Like many other people, I found out about Osama Bin Laden’s death not by radio, television, or newspaper, but by Facebook. However, unlike many people, I did not feel particularly happy. It is good that someone who masterminded thousands of deaths, fomented hatred, and caused and incalculable collateral damage to the world’s economy and diplomacy, has been stopped. However, it is not a victory when the only way to solve a problem is to shoot someone in the head. Instead, it is a sad statement about the human condition.
It doesn’t help that there are varying and conflicting accounts about exactly how Osama came to die. Was he armed? Was he using one of his wives as a human shield? Was he forcefully resisting capture? Was he threatening to blow up the whole compound, or something like that? Or was he unarmed, and shot before he could surrender? Would it have been possible to take him alive and have him tried in a court?
This debate is on-going in the news. The Vatican weighed in a week ago, and controversy is swirling around the more recent statements of Rowan Williams of the Church of England.
Certainly, I would not want to be one of the commanders or soldiers having to make decisions (some perhaps in a split second) about what to do in that situation. They found themselves at the nexus of political, religious, cultural, and ethical interests and pressures. Whether or not they did the best thing is ultimately only for God to decide. I hope they were seeking justice and not revenge. I think that the celebrations of his death which occurred in several places were understandable, but inappropriate, disturbing, and unwise. It is too much like the kind of vengeful attitude that causes vicious circles of violence in the Middle East.
Of course, as a priest, I also think we need to remember Christ’s injunction to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Certainly, we have a right and duty as a nation to defend the lives of our citizens from agressors, but even when it is necessary to use lethal force, we should not rejoice. We should pray for the souls of our enemies, and for their families and followers. What a triumph it would truly be if, by God’s grace, people like Osama bin Laden would repent and turn from their ways so serve peace and truth!
Let us also pray for all our military, and the supreme commander, President Obama, that they may all be guided by God’s wisdom in making their decisions, whether it be at a desk in Washington or in a firefight in the Middle East.