Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The days since Osama bin Laden's death Sunday before last have been disturbing.  They have brought to mind all that we lost.  The chants of  "USA!  USAUSA!" were an especially jarring reminder of our blood lust for mindless revenge that, ten years ago, destroyed that too-brief sense of shared mourning and community after September 11 and silenced in our throats that unasked question that still haunts the nation: "Why do they hate us?"  The answer, I fear, was plain to see on our TV screens.
There again were the parade of colonels thrilling us with the nuts and bolts of how skillfully we "took out" "Geronimo;" the chorus of discredited officials using one more killing to justify moral abominations such as "enhanced interrogation," Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and unjust, aggressive war; the crowds of twenty-somethings, too young to remember a pre-9/11 world, too self-absorbed to think of the handful of young Americans still hunkered down in Afghanistan
 I find myself sitting in sadness for all that occurred these past ten years, the lives lost, the opportunities squandered, and our continued triumphalism that enables us to go wherever we want to do whatever we want, to celebrate our power, and never to have to ask that fateful question: "Why do they hate us."  In his moment of triumph, the President said that "if we set our minds to it, Americans can do whatever we want."  Yes we can, Mr. President…but should we? 
All of which begs the question – What should we be doing in this "post-Osama world?"  Instead of dancing on the grave of one dead man, we should be concentrating on improving the lives of the many millions of Arabs who for centuries have suffered humiliation at the hands of a triumphalist and exploitive West.  We should recognize that it has been that humiliation that Osama bin Laden and other purveyors of violence have appealed to.  And, in this vein, we should recognize that, as Chris Matthews said last week, "You can't kill all the would-be terrorists.  You have to kill the reasons they want to be terrorists."
Our security rests not on our military prowess, not on our demonstrated ability to kill, nor on our doubling down on the "war on terror."  It rests rather on our ability to demonstrate our support – our tangible support – for democracy and the desire for dignity in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and, yes, Palestine.  Peace in and with the Arab world requires doubling down on our support for the Arab Awakening sweeping that world.  And it requires doubling down on our efforts to extend that peace – a peace with dignity and justice – to the people of Israel and Palestine.  We must deny the terrorists the fuel for their fires of hatred.
We must also tend to our peace at home.  If we are to live with a forward-looking confidence, we must put aside the fears we have allowed the terrorists to plant in our souls…fears that have given rise to unwise and unworthy policies, have led us to forfeit our very liberties, and poisoned our discourse.  As John said in his Gospel, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love."
 Above all, we should seize this day as an opportunity for long overdue reflection on where we have been this past decade, on where we are going, and on what we will and will not do as Americans and as people of faith.  At long last, can we not ask the unasked questions: Why do they hate us?  Why do we hate "them?"  Why are we so fearful?
Might I suggest that we reflect also on our response thus far to the death of this one man – Osama bin Laden.  How should we respond?  I think, in this regard, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, got it right:
Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end. In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."
In a more general sense, Martin Luther King, Jr. also got it right:
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."
Finally, might we turn this day to the reflective task to which Father Lombardi and Dr. King point us?  Might we consider what our calling to peace and reconciliation requires of us?  A good place to start might be the prayer for our enemies in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead us and them from prejudice to truth; deliver us and them from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in Your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before You; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN"

This first appeared in the Vallejo Times-Herald May 13, 2011

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