Monday, 2 May 2011

Can death be good?

This could be one of my more controversial posts. Equally, I could be judging the mood wrong and people could find it perfectly reasonable. Either way, it's going to be written. Though of course, I have no idea what it must feel like to be a survivor or relative of one of those in 9/11, and so my opinion counts for little.

It comes after the news broke early this morning that Osama bin Laden has been killed in his hide-out in Pakistan, after an apparent fire-fight with US Navy SEALS. What came next was a day of relentless news coverage showing scenes of jubilation around America, and world leaders congratulating Obama on his success. The question I want to look at now is the question that plagued me during the day. How am I supposed to feel about all this?

It may seem rather an obvious question, the man was responsible for some of the most hideous terrorist attacks the world has seen, and so I should be happy at his demise. But equally, I have never and will never be supportive of the death penalty, or any such form of retributive justice, and so how do I reconcile these two conflicting beliefs?

One article that helped me make up my mind was this by Emma Burnell, who puts his death in the context of a conflict, where casualties occur and can be justified. Like her, I believe that in an ideal world he would have stood trial for his crimes in front of an international court. But we don't live in an ideal world. His captivity would have provoked revenge killings and provoked Al-Qaeda to take hostages in an attempt to secure his release. That is a situation I think no-one could live with.

In the context of a global war perhaps it is justifiable to have killed Osama bin Laden, especially when the cost of his captivity could have been so monumental in human terms.

What I would still disagree with, however, are the scenes of jubilation that his death has sparked.  I do not criticise anyone who feels relief or joy at the death of this man, that he committed heinous crimes is beyond doubt and I cannot begin to imagine how those who suffered losses at his hands might feel. What I simply want to explain is why I would not join the celebrations, and it is summed up rather well by Harry Waizer, a survivor of the 9/11 attacks:

"If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that, but I just can't find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden."

If anything, I feel today should be about marking a line in the sand and remembering all those lives that have been tragically lost, not about jubilation. I don't think us reverting to a primitive eye-for-an-eye attitude and dancing in the streets at death is in any way justice for his heinous crimes.

If his death can be justified in the context of a conflict then so be it, but we should be extending our warm feelings to those who lost everything they hold dear rather than expressing joy that we found revenge. I was most struck by the story of one individual who, upon hearing the news, went down to Ground Zero to pay his respect to those who had lost their lives. What he found on arrival was a carnival atmosphere, and had to leave soon after. Again, I can more than understand those individuals sense of joy, but is it possible that in their carnal search for revenge they have lost sight of what is important?

Perhaps that is what I wish for most, in my idealistic mind. That this day marks the turning point. That we can now focus on moving on with our lives, whilst never forgetting the terrible losses that people suffered. From now on let us no longer celebrate death, but let us treasure life.

1 comment:

Liam Carr said...

Pretty much how I felt too - justice in the western democratic sense can only be found in a court.

Nice blog page btw - can you check mine out and give me some design tips, your links at the side look cool.