Last night, my wife and I happened to navigate to Hulu.com to watch the latest episode of “Friday Night Lights” about one minute before President Obama announced live on Hulu (and other networks) that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. My wife noticed the headline first. I wasn’t looking at the computer screen, so I didn’t believe her at first. But when we reread the headline, we postponed our virtual visit to Dillon, Texas (the setting for Friday Night Lights), to watch the president’s speech.
I can only speak for myself, but I felt conflicted by the news. Perhaps that’s because I remember all too clearly my angry and almost bloodthirsty personal response to the 9-11 attacks. I regret to say, I wanted blood.
Only later, did I ask myself some uncomfortable questions about my reaction, and I’m still asking myself those questions. As a follower of Christ, as someone who tries to minister to people in need, as a father, as a human being, how should I react when someone who is a self-proclaimed enemy of mine is killed? Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount came to my mind last night, “You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you…”
This morning, I got online again to satisfy my desire for more details of bin Laden’s demise, but just after I’d started playing a video about it on CNN, our three youngest kids, ages 4-6, walked into the room. (Our oldest, 8, was still cocooned in bed. If she’s already sleeping in now, what an adventure she will be to live with as a teenager!)
How do you explain all this stuff to your kids? We’d never talked about 9-11 before, and the words felt awkward coming out of my mouth. How do you communicate to your kids the pain of watching the Twin Towers fall, let alone of feeling a sense of closure because of the death of another person, let alone feeling a sense of sadness at the same time? Too bad there aren’t teleprompters for parents! Anyway, I should be thankful (I guess), that the kids listened to me talk for a few minutes, then said, “Can we eat breakfast now?”
Later in the morning, I read about the “celebrations” in New York City, Washington, D.C., and West Point and at the Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, where fans chanted “USA! USA!” While I certainly don’t begrudge fellow Americans spontaneously expressing their emotions, images of those celebrations seemed eerily similar to the ones that occurred in some places in the Middle East after 9-11.
I wonder whether the questions raised in the media since last night are the only ones we should be asking: How did the attack happen? How did our government get tipped off that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan? Are we sure it was him?
Shouldn’t we also be asking, “What happened to the people at the compound taken into custody by the Pakistanis? Allegedly, they included a wife of bin Laden’s and some of his children. In our relief that an icon of international terrorism is dead at last, have we conflated the death of the woman bin Laden allegedly used as a human shield last night into his death? Was she really one of his wives? Rather than underline the despicable depths to which bin Laden allegedly descended at the end of his life, literally hiding behind the skirts of a woman, should we be lamenting his wife’s death instead? Was she trapped in that compound with no other options, nowhere to run? Or, even more disturbingly from our perspective, was she voluntarily throwing her body in front of his to protect him from being killed? What about the kids that were living at that compound? What must they be going through right now? Is their suffering “justified”?
Do I feel a sense of closure at the death of the man who was ultimately behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks? Yes, I do. But I don’t feel like partying. Maybe I would if one of my loved ones had been killed on 9-11, I don’t know. But I guess what I’m hoping for is that we can use this opportunity, as a nation and as individuals, for something constructive. We largely ignored the opportunity we had for self-examination after the devastation of 9-11, but perhaps in this small “victory” we can succeed where we failed before.
As for those of us who are people of faith (or aspire to live lives of faith), for those of us who want to live in a way that eases the suffering of others, even those who on the surface appear to deserve it least, perhaps we should be asking ourselves where the lines between our faith and our patriotism should begin and end.
Anyway, that’s my spur-of-the-moment commentary, written on a day when there’s been a lot of commentary. May God have mercy on us all and may God speed the day when the crooked places will be made straight and the lion will lay down with the lamb.