Monday, May 2, 2011

Rejoicing in the Death of Sinners

April 30, 1945 in New York

I'm very reluctant to pass judgment on the people out celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. A lot of people here in New York suffered very badly at this man's hands, losing family and friends. Almost a third of the FDNY perished on September 11th because of him. They are not sorry he's gone, and neither am I. They are celebrating his death like they celebrated Hitler's death, and why not? Hitler and Bin Laden were monsters cut from the same cloth. Dying was the best thing both men ever did for a world that suffered so much at their hands. People had good cause to rejoice, in 1945 and now.

At the same time, I'm reluctant to pass judgment on my dear Christian friends (they are dear and they are friends) for feeling ambivalence about all of this celebration. They are right. God does not rejoice in the death of sinners. They point out, rightly, the decades of American imperial policy that treated the Middle East as a big dumb gas pump that made someone like Osama Bin Laden possible. Of course, the same could be said about post-Treaty of Versailles Europe, and many vindictive and short sighted policies, that made someone like Hitler possible. And we have not exactly covered ourselves in glory since September 11th.

There is a Midrashic tale about God rebuking the angels for celebrating the deaths of the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites through the Red Sea. He forbade them from singing pointing out that the Egyptians too were His children created in His image.

I am not an angel. I'm celebrating. But then, God was right to rebuke his angels.

Nicholas Poussin, The Israelites Delivered Through The Red Sea

A further thought:

I think the thousands upon thousands of bereaved people here in New York, and around the world in places like Morocco, Nairobi, and Bali can take a measure of relief and satisfaction in Osama bin Laden's death without feeling any remorse about it.


Ueber-G said...

As a New Yorker, who lost a friend in the tower, I am glad that we have finally ended this paragraph, if not chapter in our history.
However, as a Christian, when viewing the shots of the crowds in DC and NY I am troubled. Most of those in the crowd seem to be about 20ish, meaning that they were mere children in 2001 and the shouts of "USA, USA" scare me a bit.

Unknown said...

I think we can be thankful because all the hate he created and the killing, but to celebrate seems wrong to me.

Leonard said...

My beloved was murdered 12 years ago...there was no investigation (not really) because (I was told second hand) his family thought his Gayness would be revealed and found to be an embarrassment--afterall, in a country where most murders go unsolved there is no justice anyway--personally, as *things* stands I´d feel perfectly comfortable/guiltfree seeing his murderer trapped and spontaneously executed...but, alas, I must be content with noting small villagers ¨solving¨ grotesque deadly behavior with vigilante style executions to there own ¨violators¨...the indigenous folks seem to know what true justice is all about. It´s hard to start pointing fingers--there are sooo many directions to point fingers, and toes, in!

Erika Baker said...

There is also a political aspect to this. Bin Laden was also responsible for terrorist attacks in Europe, yet Europe doesn't celebrate today. Quiet relief, yes. Celebrations? That's counterproductive if nothing else.
America may believe that this is the end of a chapter.
For people from a continent that has lived with terrorism for many decades it's abundantly clear that terrorism thrives on spectacles, on tit for tat. America is currently giving terrorism the spectacle that will be the oxygen it needs to continue.

Counterlight said...

Considering the fact that the subways here in New York are swarming with extra security, I don't think anyone in this little archipelago off the American coast thinks any threat has passed or any page has really turned.

What for the rest of the world is international news here is an ongoing local story. And it is a traumatic one of bereavement (thousands dead with thousands more bereaved), rebuilding (itself fraught with emotion and conflict), lingering illnesses among first responders and work crews at the site, rebuilding the fire department(New York had to borrow equipment and firefighters from other East Coast cities for years after), lingering resentment of both government and corporate failures to respond and reform, and all of that emotion focused on the man who dreamed up and ordered the worst calamity in the city's history.

I think people here had good cause for some celebrating.

Erika Baker said...

Yes, we have our own ongoing local stories. None as big as 9/11 but we just had the inquest into the 7/7 London bombing, also a Bin Laden job.

And we are also relieved that he's no longer here.

But that doesn't change the fact that, understandable though our relief is, it is extremely unwise to have large public celebrations. I find the celebrations in Arab countries when Americans are attacked hugely emotionally offensive. And I know that these people will view the images from celebrating Americans with the same emotional response.
The radicalising potential is so great that especially people who are still living with the consequences of 9/11 should consider carefully whether they really are ready to contribute to the possibility of something like that happening again.