The Osama aftermath: Vengeance, Forgiveness, & Surprising Will

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The jubilation shown by Americans pouring to the streets in front of the White House and other places across the States was met with some reservation and scolding by certain people. While I wasn't feeling particularly jubilant, I didn't think there was much wrong with people expressing jubilation for the removal of a known threat to their way of life and a symbol of their great pain. That's human, isn't it? I thought it was a celebration of "the downfall" rather than "the death of another human." A direct victim of this event explained the complex mix of emotions felt and expressed (via Andrew Sullivan):

That son a bitch killed my friends, colleagues, fellow New Yorkers, fellow Americans, fellow human beings. Worse still, he inspired thousands, if not more, to take up a blind nihilism as their credo, ostensibly in the name of Allah, “the merciful, the compassionate”. All the pain he has brought to this world has not been reckoned and may not be reckoned in our lifetimes. I sat on my couch Sunday night and poured a large glass of Irish whiskey and toasted the death of the man who had tried to kill me. “Fuck you" I said out loud.

Then I went upstairs and looked in on my three sleeping children - my oldest born in 2002 - and I kissed them all. Then I settled in next to my wife - my beautiful wife, who will be married to me ten years tomorrow, and who is carrying our fourth child. She for many long hours thought her husband of five months was crushed to death in the towers. I put my hand upon her belly and I closed my eyes and I prayed that Osama bin Laden would know the fullness of Christ’s mercy.
How can I fault them? Just as how can I fault his followers, people who believe in his doctrine, for expressing sorrow at his assassination? People are just people. If we can't express how we feel without oppressing/stripping each other of the right to live our life (which these people clearly aren't when they gathered to celebrate or to mourn), what are we to do with all them emotions? I fail to see how we can be better human beings by not expressing how we feel within safety reasons?

Having said that, as much as we love to demarcate the line between good and Osama, it would be hard to not see the human being (seemingly bent on being a matyr for his "people") in the will he left for his followers and family:
In it, Bin Laden apologizes to his children for his absence in their lives, "You, my children, I apologize for giving you so little of my time because I responded to the need for Jihad," he writes.

He also instructs his children not to follow in his footsteps - specifically telling them not to join Al Qaeda. He cites precedents from Islamic texts as a justification for forbidding his children to engage in 'holy war'.
Extreme circumstances contextualize extreme mind; epigenetics dictate it so. I'd be curious to know what his parents were like at the time of his birth and childhood, given the extreme conditions of the constant turmoil in the Middle East. I bet he felt a lot of unfinished emotional business left for him.

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14 Response to The Osama aftermath: Vengeance, Forgiveness, & Surprising Will

May 6, 2011 at 1:04 PM

I'd score this 'will' to hypocrisy-- after all, he's not dissuading *other* people's children from becoming suicide bombers or terrorist attackers, is he?

Assuming this is genuine: 'narratives' are in heavy flow at the moment!

--Of course among his adherents there will be a strong emotion of grief, but then, emotions are responses to objective events.

Even the tyrant Mezentius had a son and a horse who loved him (see "Aeneid" Bk 10). But bin Laden, arguably, surpassed even Mezentius in murderous fanaticism. Those who consider they have lost a hero certainly stand to account for why they should regard his actions as "holy" or his passing as lamentable or unjust.

Not that I think you're promoting moral equivalency here; I just think you're interested in their reactions and you pity them for having painful ones. I don't expect every last person on earth to be jubilant; a priori, there should be something much more questionable about jubilation in someone's death as opposed to grief. But in this instance, joy, even if only as a kind of *relief* so strong it becomes euphoric, is perfectly rational in response to the death of a mass murderer. And outpourings of grief among strangers is borne of an irrational committment to a program of murder in the name of a baleful fanaticism.

And don't blame it on his parents! lol Oh Aurelle, at odd moments when you're being 'psychological' you remind me of the Nurse in Godard's Prenom: Carmen, so dutifully taking and clarifying her notes (see it!!).

May 9, 2011 at 2:16 AM

Considering context does not mean personal responsibility is excused. It does not mean I'm blaming parents either. I just don't think expressing genuine emotions - joy or grief - shared by a community of people in public in a way that's not harming anyone is morally wrong.

May 9, 2011 at 2:42 AM

Well, but remember that "expressing genuine emotions" in public can be a **very** political act.

I don't mean to go all ad Hitlerium on you but, for the sake of illustration, let's take a Nuremberg rally. Would you say that kind of spectacle isn't "harming" anyone- all those impressionable children, for one? Or the hated groups, foreign and domestic, being intimidated? Or just, well, *everyone* for that matter.

I'm not suggesting pro-bin Laden displays are in the same league of premeditated agitation at all. Some reports even suggest great demoralization among Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters along the Af-Pak border, mulling over leaving the fight. If that's their spontaneous emotional response to the leader's demise, then I hope they wallow in that grief-- it'll spare them doing more harm (hopefully) and be of benefit to the rest of us.

Yes, I'm having a milk-and-cookies night! Mulling exciting designs!

May 9, 2011 at 3:12 AM

Sure it is political, if it pertains to a political figure's career.

Please, that's like saying if you let children see how happy gay people are in the media, they'd become gay. Seeing them grieving Osama's death does not oppress me or harm me in any way. That's a bit too much of a victim mentality. There's no need to be scared of people's emotions.

Cookies and milk? Awaiting Santa Claus?

May 9, 2011 at 3:23 AM

I don't mean it 'oppresses' *me*, silly. I'm talking about the impact it has, ahem, "over there"!

If your daddy sits you on his knee and tells you Osama bin Laden was a great, God-fearing man and a hero and a martyr, then **yes**, you might very well grow up to be a jihadi!

--Aurelle, c'mon, the ad Homosinthemedia fallacy? I should make you some coffee!! You just made an unforced penalty!

Surely you agree religious fanaticism is a bit more, erm, 'socially constructed' than sexual orientation?

May 9, 2011 at 3:33 AM

As long as the conditions for extreme minds exist, these children could grow up to follow the most probable paths dictated by anger and resentment. Though, children are taught all sorts of things & they don't always follow what they're taught to do. Humans! Such rebels right? But if somehow they grew up to be another Osama, it's probably because of everything else that happens to their country, culture, family, themselves and their growing up experience. It'd hardly be because their mum and/or dad shed tears for some dude they didn't know this one time.

May 9, 2011 at 3:47 AM

Oh, Aurelle: they *know* who he is!

You don't have to accept the 'Great Man Theory of History' here. Osama has enormous 'narrative' importance for those who incline to agree with his worldview. There are undoubtedly a great many households that have recently been full of (heartfelt) encomia on the Great Man's legacy, and children (or even previously unpersuaded adults) to listen in and be moved.

Osama is part of the whole world's "growing up experience" in the New Millennium-- like the Beatles, or Kennedy, or Kruschev, or Mao. He's an inextricable part of our lives.

I just think you're viewing this through a neutral prism of "oh look, another example of the grieving process" and I need to remind you that might, in certain instances, be a little naive.

May 9, 2011 at 4:07 AM

By knowing, I mean the children don't know him in their life like an uncle or something. Regardless, the point stands: you leave the conditions for extreme minds as they are (which they certainly are still there), you're likely to get the probable consequences of these children growing up becoming religious fanatics. It is not dictated by this one incident of shedding tears for a symbol of their resistance. It is not a cause, just another by-product of what's already happening. If we condemn them for their own feelings, what are we teaching children? To be scared of expressing themselves emotionally, especially the "ugly" emotions?

May 9, 2011 at 4:33 AM

Oh Lord, I think we're in 'apples and oranges' territory here!

Maybe you're emphasizing the post-Colonial narrative, and maybe that's true. Maybe economic determinism or something of that magnitude is much more important than whatever individual happens to float to the top of the jihadist pile (though I dispute that).

But when you talk about Children Repressing Their Emotions, honestly Aurelle, I think you're caught up in the prism of a Western luxury. Well-fed post-industrial children have plenty of time to worry about whether their emotions are getting expressed or not, about their nurturing or, I don't know, the safety of the dating scene on campus or something.

The lives of young people, and all people, in the Pashtun region, or allabouts in the Middle East, are rather in a different phase of existence, no? And whatever they choose to heed, it isn't going to be a Western psychiatric paradigm's diagnosis of their ills, no matter how 'scientifically valid' it perhaps really is.

Assuming Islamic extremists suffer some kind of 'false consciousness'-- and whatever one's politics, I think we can agree that blaming all the world's ills on Zionists and 'Crusaders' in the West is a false perception at some important level-- still, you're not going to cure them by bringing them the metaphorical milk-and-cookies of explaining to them that what they really need is a culture of greater parental nurturing. Even if said lack of nurturing really *is* foundationally the source of this murderous violence, these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, etc., the problem is too far gone to be salved, even in the short term, by opening the sluices for tearful emotion over the death of a murderous mastermind!

-I don't worry about your politics or anything (tho don't you think "a symbol of their resistance" is a little rich?). I'm just trying to say: don't take the counselor's mentality to an extreme here! Maybe Pashtun religious fanatics can answer to diplomacy (tho honestly I don't think it'll really work), but when you're in a war you can't just walk in with emotional catharsis and expect to resolve a Gordion Knot of trouble! Maybe NATO should leave, period, but counseling alone won't fill the gap!

Okay, I'll leave you in peace now. I swear. Godspeed xoxo

May 15, 2011 at 7:15 PM

Children need food, physical safety AND nurturing parenting; those in war time lack at least one of these requirements, if not all. One aspect alone is not going to do it - I'm not saying that these tears are going to cure the region. I'm not born tomorrow? But suppressing or condemning it ain't gonna ADD constructively to their psyche, on top of what's already been done.

And yes, parenting and context make a world of difference, everywhere. Brain development isn't isolated to "the West". The particular interactions of these elements may differ (such is the role of culture), but this isn't prescriptive psychology. It's an attempt at deeper / basic level of human development, a general rule without the specifics. We're not discussing sociology here.

May 15, 2011 at 7:41 PM

I'm reminded of a Taviana Brothers film I read about in high school, a WWII drama set in Italy during the partisan/Nazi/Allies conflicts, where a girl, after accidentally sitting on some eggs this group of refugees is depending on for their food, gets slapped in the face and called a "Bitch!" by her mother.

At the time I thought: oh, this is so terrible! An unforgettable evocation of ultimate moral horror!

In all seriousness, today I think: eh, maybe kids need to get slapped and called a 'bitch' sometimes. My god, there are so many worse things in life! I've seen "Blue Velvet"!

What if we were to imagine-- something not inconceivable here-- let's just pretend that kids in Afghanistan really are given food, safety, attention. Let's pretend Osama's notion of how girls should be brought up were 'working'. As kids, they were sheltered. Nobody mutilated their genitals or gave them in marriage to Uncle So-and-so at age ten. So for their development before 'adulthood' they were well-taken care of. Or let's just say: like the kids in "Never Let Me Go"!!).

Problem solved? I think not. "American Pastoral". You can give people all the good stuff, attention, 'security' you want, but that won't immunize them against what the old foggies called "Original Sin."

You might not want to do sociology, but society wants to do you.

And btw, I adamantly argue that sometimes repression of feelings is **inherently** good!!! Slap!

May 18, 2011 at 4:08 AM

There's a difference between fostering growth and stunting development by abuse or smothering (that would be your oversheltering, not letting kids learn of consequences). You don't get "immunized" against abuse and violence by being indoctrinated into it. Sure, you may come to adopt it as "normalcy", if that's your definition of "immunized": getting used to it. But it doesn't make the world or the person any better, safer, happier.

And Blue Velvet is amazing.

May 18, 2011 at 11:04 AM

I think "growth" is ultimately too question-begging a category: it leads us out of modernist paradigms and back to (gasp) *teleology*, which is where our thinking really belongs but it'll take another century, and probably an Apocalypse, to get us back there.

When I get my new bloggie-blog going I'll show you and the world what is even greater than "Blue Velvet" . . . .

May 20, 2011 at 12:26 AM

Growth here is simply realizing potential, maturing, or becoming the person who's happy in one's skin. My point stays the same?

Lots, but they don't negate what a great film Blue Velvet is.


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