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A Spiritual Response to Bin Laden's Assassination

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A spontaneous crowd forms to celebrate Osama bin Laden's death on May 1, 2011 in front of the White House. Credit: Creative Commons/theqspeaks.

Crossposted from Tikkun

From Peter Gabel, Associate Editor:

There is no question that Osama bin Laden, as the leader of al-Qaida, was implicated in or directly responsible for the deaths of many, many people, most likely including the more than 3,000 American and, women, and children who were killed in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. But it was nevertheless upsetting and shocking to witness the exultation in the media Sunday night when bin Laden’s killing was announced. Never should the killing of a human being be an occasion for such celebration -- even in circumstances that involve actual self-defense against mortal danger. Not only does such a raucous display of pleasure in response to the killing of another disrespect the sacredness of every human life; it also inherently undermines the moral character and worthiness of those responsible for the death itself. If the United States seeks to place itself on a higher moral ground than those who commit immoral acts against our people, we must all conduct ourselves in a way that manifests our empathy and compassion for all of humanity, for every human person, and also manifest our awareness of the tragic distortions in human relations across the globe that still hurl human beings into the horrors of ongoing violence and war.

President Barack Obama’s statement to the American public and the world announcing bin Laden's death was far more sober and expressive of human depth than was the unseemly cheering of major media figures in the hour preceding Obama’s address, or the crowd shouting “U.S.A, U.S.A” outside the White House gate with the kind of hardened false elation in response to a killing that often is seen on the face of hatred. Nevertheless, we wish President Obama had at least included one phrase that said, “Even though we never take pleasure in the loss of a human life...” before stating why he felt bin Laden’s death was important and just.

From Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor of Tikkun:

I agree with Peter Gabel, and would only add the following:

The Jewish tradition has much to say on the killing of our vicious and even murderous enemies. When Pharaoh’s troops were drowning in the Reed Sea as they sought to re-enslave or kill the Israelites, the angels began to sing praises (the Hallel prayers: Psalms 113-118). God proclaimed:

“My children (the Egyptians) are sinking in the sea, and you are singing praises?” Yet God did not silence the Israelites, knowing that at that moment it would be hard for humans not to celebrate the death of an oppressor. Nevertheless, the Jewish tradition then instituted two practices in accord with God’s response: First, that the Hallel prayers would be cut down to a partial saying of some of the psalms on the last six days of Passover. And second, that when we do the Seder on Passover and recite the plagues that were used against the Egyptians to get them to free the Jews, we put our finger in the cup of wine, symbolic of our joy, and dip out a drop of wine for each plague -- this symbolizes that our cup of joy cannot be full if our own liberation requires the death of those who were part of the oppressor society.

It is the loss of this consciousness by almost every society on the planet that is a real source for concern and mourning. For far too many people, the war on terrorism seems to be an extension of the football games where we cheer on our team: “USA! USA! Hey, you are tough!”

The task of spiritual progressives at this moment is to reaffirm a different consciousness -- to remind ourselves that we are inextricably bound to each other and to everyone on the planet.

The struggle against terrorism will not be won through killing, no matter how many people we assassinate. It will only be won when we in the West can show genuine love, caring, and generosity toward everyone else on the planet.

Now that Osama is dead, let's get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now! The money saved from that alone would make a great down-payment on the Global Marshall Plan we badly need (and we could start it in the Middle East). Congressman Keith Ellison has already introduced this plan as House Resolution 157.

I understand very well the need for self-defense in a violent world, as well as the rage and upset felt by many, including me, at the murder of innocent civilians on September 11 and on many other occasions. Within the current distorted framework of military conflict in which we are to some degree entrapped, I also understand the strategic importance of capturing or, if there is no other way to stop them from sending more murderers to kill innocent civilians (and every other possible route has been tried), then self-defensively killing the leaders of those who seek to kill or terrorize our own people. But the fact remains that it is through new policies of generosity and caring for others, not through killing the bad guys, that we will create a world of peace. To the extent that Americans celebrate the death of bin Laden because they believe that it will bring peace to the world, I want to acknowledge the goodness and decency of that aspiration. Yet we as spiritual progressives must simultaneously help our fellow Americans, indeed, our fellow human beings in every society, see that it is the path of nonviolence and the Strategy of Generosity that is the only path toward lasting peace on our planet.

So this is a moment to pray that this new consciousness will spread quickly through our planet, and a moment when all of us can and should renew our dedication to promoting a spirit of love, caring for others, and true generosity. Let us pray that that becomes the path of all countries on our planet.

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