Lessons from bin Laden’s Death

Today, people all over the United States are literally dancing in the streets because the hated Osama bin Laden has been assassinated by the United States military.

His act of terror, which destroyed so many lives and changed the world forever, has now been avenged. The audacity of this one man was an affront from the beginning; the fact that he and his cohorts were able to do what they did and cause so much pain has been a gaping wound for Americans. His periodic videotapes were maddening, seemingly rubbing his “power” in the faces of those he hated. So, when he was reported assassinated, nobody wept in sorrow.

But we have to be careful, and I hope we can use this as a “teachable moment” to understand something critical about human behavior. First, the careful part: Gloating and dancing in the streets is not a good way to live once someone hated or disliked has been “taken out.” I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and some of the white people in my city danced and said, “good!” We, Americans, didn’t like it when we saw people dancing in their streets when the World Trade Center buildings came down. Not even sports teams allow the winner to gloat in front of the team they’ve beat. It is behavior unbecoming to an American. It feeds those who already hate us, who think that we are arrogant and selfish and self-serving. We have a right to be happy that bin Laden is gone, but gloating is not good.

Second: the education. Whenever people have been wronged, or think they have been wronged, they feel vindication when it seems the chips are on their side. If we go back to the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, black people were glad — no, elated — when the verdict came down because it seemed that the justice system had finally worked for them. For years it had been the case (and still is) that the justice system was skewed against black people, sending blacks to prison even in the midst of compelling evidence as to innocence. Not even the United States Supreme Court, historically, has ruled in favor of black people, so when that verdict came down, it was a gut reaction to a long-held hurt and sense of betrayal of the United States government and justice system. I am not sure that everyone who applauded the verdict believed Simpson was innocent, but they were glad that apparent evidence that pointed to his possible innocence had not been ignored. When people, during the 2008 presidential election, saw black people in Jeremiah Wright’s church “applaud” as they listened to him talk about the injustice of America’s government, they were offended, called Wright a racist, and shrank in sheer horror that black people could applaud “racist” and “hateful” speech. Wright’s words were neither, but were rather a statement of the reality of life black people have lived in this country, an affirmation that what they have felt was and is valid.

It is a fact that since September 11, 2001, Americans have been seething. We have been hurt and insulted and angry and we have wanted justice – i.e., we have wanted bin Laden to hurt, and hurt badly, for what he did to us. We have wanted revenge, this, in spite of our religious instruction which admonishes us not to seek vengeance and which reminds us that God says vengeance is his. Well, so be it. We see this assassination of bin Laden as God working on our behalf, and we are glad about it and we are not shy about making our feelings known …I, too, am glad he was found. I am glad…

But we need to think about ourselves as Americans who believe in God, and think about behavior “becoming to an American,” and also use this as a teachable moment, as we look at our own behavior, and see that what any human being does when he or she feels vindicated, is applaud the breakthrough. Americans (and probably some Muslims as well) are doing that now; African Americans have done it as well, and it means nothing more than people like to get a couple of points on the board when they feel life has beat them down.

Just a candid observation…

6 thoughts on “Lessons from bin Laden’s Death

  1. Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice. – Proverbs 24:17

  2. Reverend Sue,

    When I started writing this, I had the attitude that I would never rejoice at someone’s hardship or death. Howeverafter giving it some thought. There are people that I absolutely I can’t stand to the point that the hairs on my arm stand up when their in my presence. I would embrace vindication… and even if I did feel happy that they received their “come uppance” it would be private… But I wouldn’t feel good about feeling that way. I can say without a doubt that I would never celebrate a death..no matter who it is.

    A lot of these people are not celebrating a breakthrough and there is a difference between the satisfying feeling that vindication brings, and outwardly joyous celebration of a death or hardship.

    America has done more than its fair share of killing and some countries view us as terrorist, maybe that’s the reason they were dancing in the street when 9/11 happened.. It was just as ugly when they did it…

  3. Hey Rev Sue:

    I was in shock when I first heard the announcement last night, but even more shocked by the jubilant display around the White House. Of course, there are many folks who have the “fat last” spirit concerning this man. One relative of a 911 victim said, “The victims of that day are still dead!” Of course, my mind rushed to the propsects of retaliation. However, some reports suggest that bin Laden’s power had diminished considerably. Perhaps there will always be a terror alert somewhere–it does provide jobs. Nevertheless, until all killing stops, there will be no peace anywhere. Something festered in the minds that were enraged enough to crash planes into buildings on that day. I appreciate president Obama’s candor and caution. I too don’t believe it’s time to celebrate.

  4. I think Rev. Dr. Susan Smith’s observations are spot on: This is not a time for celebration but instead a call for deep reflection. Reflection on the original acts committed by Bin Laden and his followers and the reasons why they felt obliged to carry out the acts on 9/11; on how we in a nation of “religious” and supposedly liberated people still find joy in the death of another; how quickly we find the next cause or person or religion or race of people to demonize, not looking at the very large speck in our own eyes. Revenge will never be an adequate response to the death of Bin Laden: Only love can. And the sooner we learn that as human beings, the sooner we will find ways to live the example of Jesus, the Christ, and others worthy of praise. Thanks for your thoughtfulness in a time of great challenge, Rev. Sue.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Cynthia, for your input. I am still struggling with the fact that religious people seemingly are unaware or don’t care about God’s directive to love, ANYHOW. That doesn’t mean I believe bin Laden should not have been captured and punished, and if he posed a danger to those about to capture him, self-defense was necessary…what I object to is all the celebration in the streets. Some would say to me, “get over it.” I guess I can’t.
      Thanks again for commenting!

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