I went to sleep after CNN broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death and before Obama’s speech. I drifted off remembering the incredible relief I felt many years ago when a person who committed a great crime against me died, and I wished the same for the Sept 11th survivors and families.
I can honestly say that it never occurred to me that people would have pep rallies and keg parties while I slumbered. I can’t help but think about the part in the story of the Exodus when God admonished the angels for celebrating when Pharaoh’s army was swallowed by the Red Sea. How can you rejoice when my children are dying?
Despite having just paraphrased the supposed words of God, I’m not particularly religious. And as a not very religious Jew, I don’t go in for the heaven and hell thing. I believe that there is at least a kernel of good in each person and when we die that good rises from our bodies and minds and joins with the cosmic good created by all the souls who have gone before. Conversely, the pain and evil that also resides in us all is released and dissipates.
Some have described Bin Laden as a mad man but I disagree. Though he certainly had the capacity to devise and implement some extremely evil plans, true mad men, that is people who do not have the capacity to differentiate between right and wrong, are blessedly few an far between. Instead, as I see it, the majority of evil in this world is perpetrated by completely competent people who allow the wounds they have suffered in their lives to fester into bitterness, rage, and eventually, destructive acts.
Marin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Osama Bin Laden: What do these people have in common? They all experienced what they perceived to be oppression as a result of their race, ethnicity, or religion. What puts three of them among the most admired people in recent history and casts Bin Laden as the most evil figure thus far in the 21st century is their reaction to their oppression. And given that I am a firm believer in free will, I propose that our three heroes could have chosen equally evils paths. The Hebrew word is timshel, thou mayest.It’s from the story of Cain and Abel regarding the free will God grants to each human being to choose between good and evil.
So for me, the death of Osama Bin Laden is not cause for jubilation. It is cause for grief that a person chose to react to the horror of oppression by creating infinitely more horror and oppression. Some Americans, Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Afghans, among others, were directly harmed by Bin Laden. Many others of us have suffered in a more indirect fashion, but no matter what, the death of a perpetrator of evil can always be an opportunity for his victims to leave that role behind, become more whole, and proudly don the title of survivors. But these things require time for quiet reflection and integration, not kegs.