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Morality

The killing of Osama bin Laden
2011-MAY-01: Part 2

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This topic is a continuation of Part 1

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Comments from some religious leaders, ethicists, and others made shortly after the killing of bin Laden:

  • Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "A Christian never rejoices [in the death of any man, no matter how evil, but instead] "... reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us has before God and before man."

  • Christian ethicist Diana Butler Bass posted on Facebook: "What if we responded in reverent prayer and quiet introspection instead of patriotic frenzy? That would be truly American exceptionalism."

  • Christian ethicist David Gushee said: "As Christians, we believe that there can be no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to Scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall."

  • Jessica Dovey, a recent Penn State graduate living in Kobe, Japan, posted the following as her Facebook status:

    "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. 'Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that'." MLK Jr.

    A careful reading of the quotation marks shows that the first sentence reflects Ms. Dovey's personal feelings, and that the second sentence is by Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter was taken from his 1963 book, "Strength to Love." However, as almost 10,000 bloggers, facebookers, twitterers, etc. copied her statement within the first 24 hours after the announcement of bin Laden's death, the quote marks vanished, and her words became combined with King's. Finally, the quote was shortened to only Dovey's sentence and was incorrectly attributed to the civil rights leader. 1,2

  • Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella group, released a statement saying: "While vengeance is not a responsibility of us mortals, the pursuit of justice is. As believing Jews, we see in bin Laden's demise the clear hand of God."

  • Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the Washington-based American Islamic Congress said: "It is a sad truth that one man's death can represent a step forward in the progress of human relations."

  • The Rev. John Langan, a Jesuit professor of Christian ethics at Georgetown University, said killing bin Laden to prevent future attacks is morally valid, but cautioned that vengeance is ultimately a divine, not human, right. He said: "I knew people who died in 9/11. I feel deeply the evil of that action. But I am part of a religious tradition that says that we don't make final, independent judgments about the souls of other men. That rests with God."

  • A. Rashied Omar, a research scholar at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies said: "You have to have compassion, even for your enemies. The Qur'an teaches that you never should allow enmity to swerve you away from compassion, because without compassion, the pursuit of justice risks becoming a cycle of revenge."

  • Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, an Episcopal priest who teaches at the Pacific School of Religion posted on Twitter: "I'm not sorry bin Laden is dead. That's not the same thing as celebrating his death."

  • R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said: "Without apology, we all sleep better in our beds knowing that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat. But celebration in the streets is something that falls short of the sobriety that I think Christians should have on our hearts in reflecting on this event." 3

  • Elisha Goldstein, a Psychologist and co-author of the book , "A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook" wrote in her blog on The Huffington Post:

    "When I heard the news, I was surprised. The thought that came into my head was, 'Wow, I can't believe it really happened.' Then I clicked on a video showing the crowds of lively people screaming and jumping around in jubilation over the death of a man, screaming, 'U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!' as though we had just won the World Cup. I had this gut feeling that the reaction seemed sort of strange. This wasn't like we had just kicked in the winning goal; we had just killed somebody, and it seemed like I was watching some kind of dark comedy. I thought, 'What is the difference between what I am seeing on the video and a crowd standing by and cheering while some enemy is getting stoned to death in front of us'?"

    "You see, my reaction wasn't to Osama bin Laden dying. He was a man who caused so many people much lifelong pain, and I'm glad we don't have to worry about him anymore. (That doesn't mean we don't have to worry about others who want to cause us harm.) But something just seemed off, as if we weren't processing our emotions around this properly. It was a good moment for America, yes, but was it a moment for cheering, laughing and jubilation? ... "

    "How long will it take -- or maybe a better question is what will it take -- for us to recognize that we are all connected to one another? Causing pain to another group of people is a strange place to derive happiness from. It seems to be a false happiness; at the root it's really anger or fear." 4

  • Pamela Gerloff, writer and specialist in transformational change, wrote on her blog on the Huffington Post:

    "... celebration in the streets and on the airwaves is neither appropriate nor advisable--really--no matter what your feelings of elation. Here's why."

    " 'Celebrating' the killing of any member of our species--for example, by chanting USA! USA! and singing The Star Spangled Banner outside the White House or jubilantly demonstrating in the streets--is a violation of human dignity. Regardless of the perceived degree of 'good' or 'evil' in any of us, we are all, each of us, human. To celebrate the killing of a life, any life, is a failure to honor life's inherent sanctity."

    "Plenty of people will argue that Osama bin Laden did not respect the sanctity of others' lives. To that I would ask, 'What relevance does that have to our own actions?' One aspect of being human is our ability to choose our own behavior; more specifically, our capacity to return good for evil, love for hate, dignity for indignity. While Osama bin Laden was widely considered to be the personification of evil, he was nonetheless a human being. A more peaceable response to his killing would be to mourn the many tragedies that led up to his violent death and the thousands of violent deaths that occurred in the attempt to eliminate him from the face of the Earth; and to feel compassion for anyone who, because of their role in the military or government, American or otherwise, has had to play a role in killing another. This kind of compassion can be cultivated, as practitioners of many different spiritual traditions will attest." 5

  • Andrew Finstuen, director of Honors College at Boise State University commented on a televised speech by President Obama when he announced bin Laden's death to the nation:

    "... expressions of satisfaction, exultation, and national unity at our 'achievement' in killing Osama bin Laden are unnerving and chilling. I am not mourning the loss of bin Laden. I am not calling into question those Americans—especially families and friends bereft at the casualties of 9/11 and the ensuing wars—who may feel consolation at his death or use it as an occasion to reflect upon the harsh realities of American national security.

    I am offended, however, at the suggestion that any American would take satisfaction in America's proficient killing units. I am disturbed by references to the unity 'that prevailed on 9/11,' a unity that accelerated a preemptive war in Iraq. I am dismayed that the killing of another human being—even Osama bin Laden—warrants songs of 'God Bless America' and presidential reminders that 'we can do these things' ultimately because of 'who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'

    I prefer an America that experiences moments of unity without waving a bloody shirt. I prefer an America that does not invoke God so easily both out of respect for the millions in this country who do not identify with the Christian God and out of recognition of the dangers bred by self-righteous claims to God’s favor. The life and death of Osama bin Laden ought to have taught us that much." 6

  • A conversation with David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. It was broadcast on PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on 2011-MAY-03:

    7

    Watch the full episode. See more Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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Concerns raised over shooting of Osama bin Laden:

Press secretary Jay Carney said that bin Laden had resisted capture. He said "resistance does not require a firearm," that others in the compound were armed, that there was a firefight, and that the killing of bin Laden was appropriate. He said: "He was enemy No.1 for this country and killed many, many innocent civilians." By MAY-05, the official story had changed and the White House stated that there was no firefight.

The killing of bin Laden when he was unarmed has raised concerns about the legality and morality of the action:

  • Helmut Schmidt, the former West German Chancellor said on German TV that the operation could have unpredictable consequences in the Arab world. He said: "It was quite clearly a violation of international law."

  • Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights lawyer in Australia said on Australian Broadcasting Corp. television: "It's not justice. It's a perversion of the term. Justice means taking someone to court, finding them guilty upon evidence and sentencing them. This man has been subject to summary execution, and what is now appearing after a good deal of disinformation from the White House is it may well have been a cold-blooded assassination. ... The last thing he wanted was to be put on trial, to be convicted and to end his life in a prison farm in upstate New York. What he wanted was exactly what he got - to be shot in mid-jihad and get a fast track to Paradise and the Americans have given him that."

    Robertson said that bin Laden should have been tried like Nazis were in Nuremburg after World War II, and like former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was more recently, at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

  • Gert-Jan Knoops, a Dutch-based international law specialist, believes that bin Laden should have been arrested and extradited to the U.S. He commented: "The Americans say they are at war with terrorism and can take out their opponents on the battlefield. But in a strictly formal sense, this argument does not stand up."

  • Syed Ahmed Bukhari, a senior Muslim cleric in New Delhi, India said: "America is promoting jungle rule everywhere, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Libya. People have remained silent for long but now it has crossed all limits." 8,9

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Eoin O'Carroll, "How Osama bin Laden's death sparked a fake Martin Luther King quote," The Christian Science Monitor, 2011-MAY-03, at: http://www.csmonitor.com/
  2. A copy of Jessica Dovey's profile on Facebook is available at: http://i.imgur.com/
  3. Kevin Eckstron, "How should Religious People Respond to bin Laden's Death?, Religion News Service, 2011-MAY-02, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  4. Elisha Goldstein, "Osama bin Laden Dead: A Mindful Response," Huffington Post, 2011-MAY-02, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  5. Pamela Gerloff, "The Psychology of Revenge: Why We Should Stop Celebrating Osama bin Laden's Death," The HuffingtonPost, 2011-MAY-02, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  6. Andrew Finstuen: "Bloody Shirts and American Unity," PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 2011-MAY-03, at: http://www.pbs.org/
  7. "David Cortright: Killing Bin Laden," Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 2011-MAY-03, at: http://www.pbs.org/
  8. Erik Kirschbaum & Jonathan Thatcher, "Concerns raised over shooting of unarmed bin Laden, burial," Yahoo! News, 2011-MAY-04, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  9. "US sets record straight on bin Laden killing," Sydney Morning Herald, 2011-MAY-04, at: http://www.smh.com.au/

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2011-MAY-04
Most recent update: 2011-MAY-7
Author: B.A. Robinson

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