I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. 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. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s late, and I’m tired, and while I’m telling myself it must be time to sleep, I’m refreshing my Facebook feed and watching that quote appear and re-appear, posted again and again by people I know, from country after country, across the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, just as I re-posted it myself this afternoon.
The news broke soon after I’d copied and pasted it from the status of a friend in America; that the quote was incorrectly attributed to Dr. King, and that while it was flooding Twitter and Facebook in an ever-expanding circle, its inception was in fact the work of either someone ill-informed or wilfully deceptive, and the internet had simply seized upon it without question in the wake of the news of Osama bin Laden’s death and the subsequent celebrations across the US and the world.
Investigative news outlets quickly clarified that only the first line was a fraud – the rest had been taken from Strength to Love, a collection of Dr. King’s sermons. That first line however, conveniently less than 140 characters, had been taken up by Twitter users in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Already, jokes and satirical references have taken on a life of their own in the social networking universe, from new faux-MLK quotes to all manner of references to public figures proclaiming they invented whiskey, they killed Hitler, they want these motherfucking snakes of this motherfucking plane.
I copied and pasted because in the wake of bin Laden’s death, with my first visceral response of We got you, you fucker fading away, as I started to question how I’d somehow painted myself into a narrative of celebrating the death of another human being, as I started to wonder and wonder again if people should celebrate, or if they shouldn’t, if they had the right or they didn’t, this seemed like a standard that someone had lifted and that I could rally behind. This was, with the refrain of love and understanding ringing out time and time again in this one forum of communication, a chance to add my voice, however quiet it is in a world of billions, to a single human response that said: No, we will not be the same as those who destroy.
Because the truth is I don’t know what else, right now, right at this minutes, I can do, and the world so sorely needs something to be done.
I can’t pretend I’ll ever shed a single tear for the life of a man who, if accounts are to be believed, went to his death sheltering himself from bullets with a human shield. A man who planned the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women, and children, in a tragedy that stunned the world; a man who supported and sheltered with a government responsible for cutting off the nose and ears of an eighteen year old girl who was given away at the age of twelve to satisfy a blood debt; a man who became a figurehead for violence that inspired bombings in London, in Madrid, in Bali.
I don’t care what bin Laden’s reasons for jihad were; there can never be a justification for these atrocities, and in the absence of prevention, all we are left with is justice. And there’s so much of me that says if the death of a man like bin Laden isn’t a good thing, then I don’t know what is.
But more of me says that tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, the world will keep turning. And it’s wide, in so much more than distance, and it’s confusing, in ways that go so far beyond the evening news, and it breaks my heart with the inhumanity that goes back in cycles of years and decades, that repeats on the pages of every history book. And I don’t have answers to the questions I want answers to, because these questions are too big for one person to answer, and it’s all too easy to stop questioning and just feel like one of the good guys when I turn on the TV to see that an American SEAL team has killed the world’s most wanted man.
Everything I know tells me there are as many heroes and villains as there are people on the face of the earth, and there are just as many rights and wrongs and just as many uncertainties, but everything I know also tells me that somewhere a line has to be drawn and the sanctity of human life has to be defended, and sometimes maybe there’s only one best option to see that come to pass. And I don’t know how to reconcile everything I know and everything I feel, but one thing I’m certain of is that the easy way out of the dilemma is the one that sees people dying.
So rather than turn from this, rather than say the world is too complex, and too cruel, and, ultimately, too sad, to engage with, rather than try to ignore the knowledge that the bad guys look just like us, what I want to say is that when I wake up tomorrow, I want to live in a world that’s better than yesterday’s. I don’t want to take the paths of least resistance – the ones that deny reaching out to one another and demand we act selfishly, and stupidly, and in hatred, because sometimes it’s simply easier to hurt people than to understand them.
I know the reality is that nothing I say will make a difference. It’s just words; the words of one person. But louder – so much, much louder – are the words of hundreds of thousands, speaking together, repeating the words of a man braver and better than I will ever be, who was himself killed for preaching the cause of freedom, peace, love, and understanding:
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. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
And while it may not be action, it’s a beginning, and perhaps in the world we live in, that’s the best that can be asked for.