I learned of Osama bin Laden’s death yesterday morning. I was immediately struck with a sobering thought: I hoped there wouldn’t be a retaliatory strike. As the day went on, I began to hear and read the reactions of others. The majority of emotions could best be described as celebratory. He may have been an immensely condemnable person, but I still find it hard to celebrate the death of anyone.*
I found that some agreed with me, but they were a quiet minority, giving way to the much louder parade mentality of the herd. People seemed joyous, as if some patriotic victory had been won.
I was struck by the oddness of these reactions. But I found at least one blogger on my side. Vjack, at Atheist Revolution, wrote this article, which contains two key points that I was also feeling. First, this does not deter future terrorist activity. Second, and more importantly to me, this brings us closer to the mentality of the terrorists themselves.
This does not show the world anything.
One sentiment I’ve heard from several voices was that this act somehow shows the world what happens when they mess with us. It effectively says to would-be terrorists, “We will hunt you down and kill you no matter what it takes.”
There are several problems with this. First, we are dealing with a group of people who engage in suicide bombing. The threat becomes empty against a person planning to kill themselves in the act anyway. Second, threats like these do not deter people from committing violent crimes, as various studies on the death penalty have shown.
This was about revenge, not about deterring future actions. If anything, it provides at least a temporary increase in risk.
This does not separate us from a violent mentality.
I would consider there to be a spectrum of reactions to violence. On one end, you have the jubilant reaction. It is shocking to think back to the celebrations that took place when the twin towers fell. On the other end, you have the most ardent pacifist who abhors any kind of violence.
When we celebrate a murder, we move closer to the emotive state of the terrorists, and closer to their worldview in how one ends a conflict. I’m not saying we have to be the pacifist, but if given a choice to have a reaction that moves me toward the terrorist mentality or away from it, I will choose the latter. I will choose it every time.
*I acknowledge that I might feel differently if I had lost someone in the attacks or been more personally affected by the 9/11 tragedy. It’s hard to imagine how one would feel in that situation.