Bin Laden was reportedly killed yesterday. I was stunned to see so many Americans celebrate this report in a way that was somehow reminiscent of how I celebrated when the Packers (my favorite team) won the Superbowl earlier this year.
This saddened me very much. Why? Let me try to explain…
Bin Laden is an evil man, who orchestrated a horrific crime of mass murder of American citizens. It’s a tragedy that feels personal to me. It brought into the foreground of my relatively naive mind that the world is full of evil, and is unlikely to ever rid itself of it. What saddened me is not this realization, but that fighting evil is treated almost like a game, not in that it’s fun, but that evil can and ought to be defeated, beaten, crushed in the same way that a football team can be defeated, beaten, crushed.
In my view, you cannot crush evil. By “crush”, I mean the use of hard military power. Evil cannot be destroyed. All we can hope to do is to convert as many vulnerable impoverished minds to the way of peaceful co-existence. The most effective way to achieve such conversion is to lead by example. The United States (in its ideal) is the counter-symbol to Bin Laden: a symbol of freedom, individual rights, the rule of law and compassionate justice. The moment we pick up a gun and step onto a foreign land, we are no longer a symbol of compassionate justice. We are viewed as occupiers, not liberators.
War should only be waged defensively. I know that every time I take the train to West Philly late at night, I run the danger of getting into a confrontation with a few teenagers that are looking to mess with someone like me (partially because I’m of a different race than them, but also because I’m different in other ways). The solution is be low key and defend myself with aggression only if such a confrontation occurs. Now, if someone robs me on said train, do I then go on a rampage the next day and start shooting anyone that I find suspicious as a preemptive policy of aggression? It might be effective in the short term as a way to get a reputation of someone you don’t want to f*** with, but in the long-term I’m statistically putting myself in much higher likelihood of danger.
Of course, once we escalate, it’s hard to stop. Bin Laden as a symbol is just another source of fuel for the propaganda machine that drives the military industrial complex. Now that he is killed, his death will become another symbol: one that says that we indeed can win something like a “war on terror”. This of course is an ugly, abused, and self-serving lie which has and will lead to the suffering of millions.