Culture Reactions

Reaction: Bin Laden

It’s been a few months since I’ve written, and I’ve been storing up many wonderful things to share at some less busy time. Now is not that less busy time, unfortunately; it’s thesis week and I’ve pulled too many almost-all-nighters recently to spend time composing blogs.

However, I just saw something that I have to denounce. I don’t like denouncing in general, but some things need it:

If I have the facts right, this is a video of Americans celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. He was, for all I could tell, an evil person, misguided and ruled by violence. I can’t even say that the world was not right to hunt down and destroy him, if the motivations were those of grim necessity. But to see such unbridled joy in vengeance, such narrow-minded nationalism that equates the death of our enemies with the furthering of our own greatness, such confusion about justice… It gives me a feeling of nausea.

I am an American. I grew up there, and my wife and I will be moving back there in a few short months, and what I have seen of my fellow citizens has deeply shamed me. “God bless America” on the lips of those drunk with revenge is the worst kind of blasphemy, and the most pitiable kind of foolishness (for which civilization has God favored so much that it wasn’t eventually razed to the ground?). It is obvious these people don’t understand what they sing, because “God blessing America” doesn’t have anything to do with the death of America’s enemies (however much they deserve death), but rather the painful widening of the apparently tiny hearts and minds of America’s own citizens.

God bless America, indeed.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

4 replies on “Reaction: Bin Laden”

Well, at the risk of being the narrow-minded American buffoon (and making you nauseous), I rejoice.

Is it out of vengeance? I’m not sure. We rejoiced (in fiction) when Sauron and his minions fell and when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star. Hell, the Ewoks partied all night after they destroyed the second one.

This is the closest America will ever get to a victory day in the War on Terror. There’s not gonna be a “VI” (victory in Iraq) or “VA” (victory in Afghanistan) day. There won’t be confetti in Times Square and sailor grabbing girls to kiss in the course of our current war and struggles. So the best we can do is slap each other on the back, jump up and down a bit and be glad. Americans, at last, have a small sense of closure for what happened to their brothers on Sept. 11th. It doesn’t bring anyone’s loved ones back, but there is a vague sense of justice–not “perfect” justice, but perhaps the best humanity can do. And it feels good.

I don’t think you’ve thought this out clearly if you think this is all some embarrassingly nationalistic and crude manifestation of raw vengeance. It’s not. It’s the end of an era. A dark chapter that we can somewhat turn the page on. A feeling of progress, a feeling of forward-movement that the man who helped fund and mastermind 9/11, setting off a chain reaction that would lead to probably over 150,000 deaths and enduring global misery, doesn’t roam free. That our sacrifices and all our policies (misbegotten or not) since 2001 from new and obscene airline security measures to ground tactics in Afghanistan may not all have had us running in circles. Maybe, we can still do something right.

It’s easy to condemn those who feel good about this event perched from an emotionally insulated, philosophical and ethical high tower, but to me, doing so demonstrates a lack of emotional depth and maturity and worse and most immediate of all, condescension and conceit in the extreme. Who are you to call these folks celebrating narrow-minded? Who are you to judge your fellow man?

I think it’s scary how people get carried away with a mob and a camera. The same thing scares me about sports fans and Justin Bieber fans. Nationalism, team spirit, whatever it is, gives people an arbitrary and outrageous sense of pride that is amplified in proportion to the size of the mob on their side. That may be great if their side is the right side, but, for the people in the mob, figuring that out is not relevant. The only thing that matters is unleashing rage and crushing the opposition.

Regarding this video, it’s not necessarily what the crowd is celebrating, it’s how, that bothers me.

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