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Why We Should Rejoice

May 7, 2011

by Andrew Parker

When the news broke about the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid on his Pakistani compound, I wrote an article late that night expressing my initial reaction. In it I said that this was a happy moment for the country, and May 1st could become a date Americans observe in the future, akin to the moment of silence we now observe on September 11th, just with a more joyous atmosphere. In the last few days however I noticed a surprisingly large backlash against this notion. It is my belief that this is a critical moment for Americans to come together, regardless of political ideology. After years of economic hardship and political bitterness, it would do our country a lot of good to be able to celebrate something.

The most startling backlash against celebration is shown in the language used around many places on the internet. First there was this fantastic video:

I saw it when it had about 3,000 views, but it has since exploded to over half a million, and appeared in the opening credits of The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell a few nights ago. I personally find the exhibition of patriotism quite refreshing, not to mention he seems to be having a blast (pun definitely intended). However most of the comments on the video speak the opposite view, and as many YouTube comments go, are somewhat disturbing. Here is a small sample: “God purge America.” “Ashamed to call my self American now.” “Wonder why the country is falling apart?” On the contrary, it is this disgust for fellow countrymen in some circles that is causing the social fracturing of our country. These comments belong on the other side of the “Obama isn’t an American” coin and are completely unhelpful. This man has a right to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden in his own way. If that means wielding a pistol on an ATV, the Second Amendment allows it. Other unfortunate comments, like this one from the Socialist Worker, are very similar. “As Obama was announcing the killing on television, crowds of people gathered outside the White House to chant “USA, USA, USA”–the very image of callous arrogance that stokes bitter anger toward the U.S. around the world.” How sad is it that we should show no pride or solidarity after a man whose organization committed atrocities against humanity in America and the rest of the world (let’s not forget the thousands of innocent Afghans and Pakistanis killed in suicide attacks) is finally put to rest?

Then, much softer in tone, there was the widely disseminated misquote of Martin Luther King, Jr. which read: “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.” The first sentence turned out to be from another person. Regardless, I feel even MLK’s words do not apply properly in this situation. Let us remember that al-Qaeda’s ideology is fundamentally one of hatred for the principles of freedom, equality, and sanctity of human life. Osama bin Laden was the leader of this ideology. By killing him, a major outlet for this vitriol was silenced. I do not consider his killing or the celebration of it a return of hate, but rather an act of love towards the victims of al-Qaeda’s violent nihilism. With all due respect to MLK, who was nothing short of crucial in advancing racial equality in the United States, Osama bin Laden worked to undo everything we stand for. He would see the rights of women, gays, ethnic and religious minorities, and basic freedom of expression wiped out.  For these reasons the use of this quote strikes me as being vainglorious and self-righteous. I would prefer to stand in defense of these principles and cheer their success than sigh over the loss of bin Laden’s life. The only loss I mourn in this case is the loss of the helicopter. I find it unbelievable that people continue to dither over questions such as “Did we execute him?” or “Did we violate Pakistani sovereignty?” It seems that people have a short memory regarding the mass executions bin Laden ordered and the Pakistani intelligence/government’s two-faced approach to combating terrorism.

I am not so naive to think that the death of bin Laden means an end to all global jihadist terrorism. Another will most likely take his place and continue to espouse the same ideology. But the fact that he was the founder and figurehead of al-Qaeda makes his death is an astounding symbolic blow to the group and its ideology, one that should not be underestimated. It sends the message that in the long run, the principles of freedom and equality will overcome violent opposition to human progress. Americans should rejoice in this rather than decry it.

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