to emulate British reserve (which I have always regarded as an assertion contrary to fact) or European gravitas (if it exists) in such occasions.
The “critique of conduct” is thoroughly wrong, inappropriate and misplaced if you ask me. A man who engineered and enjoyed death and caused the killing of thousands of innocents has been killed. That is not political rhetoric: that is a fact. A man who prospered from the death of tens of thousands of his fellow religionists has been destroyed.
Rejoice, and if you Christian sorts need your skills in this direction revitalized, read a psalm of deliverance or two to help: I recommend Psalm 43 for starters, not only for its sheer logic.
“Judge us O God and deliver us; distinguish our cause from the nation that is not holy; and deliver us from the unjust and deceitful man.”
Raw, isn’t it?