Why I Celebrate Death

May 3, 2011

Back in college, a kid got into a fight with me because I said I was against world peace. It seemed that he wasn’t quite 100% behind peace either if there was someone who disagreed with him.

I seem to be getting into fights again, because I really feel uncomfortable with all the people taking a stand, saying that Bin Laden’s death was absolutely a bad thing, that it is always wrong to want someone to die. The fight would usually start with me being conflicted, which would somehow evolve into me practically dancing on Bin Laden’s grave.

I am happy he’s dead. I’m happy he’s dead much in the way he’s happy he’s dead. Ten years ago, he started a fight that we didn’t want to be in, and the logical conclusion to that fight was us killing him. He continued to plot attacks against the west, but he didn’t really seem to have much direction in his attacks. He evaded capture, but he wasn’t in some underground bunker as we envisioned him, but instead in a million-dollar compound that he had built right in the middle of a tourist town. There’s a picture of his compound online where you can see store signs just outside written in English. I have no doubt that he loved knowing there were Westerners just outside his door, oblivious to his existence.

Because that was the metaphor for this entire battle between Al-Qaeda and the West. Obliviousness. Bush wasn’t far off when he said “they hate us for our freedom.” Where he made his mistake was that they weren’t jealous of our freedom— they hated that we were completely oblivious of what the rest of the world had to pay so that we could be free. Here we were, the world’s lone superpower, rich beyond belief because we strolled in and declared ourselves the winners of World War I after it had bankrupted the rest of Europe. And what was the reward for the side we took? Europe divided out the entire world in their name. You can imagine that some of the European installments sounded familiar to Bin Laden: Iraq. Israel. Syria. Lebanon.

The same thing happened in World War II. Then, as the Middle East started falling apart, the U.S. started shouldering in and taking a bit for themselves. In the world where Bin Laden grew up, Arabs worked their entire lives pulling oil out of the territory that they lived in and handed that oil to an American company, who sold it for profits that the Arabs would only share if they were themselves Westernized. Bin Laden himself worked for America, and you can bet that was where the seed was sown. America didn’t care about him. America didn’t care about his people. America was so powerful that they could just walk in and take whatever they wanted. No war needed; they could buy entire countries.

So of course Americans were against war. Of course they didn’t want any bloodshed. Because war and bloodshed were the only hope that people like Bin Laden had, and America didn’t need it anymore.

Of course, the Bin Laden family didn’t walk away with nothing. They were, and are, filthy rich and incredibly popular. Nonetheless, 99% of Americans neither knew nor cared who they were. Imagine that for an up and coming megalomaniac— from where he stood, Americans owed him everything and gave him nothing.

So he took to terrorism. Most of his projects were good enough to be on the news for a few days, maybe even a month. Then, on 9/11, everything went his way. Suddenly, his name was known by every single person on the planet. Can you imagine what a rush that would be? He knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans got to him, but it didn’t matter anymore. He was a hero and a messiah.

He probably never guessed he would last another 10 years. There seems to be some indication that he was even getting a bit lazy—maybe he was growing impatient himself? He wouldn’t give up, and he would continue to try to cause more terrorist attacks, but he had already completed his masterpiece. (From a completely historical perspective, one of my favorite interviews of all time was Osama Bin Laden talking to Al-Jazeera about the attack, discussing it as you’d expect Matthew McConaughey to discuss the making of his most recent film.)

Then, on Sunday, the time came. The helicopters descended. I’m sure that if Bin Laden could do it over again, he wouldn’t have gone down shooting random bullets into the air while using his wife as a human shield, but otherwise, it was an end fitting for a martyr.

The Muslim world is celebrating Bin Laden’s death, whether they hated him or loved him. In the Middle-Eastern Muslim culture, death is not the horrible tragedy that it is here. It’s the triumphant end to a great story. It’s the climax to the film. For Bin Laden to have died of kidney complications—THAT would have been tragic.

Here, we celebrate his death for a similar reason. It’s the end of the story. The funny thing is, both sides think they won. And both sides are at least partially right. But for us it’s the final narrative to the 9/11 saga. There are a few of us who feel that our own deaths have been avenged, but I’m reluctant to believe that for most of us, we’ve been losing much sleep over him still being alive. Mostly, it’s just been that sense of knowing that the story was unfinished (and, if the story is unfinished, it means by default that we, the protagonists, have lost).

Which brings me back to the people who have taken today as an opportunity to be angry that we celebrate Bin Laden’s death. I don’t doubt that your feelings are sincere, and I know for a fact that many of you feel very, very strongly about it. But the question is: why? What’s wrong with Bin Laden dying? What makes you so angry?

The general line seems to be that it’s only the bad guys who solve their problems by killing the other side. What did you think was going to happen? Were we going to capture Bin Laden and try him in a fair court? Was Bin Laden going to come to our point of view? Were we going to come to his? Were we just never going to have resolution? This idea, that we were somehow the pure, enlightened souls who had finally realized that war is bad and death is wrong, is exactly what Osama Bin Laden hated about this country. We are somehow capable of strolling through our lives, honestly believing that oppression, aggression, and violence are not the backbone of our existence. It was this obliviousness that made us target number one, and why he wanted us to be the evil ones who martyred him.

And that was part of our punishment. What transpired Sunday night was not retribution for 9/11. It was Act III of the story. From the moment the twin towers went down, it was our burden to find Bin Laden and kill him. Believe it or not, very few of us wanted to be the ones who solved things through murder. We would have loved for the end of the story to be that Bin Laden was found guilty by his peers and lived out the rest of his days atoning for his deeds. Of course we would.

And that’s just how naive we are. We think that we get to make that choice. We should have got to come out the good guys in this, because gosh, we’re always the good guys. We’re the peaceful ones, who solve things through justice and democracy.

No, we aren’t, and as long as you reap the benefits of our aggression, you don’t get to live in that reality. Face the facts: we are not better than that. We are not always the good guys, and we don’t get to suddenly say that we are. If we were the good guys, 9/11 never would have happened. It’s terrible, but it’s true. Are we to blame for 9/11? God, no. We may take some blame for the state the Middle East is in, but Osama Bin Laden takes full blame, and full credit, for the destruction 2001. And we, in turn, were left with no choice but to take all the credit, and all the blame, for killing him in return. Because that’s the burden we bear for our prosperity, and price we pay for our freedom.


Indiscriminate Fire

October 22, 2010

There are somewhere around 20,000 accidental gunshot wounds in the United States every year. There are over a hundred thousand deliberate gunshot wounds in the United States, and you can bet that many (perhaps most) of those people would have never been injured or killed if the assailant didn’t have a gun. Yet millions upon millions of Americans insist that it is their absolute, inarguable right to continue to carry those guns around. There’s no secret where they get that impression. It’s right there in the Second Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Now, that amendment was written in the 1790s and was based off of the English Bill of rights written in the 1680s, and there’s no question that life now is a hell of a lot different from how it was 330 years ago, yet here we are, yapping about how our right to bear arms (who even says the phrase “bear arms” anymore?) is irrevocable.
Fact is, we hold up our Constitution as our inalienable rights all the time. Fundamentalists claim that the tenth amendment allows states to stop teaching science. Liberal activists use popular pressure to stop sponsoring conservative opinion, while big businesses use financial pressure to stop sponsoring liberal opinion, and even they’re both blatant attempts at censorship, they defend it as Free Speech. The President refuses to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or mandate funding for government health care because the Constitution cites that it’s Congress’s job. Dennis Kucinich carries the damn thing in his pocket. It seems that the one thing all Americans agree on is that The Constitution is the most essential foundation of the American way of life.
So. I’m sitting and listening to a lecture on why religion is dangerous, and they cite that the Bible and the Quran have all these passages in them which promote evil deeds, slavery, murder, and so on. Sure, most Muslims are peaceful, but if they are, it’s only because they don’t really follow the Quran. Most Christians are tolerant, but that’s because they’re “cultural” Christians, not religious fundamentalists. But, they note, all these terrorists, suicide bombers, martyrs of Islam, they cite the Quran, how they’re going to get 46 virgins and be with Gabriel in Heaven. Gay-hating Christians cite Deuteronomy to defend their virulent homophobia. Therefore, it is argued, it is essential that we divorce ourselves from these books which demand such horrific behavior of its readers.
And I’m thinking, what the fuck? Since when did the bad apples ruin the bunch? They point out that it’s not just a perversion of the religious texts—it’s written right in there! You must stone the gays! You will be rewarded in the afterlife for killing infidels! Well, big shots, the United States Constitution says that slavery is legal and the more slaves you have, the more influence you get in Washington (to the tune of three votes for every five slaves). Then when we grew up we thought, fuck that, slavery is an abomination. And we scratched it out. Just like how the Catholic Papacy and most independent churches have been pretty agreeable that evolution is a credible thing, and that just coveting another person’s goods isn’t the end-all to moral behavior.
The people who still believe the world is 6,000 years old are ignorant, plain and simple, and they lack the self-esteem to suggest that they don’t understand how people got here. There are still a hell of a lot of Christians who have some serious problems with gays. That is bad. There are a few folks out there right now hinting that our country is ripe to become a theocracy, and they’re quick to point out that the Constitution never says the phrase “separation of church and state.” So let’s an install a Christian theocracy! We’ll still make no law prohibiting the free exercise of other religions, just like there’s no law in Afghanistan prohibiting Christians from practicing their faith there. It’s only if people convert from Muslim to Christianity then they’ll kill you. Well, secularists are certainly against this train of thought. But it doesn’t even make mention of the Bible, it makes mention of the Constitution. So where are these humanist scholars, demanding that people stop abiding by the Constitution since it’s sufficiently vague to allow people to come to such conclusions!?
Final thought: there are more pedophiles in the teaching profession than just about any other profession. Anyone making the claim that teachers are therefore more evil and misled as a whole are in need of some serious schooling in logic. The reason there are more pedophiles in the profession is because it’s the perfect environment for a child molester to pick up prey. But we sure as hell don’t demand that there should no longer be teachers. Teachers do important, valuable things for our community, things nobody else does. There are countless incidents of police officers beating or killing innocent civilians. That’s not because they’re a cop. It’s because the kind of person who has the desire to be able to beat and kill people and get away with it are going to be naturally drawn to a career on the force. It doesn’t mean that we should get rid of police.
That’s the extreme we need to back away from. Religion deserves the same inquiry and skepticism as anything else, and it does not deserve the immunity to questions that it currently enjoys. But if you say the Catholic Church should be dismantled because it doesn’t properly discipline or punish its pedophiles is revealing of your own bigotry. The correct answer is: The Catholic Church MUST do everything in its power to keep people out of the clergy who will so grossly abuse the trust and power that it comes with, and that is non-negotiable. If you say that by believing in the Bible, you are by necessity perpetuating the fall of civilization because prophecies see the end times as a good thing, you’re breeding intolerance without contributing to a solution. The correct answer is: the part of that book citing that Jesus will return to Earth and take you with him to Heaven is bullshit, and that is non-negotiable. If Muslims believe that they will be cast out of God’s kingdom unless they fight a jihad against the heathen Americans, the correct response is: you have no idea what happens after you die, but a guarantee you that if you take a shot at us, we’re going to make sure you live a long, horrible life here on Earth in prisons so bad we have to house them in Cuba. And we can do it, too. Our Constitution says we can.
But as for the rest of his religion, what’s it to you?