“The death penalty is inhumane… whether that person is in a jail or it’s bin Laden.” -Danny Glover
I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of the reactions to the reactions people are having towards the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Spontaneous, jubilant celebrations broke out at Ground Zero and the White House in reaction to the news.
Some are arguing that celebrating death, any death, is immoral. Others have compared these cheering crowds to the crowds cheering the deaths of American soldiers. People celebrating or even expressing happiness about Bin Laden’s death have been accused of everything from jingoism to supporting murder.
I disagree that crowds cheering Bin Laden’s demise are, in some way, immoral or that reveling in his death is wrong. First, I disagree that anyone is celebrating murder, per se. I think these same people would be cheering if Bin Laden had been captured or even died of natural or unrelated causes. While I’m sure that there are some who are pleased that he was killed by US forces, I think the majority of people (myself included) are just happy at his incapacitation.
Further, I think Osama is an “exceptional circumstance.” I don’t agree with the death penalty and think it should be abolished. And while I’ve never been the victim of a violent crime, I don’t support cheering the deaths of those who commit them. That being said, I’d be much more sympathetic towards someone cheering the death of, say, the Son of Sam, than of some teenager who shot a convenience store clerk during the course of the robbery. In the latter case, the circumstances of that person’s life plays a large role in their actions. I’d guess most convenience store robberies are committed by people born into poverty, racial oppression, and dysfunctional families. While this, in no way, excuses their actions, it should certainly make us more sympathetic to them. Bin Laden, on the other hand, conceived of, planned for, and organized mass murder. One of these things is not like the other…
Finally, correctly or incorrectly, Bin Laden is the poster child for terrorism. The concepts are practically synonymous. The narrative, as it is collectively understood, is that Bin Laden hates America, freedom, the West, apple pie, and you, personally and he only exists to try to destroy things. He is the boogieman under the bed. He isn’t a person, he’s mythological creature. My generation, people born after 1982 or so, don’t know a world before Bin Laden. We don’t know a world before TSA and three hour security lines and multi-colored terror alerts. I’ve never walked up to a counter to buy a plane ticket. I’ve always needed my passport to go to Canada. My adult life has been, in many ways, defined by this man.
I know that terrorism and extremism aren’t created by one person. I know that many political, religious, economic, and social problems are involved in the creation of people who want to strap bombs to their chests and blow themselves up in crowds of people. But no clear victories exist over nouns. We can’t win the War on Terror anymore than the War on Poverty or Cancer. We can, however, kill the one person who represents the War on Terror.
I’m glad he’s dead. And I celebrated (albeit, a little) his death. And I don’t feel bad about that.