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Celebrating the Death of bin Laden

Celebrating the Death of bin Laden

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COMMENTARY: In 2008, I sat with my father while he was in hospice, waiting out the last painful weeks before pancreatic cancer took him. We talked about the successes and shortcomings of his life and, at times, about the legacy he was leaving. After decades of missions work, teaching and volunteerism, he and my mother became war tax protesters and outspoken pacifists.

"Don't confuse my pacifism with passive-ism," he said in his Tennessee drawl. "I'm not suggesting that any group or person go possum if they're threatened. But there's a big difference between my being against war and the military industrial complex that supports it, and unwillingness to do what needs to be done to make peace happen. Sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do."

Like killing Osama bin Laden? My father's words rang in my head on the night of May 2nd, 2011 as I turned on the TV along with countless others--"You've got to do what you've got to do."

Well, of course! Who in their right mind would object to the killing of the man CNN was calling the most notorious mass-murderer since Adolph Hitler? If he'd been captured and stood trial at The Hague, he'd be given a hundred life sentences. This was merely expediency, right?

As a teenager, I was often embarrassed by the grave theatricality with which my parents' beliefs got acted out. My mom and dad were part of a group that marched to a government building one frozen Minnesota winter to pay the percentage of their income tax destined for military expenditure in containers of old, green pennies:

"We were doing what the law tells us to do," my father said, "but we weren't going to make it easy for them."

At the time, I hoped their pictures wouldn't be in the newspaper.

Other years, they refused to pay what they called war tax at all, instead sending pithy letters to the Secretary of the Treasury explaining why. In response, they got sharply worded mailings from the IRS along with wage garnishments and the very real prospect of the heat in our house being cut off in the dead of winter.

My father was a man of God, having served as a Disciples of Christ teacher and missionary during the 1950s. Years later, I wrote about his and my mother's missionary tenure in the book If the Rains Don't Cleanse. While in Africa, my parents had to reconcile their ideals and aspirations with the arrogance of Belgian Colonial rule and the brutality of life in pre-independence Congo. Eventually, they resigned their positions, leaving Africa demoralized, but wizened. The church's view had been a simple one. My parents found a reality that was much more complicated.

As I moved through my 20s and 30s, I both lost my squeamishness for public display of religious and political opinions and found my own outlook coming more and more into line with that of my parents.

Many Christians and Jews are familiar with the passage in Exodus Chapters 13 and 14 in which God parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites might pass, but allowed the towering walls of water to crash down over Egyptians pursuing the Jews, drowning Pharoah's army, washing away the Egyptians' horses and chariots. Muslims will find a similar account in the Qu'ran, in Surah 26.

But what is most interesting to me are the verses which talk about the Israelites' celebration of the Egyptian deaths, and God's reaction to them. Pacifist scholars point to God's rebuke of the Israelites' singing and praising the mass drowning of "my creations." An article posted by the Shir Heharim Jewish Community in Vermont puts it this way:

The lesson, it would seem, is to remind us that all life is equally sacred. Some deaths may surely touch us more than others and may seem and even be more tragic, but ultimately every life is of equal value.

Just last week, in the wake of bin Laden's killing, a quote (which later turned out to be a misquote) from Martin Luther King spread virally on Facebook and Twitter. Depending on which version one read, it was roughly:

"I 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." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

Beautiful. Only, Martin Luther King didn't actually say that. The mass misquote seems to have started innocently when someone copied and pasted a block of text including verbiage that was not King's but had been placed adjacent to a bonafide King quote.

What strikes me is how quickly this misquote spread, which points to how acutely some of us struggled in the days after bin Laden's killing to find a place in our hearts for the actions taken. The quote gave us permission to feel ambivalence on the subject. Having someone like Dr. King make the case was comforting, and we raced to post and repost what we believed were his teaching. After all, if Dr. King had expressed such things, then our own similar (if less eloquent) sentiments didn't make us unpatriotic, foolish or misguided.

In any case, while it was not correctly attributed, the ideas were very much in line with the great champions of nonviolence like King and Gandhi.

So where are we left? For me it's at that same crossroads where I weight difficult issues like abortion and capital punishment -- things for which, in my heart, there is no clear moral imperative one way or the other.

Though many reports paint him as a weakened, enfeebled leader whose reach shrunk in the decade since 9/11, bin Laden surely remained a force of evil. As a result of one man's death, more of God's creations will have a chance to flourish.

So while I'm not celebrating, I'm solemnly saluting the actions of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, the U.S. military, Seal Team #6 and all parties involved in bin Laden's killing. The world is a better place for his not being here.

Dad, I trust you understand.
Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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