Proverbs 24:17

Tuesday, 3 May 2011 § 5 Comments

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”

This is a line from a Christian Science Monitor article by Jonathan Zimmerman, which captures so well the response I have to last night’s news about bin Laden’s death.  (I know I promised a knitting post, but I’m sure you’ll understand that some things must wait.)  That, and this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

I posted this on facebook earlier, long with the disclaimer for my reactionary facebook friends (and, more specifically, family members) that this is not at all to suggest that I think it’s a crying shame that bin Laden is dead.  On the contrary: I don’t.  Not at all.  But I do think that sobriety and solemnity are more becoming responses than this sort of carnivalesque nationalism we’ve seen in the past twenty-four hours.  If part of the god-bless-America story is that we’re better than those people who dance in the streets when their enemies — yes, including “us” Americans — are killed, since when are we the “kind of people” who dances in the streets?

Now, both of my brothers are in the military, and so was my dad, and so was my granddad.  I might have ended up in the military, too, had puberty not rendered my eyes too weak to be a Navy pilot (this was before they accepted Lasik-20/20).  And one of my brothers was once in a unit similar to the Navy Seals, which we today learned was the core of the group that took out bin Laden.  All that to say, parts of this hit close enough to home — plenty of kids I went to school with have died in Afghanistan and Iraq — to make this more real than political slogans.  And one of the things that has kept me going through my exams is the knowledge that we have been through worse.  So much worse.  A picture of my brother in desert fatigues, in Iraq in the summer of “the Surge,” hangs beneath my fancy-schmancy college diploma dated to the same summer.  As much as I think my exams have been soul-crushing, I remind myself that what was really soul-crushing was not knowing how to believe I would ever see my brother alive again, and having that feel like betrayal.  Soul-crushing was having nightmares about not knowing what to say in a eulogy about a brother I hadn’t seen for almost two years.  Soul-crushing was listening to  a professor in a comp lit class laugh at her witticism at comparing W. to the inadequate, emasculated father, who couldn’t provide “toys” (armored vehicles) to his soldier-sons.  My brother was about to be one of those solider-sons.  Was I really supposed to laugh?  The realities of these wars, and what they’re supposed-to-be-but-are-not about, are something that has been terribly real to me every single day of my ever-loving life, ever since they started.  And it shouldn’t take that horror to make them so real to everyone else.

Which is why I am so upset by the obscenity of the celebrations at the news of bin Laden’s death.  Again, it’s not even that I think we should necessarily be reverent at the news of his death.  It’s that, as much as I appreciate symbolism, even that of political violence, it’s that this triumphalism is completely out of scale to how little is changed by bin Laden’s death.  This hubristic orgy substitutes what is easy — flag-waving and and slogan-chanting — for what is difficult — critical thought and realistic reflection.  Is this turn of events symbolic? Sure.  But nobody should be deluding themselves into thinking this actually changes much in terms of the al-Qaeda terror syndicate.  That’s part of the problem of post-modern [religious] terror (more on this later).  And frankly, it’s unbecoming.  Even if this counts as a “victory,” and even if it did change a lot — this sort of mindless sheeple mass politics should not be a healthy substitute for reflection.  Can I get some Hannah Arendt up in here, yo?

I worry about what this triumphalist narrative does for foreign policy from here on out.  Are we really going to believe this story we’re telling ourselves today?  I only hope, insha’allah,  it doesn’t take another disaster to make us all realize that the reality we’re left with is much more complex than a “hey, hey, hey — goodbye” chant would make it seem.

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§ 5 Responses to Proverbs 24:17

  • tea says:

    So glad someone says it!!!

  • barefootrooster says:

    thank you, ethel louise, for articulating this in this way.

  • Eileen says:

    Very well said. The academy, of course, is not isolated from the rest of the world, but it is disturbingly distant from it in ways that are just as unthoughtful as uncritical nationalism. Thanks for writing this.

  • Dianne says:

    Well said. Nice to read something thoughtful from a transplanted Southerner. Most of the Southerners I know (as in my neighbors/friends/etc) are in the cheering section. It is disturbing on several levels.

  • Rose says:

    Thank you for your very well expressed views. I, too, was uncomfortable at the rejoicing that was being broadcast, but was unable to articulate the reason. I think you did that for me, and I thank you. Vengenance is indeed very different from justice, and we should always be wary of our hubris.

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