American responses to the death of Osama bin Laden were noticeably different from those in the rest of the world. When the news was announced by President Obama, Americans reacted in many ways: some were understandable, but others highly questionable. It is not difficult to understand why some of those whose lives were directly and personally impacted by 9/11 turned up at Ground Zero that evening and began singing. Yet their response was tinged with grief for the loss of loved ones almost a decade ago. What is questionable is the behavior of the people who immediately assembled in front of the White House and started waving flags and cheering bin Laden's death.
For days afterward, politicians and pundits, from the President on down, spoke loudly about how justice had been done. People throughout the country on several occasions celebrated bin Laden's death. But is it right to celebrate the death of any person, even someone as evil as bin Laden?
In the rest of the world the response was more muted. Political leaders spoke in moderate tones, and underlined the potential threat of retaliatory attacks. The Arab response was tempered as well. While there was widespread agreement that bin Laden's death was no great loss for the world, there were no celebrations. In many countries people, who universally deplored what bin Laden did, were shocked by the American cheers. This was especially true of Muslims.
I do not want to condemn those who celebrated bin laden's death. They were caught up by the momentous nature of the news, and they responded accordingly. This death, however, makes a travesty of justice. Yet even those who claim that justice was done are welcome to their opinion, although I respectfully disagree with them.
As I wrote in a previous blog, the new revelations about what transpired during the attack on the compound where bin Laden was found cause me, as well as many others, to question whether justice was truly done. It resembles the vigilante justice that was meted out at one time in the Wild West. But should the most powerful country in the world behave in a similar way in the 21st century? According to international law, are such killings justifiable? Probably not. Are they ethical? Emphatically not!
I am disturbed by the comment that President Obama made on "60 Minutes" over the weekend, in which he asserted that those who question the justice of bin Laden's killing are "out of their minds." I feel insulted by that comment, and I am sure that many other people in the world, even in the US, feel the same way.
My dismay is focussed especially on the lack of love that so many people in the US displayed, whether in private or, more seriously, in public. Political leaders must be careful not to chose short-term political gain at the expense of integrity. President Obama, in particular, must not sacrifice the ideals which earned him his election on the altar of a regained political popularity. He may gain re-election this way, but the rest of the world now has even more reasons to question his motives and that of his administration.
The central message of the Bible is love. As all Christians know, God loved the world so much that he sacrificed his Son. But he also gave us the commandment to love him and and our neighbor. If we truly love God, we must also love one another. That means we must even love our enemies, as Jesus explained. Such love does not allow us to gloat over the death of anyone, even bin Laden.