Mourning bin Laden?
Osama bin Laden is dead, probably assassinated under presidential orders in a mission violative of International Law. But he was someone who had few qualms about violating laws when he saw a higher purpose, the same standards by which his life was terminated.
My feelings about bin Laden are very complicated. He does not seem to have been a thief or a liar, or a person who engaged in criminal or immoral behavior for personal gain. He, like Latin America’s “Libertador”, Simon Bolivar, were among the wealthiest people in the world when they started their respective campaigns and they risked their lives and fortunes to protect principles in which they believed. Osama bin Laden fought to defend and protect a culture, a religion and a way of life against first the Soviet Union, with large scale US assistance and guidance, and then against that same US when he felt that it was engaging in sacrilegious activities against the Arab Nation and Islam.
How much different is that from the conduct of the heroes we ourselves most revere, the heroes that most cultures most revere? But his conduct was undoubtedly both criminal and immoral. The truth is that the conduct of most of our heroes in revolutionary-military areas is criminal and immoral, at least from the perspective of their victims and enemies. It seems so odd to me, an agnostic at best, that adherents to all three Abrahamic religions seem so hypocritical about their Ten Commandments and Golden Rules. But too many are. It seems that in general, individual atheists and agnostics today are much more likely to adhere to sophisticated ethical values than are the most vocal Jews, Christians and Muslims. I wonder why that is?
I was taught to love truth, honor and justice; to love the concept of human equality and human rights, and to respect the rule of law, albeit only when it coincides with justice; I was taught that the harder right is always the correct path. I am not always equal to the task and know that as a human being I have limits: all my ethical qualms would disappear in an instant should anyone harm my children or should I find myself unable to meet my obligations to them within the context of my ethical parameters. And I know that if it’s true for me, it’s true for almost all others. But still, I know that in the long term, my misconduct would not be justified: it would just be inevitable. And understanding that I ask myself how we as a species can rise above the place we currently find ourselves?
When I was younger I thought that after World War II and its conclusory Nuremberg tribunals, through the resulting United Nations the world had changed, but then came the Cold War. When the Cold War ended I thought the world would change but the War on Drugs remained in full force, stripping us all of civil liberties and civil rights, soon to be joined by the War on Terror. The main victims of both those latter wars were the evolving concepts of International Law and Human Rights to which my principle allegiances are currently pledged. Today I understand that the history I was taught was full of distortions and that reality being much different than such perceptions, there was little chance that the propaganda based solutions posited would, by some miracle, coincide with the solutions necessary to deal positively with the actual reality. But that realization need not lead to hopelessness or despair, just to understanding that mirrors are more valuable than beautiful self-portraits, and that we need to learn to face the truth we don’t like if we’re ever to change it into a reality we can respect.
Osama bin Laden, hero and criminal against humanity, is someone who I can understand but whose conduct I cannot condone. The same is true for all the leaders on both sides of this ghastly current reality. I wonder what I would do in their place and I can’t honestly answer. Perhaps, the best I can do is to be grateful that I don’t find myself there. But this I think I do know; none of them is any better or any more right than the other, and that the crisis in which we find ourselves will not be solved by attacking it’s symptoms but by acknowledging it’s sources and causes, and dealing with them justly and equitably. Impunity, as satisfying as it is for the day’s victor, is not the answer.
I think that my convictions are reinforced by the fact that after a life perhaps too full of positive and negative experiences I find myself teaching innocent bright young minds about political leadership and its responsibilities and realizing that, where I and my generation have failed, they may yet succeed. I confess that they both motivate and teach me important things every day. Most of my friends and even my children do not agree with what they consider to be my overly legalistic and impractical perspectives. Many of them, whom I love and respect despite our differences, perhaps now find me distasteful, something that hurts me deeply. But still, that old “harder right” imprint in my character won’t let me take that delightfully pleasant, easier road. I hope it’s correct and not just a waste of time and effort. I hope my friends, most of them devout Christians, find a way in their hearts to forgive me for perceptions and conduct that I truly believe their Christ would find laudable.
So I mourn for bin Laden as I do for his victims, and I mourn for the victims of the War on Terror on all sides, and I mourn for justice, for the rule of law, for International Law and for Human Rights, while fervently hoping for answers; and I pledge myself to doing all I can, however little it winds up being, to bring about a day when all men and women are equal before the law and in their own eyes, where justice rather than mere vengeance reigns and where we can finally live in peace and prosperity, happiness and health.
I wonder how true I can remain to that pledge when it becomes truly personally inconvenient.
 © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2011; all rights reserved