thoughts on Osama bin Laden (who is dead)

On December 17, 1996, fourteen members of the MRTA took hostage hundreds of officials who were attending a party at the Japanese embassy in Peru, South America. I was seventeen years old and living in Peru at the time, so I bit my nails and watched along with the rest of the country and the world as the hostage situation dragged on for months. That's right, months.

Then in April, right before I graduated from high school, Peruvian military commandos went in and killed every one of the terrorists. Two commandos and one hostage died in the raid. It was reported on the news that the Peruvian military commander in charge of the operation then entered the compound and, with a pistol, put a symbolic bullet through the head of each dead terrorist. And the people rejoiced. Including, I was bewildered to note, many of the Christian missionaries who comprised the adult population of my world.

A week later, at evening prayer meeting, one of the Bible Translators stood up and asked for prayer for the family of one of the terrorists who'd been killed in the attack, a young woman who had been forced to enter the MRTA as a teenager, having been warned that failure to do so would result in the death of every member of her family. And the jubilant missionaries looked at the rafters. And the discomforted missionaries looked out the screen windows as the cicadas filled the night air with their wails.

Ever since, I have been confused. As much as I don't want to become embroiled in a pissing match with people who see the recent death of Osama bin Laden as an occasion for jubilation, I nonetheless have a soul-level feeling that there is something seriously discordant about all of this - this idea that a group of people who would purport to be pro-Life would see in the violent death of another human being an occasion for joy.

Allow me to modify that statement, though. While I consider myself a "qualified pacifist," I nonetheless leave room for the strong possibility that there are times when good people must take up arms and do bad things in order to stop worse things from happening. This is, in many ways, an effed-up world, and I would be lying if I were to say that I would not want a man holding a gun to my son's head to be shot down by a very, very gifted police sniper. I would rejoice, then, that my son was alive.

But I hope that I would grieve, as well, that no other way could be found to preserve my son's life. I would grieve the loss of a fellow human being, a person so profoundly troubled, mixed-up, screwed-up and just plain wrong that he would be willing to take my son's life to get a point across. I would not allow myself to see this person as evil incarnate, though - at least, no more so than I, myself, am evil. Jesus (whom I personally think is the shizz) said that getting angry at someone is pretty much the same thing as murdering them. I believe he meant what he said. I believe as well that by this he meant to say that I, too, am pretty screwed up.

Because here's the thing: I, too, have gotten angry at my beautiful son - often for things that are not even his fault. All too often my laziness, pride and fear have led me to snap out at him, and when I see the look this produces in his young eyes, I begin to understand what Jesus meant. That this, too, is a tragedy.

Now, I know there are real-life differences between snapping at your son in anger and putting a gun to his head, and I don't mean to say they're exactly the same thing. But I think that the very point Jesus came to live out with his life was that we are, all of us, pretty much shitheads. I hate to write it out so strongly, but I have a feeling that Jesus himself wouldn't have minced words on this one. I'm pretty sure, though, that he would have gone on to say, "But wait! There's more!" and would have added that we are all pretty much wonderful as well, and that it was worth it to sacrifice himself to show us this truth: that he loves us, all of us, even terrorists.

I think Jesus would want us to know that the love he can make with us is worth all the garbage we put him through.

If you can't tell, I am very upset about all this. I am upset because I feel in my bones that any time anyone points to another human being and says that they are pure, unadulterated evil, they are pointing at the same time at me. Because there are times when I kill with my heart. There are times when I hate in my soul. There are times when grace, forgiveness and loving the people who hurt me are the last things on my mind, and seem to me to be the epitome of stupidity. It makes sense to me, as well, to rejoice in the death or suffering of my enemies.

But being a follower of a nut-job like Jesus is not about making sense of the world, it is about having the faith to do nonsensical things, things like loving your enemy and doing good to those who persecute you. Again, I am not willing to say I know that bringing Osama Bin Laden to a violent end was not the just or the right thing to do, but I do know that things are always more complicated than they seem.

Back in Peru, it was later reported that some of the MRTA terrorists in the embassy had tried to surrender, but were summarily executed. Perhaps that tribal girl was one of them. Perhaps she had been forced to go in there, and was trying in her own way to choose the right thing - to protect her family. I do not envy those who must take it upon themselves to make these sorts of life and death decisions. When do you turn the other cheek? When do you lay down your desire for an untroubled conscience and take arms against evil? Although I tend to feel it is an arrogance to pretend to the knowledge that would be required to justly end another person's life, I do not know.

Regardless, I follow Jesus and join in mourning with those who mourn - even the families of terrorists.

As Martin Luther King said, "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."


  1. I remember during the mrta crisis, my mom said if only fujimori would offer himself in exchange for the hostages, what a message that would send to the world. and that, of course, would have been the christ-like thing to do, but how many heads of state would even consider something like that?

    thanks for this post.

  2. That reminds me of the movie "Hart's War," in which the titular character does just that. Although he is depicted as a hard man, willing to sacrifice a lot of things to do what he believes is right (continuing to fight by destroying a nearby munitions plant - after being made a POW in WWII), in the end he sacrifices himself to prevent the deaths of soldiers under his "command." Greater love, and all that jive.

  3. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written..., “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “ If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:17-21

  4. Anonymous,The Bible always maintains a clear distinction between personal payback and “the sword” of just governmental causes (see Rom.12:14 – 13:7).

  5. Martyn John SmithMay 3, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    It's a luxury for us, far away from trial and tribulation, to be able to pontificate about what we want, what we believe and what we'd do if such and such happened.

    In my opinion, every human being has a reason for the stuff they do. It might not be a 'good' reason and it might not be a reason that we like or agree with. It remains, nonetheless, a reason to them - a reason to explain and perhaps justify the decision or action they've made.

    As I get older I realise that without really trying, I tend to say less about folk and the stuff they've done. I guess, deep down, I realise that if I was them, with their life, outlook, upbringing, peer-group, etc - then I would have done exactly what they've done.

    Stuff happens. Mostly we only endorse that which fits our worldview and this is true wherever and whoever we are.

    Thanks for stimulating my thoughts on this issue with your blog post.

  6. I think Proverbs 24:17-18 has an interesting message for this situation.

    "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him."


  7. I agree with you, Josh. It's definitely been weird to see so many people rejoicing the death of Bin Laden. I'm glad he's not a problem anymore, but I can't say I'm "happy" that he's dead- that just seems kind of wrong as a Christian.

  8. Maybe people aren't so much pumped that he's dead.... I mean he's also just plain caught. either way he cant keep doing the shit he's been doing and that is a huge symbol of hope for people. (obviously other people will keep doing it but he wont) im sure tons of people are very happy about the 'dead' part, but if he was only just caught all the headlines would have read "caught" instead of "dead" and im sure people would be celebrating all the same. the dead part is just the icing on the cake. (chuckle, sorry)

    Peoples reaction to it might not be a good thing but can anybody honestly say that his capture/death is a bad thing... he would have died of old age anyhow. (chuckle, sorry again)

    Josh your not as evil as you think you are. :) everyone has evil/mean/horrible thoughts from time to time but not everyone acts on them. and especially not everyone kills on them. he was as evil as evil gets and his life was dedicated to spreading that evil and making people hate and kill others. dont feel guilty for the occasional evil thought/action that runs thru you... just notice it, take a breath and try not to do it again. your nothing like osama buddy.

  9. I don't like being a shithead, but I'm afraid you're right, and I'm glad you're right, about the Jesus' love stuff. Thanks for stating it well.

  10. Thanks for your comments.

    Martyn John Smith: I sorta-kinda agree with you, although I do tend to lean more heavily towards the "free will" side of the nature/nurture question - mostly because I have spent so much of my life making excuses for the fact that I was mostly just choosing to be a victim all the time. The reason I don't judge Osama Bin Laden comes out of what you've mentioned - that I have never walked in his shoes (or sandals, as the case may be) - but I nonetheless can judge his actions (those I'm aware of, at least. I will grant that he might have done a number of kind, loving things as well) as being despicable, and I can also hold him responsible for making the choice to take those actions. Now what that responsibility-holding might look like is up for debate.

    Dryden: don't worry too much about me... I'm probably less self-abasing than I've ever been in my life. I guess I just feel that you can't be free of your baggage until you first admit that you're carrying it - which is, I think, an ongoing process. Then you can, as you say, "notice it, take a breath and try not to do it again." You can't be healed until you admit you're not well.

    Various Anonymous People: y'all should wear capes and masks. That'd be super-cool.

  11. Thank you so much for this. I also wrote a blog post about this very thing last night because I was so troubled in my heart by peoples (christian people) reactions over the fact that bin Laden is dead. I am not nearly as gifted in writing as you... but I feel I am trying to make the same point. Thank-you for sharing your heart and thoughts! And you're welcome to read my blog if you'd like to.

  12. Re: "Regardless, I follow Jesus and join in mourning with those who mourn - even the families of terrorists."

    I have come to understand that the families of terrorists do not mourn death - they rejoice. It is still a victory to them whether their loved one dies or is killing their "enemy".

    Did I misunderstand you?

  13. I'm on board with what you said, JB. When I'm watched all those tourists and pedestrians jump around like fleas in front of the White House after they announced bin laden's death, I felt sick. Yes, the dude was evil. But he was fighting for something at least, not money. His methods were crazy and wrong. But let's not get carried away with the amnesia. Evil is always the person without the microphone. Bin Laden called Bush Jr. evil, and he was right. Very conservative estimates say the war in Iraq has cost 100,000 CIVILIAN deaths. How many crippled? Twice that number may be. Bush's war. For nothing but money and power, contracts for companies like Halliburton, Mcdonnell Douglas, Black Water, GE, etc. The hypocrisy is sickening.

  14. Re: Anonymous person wondering if they misunderstand me.

    Answer: Nope.

    Elaboration: I believe you have made a few false assumptions. First, that every family member of every terrorist is likewise a terrorist. Second, that every terrorist is likewise a jihadist who believes that to die a terrorist is to be rewarded in heaven. And third, that every family member who is involved in the terrorist way of thinking is likewise a somewhat inhuman robot, who doesn't feel the way "we" do about the death of loved ones.

    It is pleasant and convenient to conceive of a world in which us/them distinctions are easy because some people "just aren't like us." This is not, however, reality.

  15. Re: Misunderstood -

    I think you misunderstood me. Aren't Christians also supposed to rejoice in death? Isn't it the ultimate and final victory for all of the battles we have fought to finally be given Grace through our faith?

    I don't know how to show up as "me" - but I am Bandit.

    I love your blog and wish I could put my thoughts out in the universe as clearly as you.

    Thanks for your time :)

  16. Thanks, Bandit!

    I suppose that's what the internet is for... misunderstanding each other :) Ah, well. We'll just keep on slugging away at it.


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