Many of my friends have expressed a great degree of discomfort over the rejoicing and revelry following the death of Usama Bin Laden. I can understand that. As a pacifist I too believe that most often violence begets violent. However, I do not believe that violence ALWAYS begets violence. This may be related to my thoughts on the Holocaust (what if we had bombed the train lines, even though they were technically civilian infrastructure?). It may also be related to my nearly zealous belief that there is no such thing as “always”, except MAYBE in physics – and even then Stephen Hawking has made a career largely poking holes in Albert Einstein’s work.
One of the hardest things for me when I was younger was to trust my gut instincts. I do that much more often now, and they have so far steered me in the right direction; and something in my gut tells me this is right. As I walked to the Path Station at Ground Zero last night for my daily ride home I could palpably feel it in the air, as if it was all lighter somehow. The press cameras and large police presence were back on a level I had not seen since the station first re-opened, but the feeling of dread that has filled me with in the past was missing. I could feel it in the people around me too. Suddenly this was a train station under construction now, not a trek through the unthinkable. As corny as it sounds, it was as if the weight of all of the souls trapped in the rubble had been pressing against the walls of the station, but now they were gone.
So I will not rejoice, but I will certainly feel relief. For better or for worse, the reality is that some people are dangerous as long as they are alive, and they are so because they made themselves that way. Bin Laden chose a life (he was rich, educated, and privileged) in which he knew that he could almost certainly never be taken alive (though according to the NY Times he was apparently offered the opportunity). No “enemy” could risk giving him a pulpit while he was alive and on trial, risk the scorn of isolating him if they did not, and allow him to continue to ‘martyr’ thousands, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. No nation could bury his body and not risk creating a shrine. In the end, Bin Laden must have known this. In the end, this was his choice.
So again no, I will not rejoice, but I will feel better knowing that he is no longer in this world, and I will even admit to feeling a certain satisfaction in knowing that the man who killed an ex-housemate of mine, a friend’s niece, and fourteen of an ex-girlfriend’s closest friends, is no longer out there somewhere.
Does this make me less of a pacifist? I don’t think so. Violence almost always begets violence, but sometimes in the darkest moments it also serves to end it.