03 May 2011

The Rollercoaster - Part Two

What a week for celebration it’s been. It started with all the pageantry and … more pageantry of the royal wedding and ended with the well deserved end of one of the modern era’s most despised figures.

Committed republican though I may be, it was easy to feel good about joining in with the celebration for William and Kate. Everyone loves a good wedding, even one on the other side of the world.

Less salubrious were the celebrations marking the death of Osama bin Laden. Images of crowds of people outside the Whitehouse waving flags and yelling patriotic chants left me feeling just a little cold. How can killing anyone, even someone as evil as bin Laden, bring us joy and celebration?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying his death wasn’t well deserved, and I’m certainly not sorry to see him go. But when I see crowds of people cheering for a person’s death, even the death of an enemy, I can’t help but feel that something is going horribly wrong.

I was recently party to an online discussion on whether the assassination of bin Laden is better classified as justice or revenge. Some were firmly of the opinion that killing bin Laden did bring a measure of justice to those who lost loved ones in the world trade centre attacks or in the numerous terrorist bombings that followed it. Others felt that it was nothing more than a revenge killing and won’t bring closure to anything, least of all the ongoing feelings of resentment against the West that fuel organisations like al Qaeda in the first place. Still others didn’t think it made the slightest difference. He’s dead either way, and got what he deserved.

In the end, I’m not sure what to call it, but I am convinced that justice and revenge are not the same thing. If those who have lost loved ones to terrorist attacks in the past decade can take any solace from the death of bin Laden, then that’s great. I sincerely wish them peace and comfort. But I’m not convinced justice is the right word for it. Surely we in the West, even our brothers and sisters in America who still endorse capital punishment, have developed a moral-ethical framework that can move beyond “You killed us, so we’re going to kill you right back”. And even if we haven’t, “an eye for an eye” doesn’t really cut it for a man who orchestrated the death of thousands, but whom we only get to kill once. And as Ghandi put it “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

The hard fact is that there is never a nice, satisfying way to end the hunt for a mass murderer. A sense of real justice in a post-modern world is as elusive as it has ever been. I’m as glad as everyone else that Osama is gone. But just the same, this is not the time for celebration. This is a time to reflect on the people, both good and bad on both sides, who have lost their lives for the sake of the war on terror. Or whatever the other side calls it. Osama bin Laden makes just one more.

But at least he’s one who had it coming.

Garry with 2 Rs
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