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The news of Osama bin Laden’s death is just the sort of news to eclipse everything else happening in the world, and probably for good reason. His enigmatic face has become instantly recognizable, at least for people in the West who count September 11 as one of those days on which their world changed. I certainly remember what I was doing. It was sickening, as have been the many other terrorist attacks accredited to Al Qaeda.

But I have to say, I’m quite disconcerted by the reactions. All this talk of ‘welcome’ and ‘celebration’ leaves a sour taste. I would not dare to presume to know what it feels like to be one of the people who lost a family member or friend in any one of those attacks. Or for that matter, what it feels like to have lost a family member or friend in ‘the fight against terrorism’ (notwithstanding the many difficulties I have with that term and with a lot of what it has involved). For that reason, I want to be extremely cautious about commenting. But the violent death of an individual is never something that I could ‘welcome’ or ‘celebrate’. Even if that person is considered the worst enemy of the community I live in, I can’t be happy that someone is dead.

I read this in an article in The Australian  just now:

Former US president George Bush says he has congratulated President Barack Obama after hearing about the death of Osama bin Laden. In a statement, Mr Bush said Mr Obama called to tell him that US forces had killed bin Laden. Mr Bush said, “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.” He also said the US “has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done”.

Maybe it does represent a victory for the US military, who have been trying to find him for so long. But as for ‘those who seek peace’ – how does killing someone do that? As I said, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be one of those who lost loved ones on September 11, but surely killing Osama bin Laden doesn’t change what has happened, doesn’t bring them back, and doesn’t bring restoration or reconciliation to anyone. Certainly, Osama bin Laden has long since forfeited any right to his freedom, given how destructively he used it. But the more killing is seen as justice for killing, the worse the mess we get ourselves into as divided peoples. Perhaps it is naive of me to suggest that this 10 year saga could have ended any other way. But I wonder what has won in the end. I can’t help but notice that the chant that has been taken up by people gathering outside the White House isn’t ‘Peace’ or ‘Freedom’… It’s ‘USA’.

A lot of people this week heard the words:

 ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ (Romans 12:14;17-18).

I guess that there are a lot of people currently ‘celebrating’ the death of this man who would call themselves Christians. Rarely do we get such an obvious opportunity to practice what we preach in the face of huge opposition. But here it is.

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

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