Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth" (Proverbs 24:17)

After digesting yesterday's big news, I started to write an essay last night about the death of Osama bin Laden. However, I decided to “step away from the keyboard” and mull it over for another day. My fear is that some of you might take this as criticism—but that is not my intent. It is merely my way of recording my own thoughts, which I have found to be a cathartic exercise. I am not out to change the minds of those who disagree, but perhaps I can offer a chance to contemplate the complexities of this development.

Many of my friends were overjoyed with news of Osama's death, but that was not my first reaction. I can't say that I get excited about the death of any man, even one whose tactics I abhor. Instead, my first thoughts were that maybe the USA could declare victory, bring our troops home to their families, and use the savings to help balance the budget (can you say win-win-win?).

I also kept thinking about the simple saying “What would Jesus do?” I grew up with a red letter edition of the King James Bible, and always felt that the red verses were the most important. I admire that Thomas Jefferson created his own “Jeffersonian Bible” by eliminating everything except the words of Jesus Christ. From what I know of Jesus, I don't think his reaction to the big news would be the same as most Americans. After all, He said “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” There are many other similar passages urging us towards forgiveness of others, and trusting God to handle the judgment and punishment responsibilities.

I realize that Al Qaeda and the horror of 9/11 makes us want a special exemption from the need to forgive. I don't mean to sound like a cheerleader or an apologist for the despicable actions of terrorists. However, I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (a few of you shared this quote as your status): "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." Well said, Martin! I think Jesus would be proud of these remarks.

As an undergrad in the late '70s (during the Cold War days), I took a fascinating class on the history of Russia. I learned so much that I had not previously known during that semester (especially in those days, when the vast majority of Americans knew few facts about our avowed enemy). I remember writing a term paper on “The Mirror Image in U.S.-Soviet Relations” that explored how little we knew of each other, and how both sides often attribute positive characteristics to themselves and ignore any negative characteristics. We wanted things to be black and white; good versus evil. I won't complicate this essay by recreating that one, but in some of the same respects, we continue to only see what we want to see in Al Qaeda. We build them up into a formidable opponent, as if they are as organized and as large as the Soviet military was. Osama bin Laden served as the perfect boogeyman to fit our desired paradigm.

It seems to me that one of our life goals should be to become more civilized. Society must advance, mankind must evolve. Although humans are imperfect, we should still strive for improvement. Rather than falling into the same old trap of taunting and fighting, we should try to understand our differences. Rather than turning Osama into a evil tyrannical leader, we must make more of an effort to understand what motivates most terrorists.

While I don't claim to be an expert on this subject (there were no classes of this topic back when I was an undergrad), it seems to me that there are a few points that Americans must not ignore nor evade. First, is the way that Western countries decided to artificially turn Palestine into Israel (primarily as a response to the holocaust—something done by the Germans ended up hurting Palestinians, who had nothing to do with it). The vast majority of Americans are clueless as to how Israel was established, but if they really understood the history of the displacement of Palestinians, they might realize why we are so hated in the Middle East.

Another major factor that probably fuels anti-Americanism is the oil industry. Our insatiable appetite for oil eventually found a home in the Arab countries, overturning some governments and replacing them with puppet leaders (for example, the Shah of Iran). It made some families rich, and generally promoted the materialism and cultural values of the West over the traditional culture and local religion.

The preceding paragraphs definitely do not justify flying airliners into the World Trade Center, but peace will only come when we understand each other better. We can assassinate Osama or other individual leaders, but like the arcade game “Whack-a-Mole” another one will always pop up. Anyone can become a terrorists if they are so motivated, and little can be done to stop them. I fear that killing Osama does not end this jihad against America. Reprisals will likely come until we communicate with all sides better and understand what motivates them. I'm not saying they are right—but our enemies need to be understood rather than reviled.

Too often we want to paint things as a simple dichotomy—making everything either black or white, yes or no, right or wrong. However, reality is much more complex than that. We must explore the gray areas. This seems to me to be the direction towards the success we should all desire--lasting peace and prosperity.

Finally, I saw a bumper sticker recently that has stuck in my head through these latest developments. I like it when something short enough to fit on a bumper sticker can be so thought provoking. I think it makes a fitting conclusion.

The world is my country
Mankind is my brethren
Doing good is my religion

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