[personal profile] furtivepatach
People have been quoting things about not seeking revenge, not delighting in the downfall of your enemies. And I think there is something to that -- sort of. I think that it is bad to seek revenge, and praiseworthy to carefully avoid even the desire for it. I think it is praiseworthy to avoid joy in the suffering of another.

It would have been better for all concerned had Osama bin Laden repented, of course. That would have improved the world far more than his death did, because if he had repented he would be in a unique position to fight evil. His death is second best (or third best -- it would have been better if he was captured alive and interrogated). But let us not lose perspective about this -- his death is a hell of a lot better than his life as it was. He committed mass murder. We were (and remain) intended targets. He would have been happy to kill any of us. He tried to destroy our civilization (not hyperbole. His letter to America and his actions say so -- and in any case, when someone says he intends to kill you, believe him. Especially if he's already killed people who you were interchangeable with in his eyes.). He failed. He's dead. We're still here. That is a good thing, and it is appropriate to be happy about it. Even though the war is not over. Even though there's still evil in the world. There is less than there was a few days ago. That's the ikkar.

It is important to keep perspective about this. When we're talking about serious enemies, avoiding vengeful thoughts and delight in suffering of another is a matter of piety. It is something to strive for but it is not something to expect of people as a basic standard of decency. And, as in all matters of piety, it's really, really important to have perspective about it or you end up having contempt for good people -- and that defeats the purpose. Piety is not appropriate if it is at the expense of the ikkar.

I think that the sentiment going around that recent celebrations are similar to our enemies celebrating the attacks of 9/11 is an example of this. There is a fundamental difference. Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer. When he died at the hands of those he was still attempting to murder, he lost the opportunity to ever do such a thing again, and the organization that carried out such atrocities was weakened. His intended victims celebrated that. On September 11th, 2001, our enemies celebrated the brutal murder of innocent people -- for instance, those who jumped to their death rather than be incinerated alive. Those were good people. We are diminished by their absence; we lost a lot when they died. We the world, not we the west, not we the Americans. Celebrating that is an unmitigated evil. Osama bin Laden was an evil man, and the world is better off without him in it. Happiness on the part of his intended victims that the world no longer contains Osama bin Laden is entirely appropriate, and celebrating his demise is at worst indulgence in minor impure thoughts. That sort of impurity is not something worth being disturbed over -- it's something to sort out within one's own mind or with one's own musar chevruta, not something to worry about in other people.

The war is not over and all the evil in the world is not yet ended, but this is a good development. Let us hope that evil people turn away from their paths of wickedness and become good; let us until then keep sight of what must be done to protect ourselves from their current intent. Let us not lose sight of the reality of our enemies and their intentions toward us and their reasons; let us not lose sight of what we are that makes us better than that. And when we win one, let us notice and remember what it was for.

Date: 2011-05-04 06:06 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
That's very well said, and you've framed it in a way I can relate to. I think my problem with the celebration is not so much the fact that bin Laden is dead, as the fact that it took 10 years and the deaths of several hundred thousand civilians to get to this point. If it were May 2002 and people were dancing in the streets, I'd find it distasteful, but as you say, it would be a minor impurity.

But for me the cost is just too high. The world may be slightly better without bin Laden in it, but it's vastly worse for the death and suffering of more people than I can really hold in my mind in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in other places affected by a decade of military devastation in the name of revenge for 9/11. OK, they weren't deliberately murdered, it was "only" collateral damage, but they're still just as dead. Not to mention that more Americans have died fighting the war than were killed in the 9/11 attacks. Even if bin Laden's killing ended the war, the damage would be felt years, decades, probably generations into the future. And honestly, at this late stage I don't think bin Laden's death will have any measurable effect in bringing the end of the war closer.

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furtivepatach

May 2011

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