Let’s assume that Jesus never said, “love your enemies,” or “do good to those who persecute you.”  Let’s forget that Jesus told Peter to put the sword away, (if you can’t use the sword to defend the life of Jesus, then whom can you defend by killing?!), let’s forget all of that.  Let’s forget Jesus ever existed.

Tonight, a day after he oversaw the murder of Qaddafi’s son and three of his grandchildren, President Obama announced that the United States had killed Osama bin laden, for the same reason it has fought the war on terror–to bring justice to those killed on 9/11 and to protect any other innocent person from being killed.

Although we don’t know for sure how many Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi civilians have been killed in the fighting of these wars–their lives simply aren’t considered important enough to count–we do have rough estimates of how many people have died, estimates that are surely too low rather than too high.

According to some estimates, as of August 2010, at least 919, 967 people have been killed in the war on terrorism.  To put this number in context, this is “about 303 times as many people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq than in the ghastly attacks of September 11, 2001,” and it is “more than 130 times as many people…[killed] than in all terrorist attacks in the world from 1993-2004, according to data compiled by the US State Department.”

Do we really think that the life of ONE person who lives in the United States is really THREE HUNDRED AND THREE times more valuable than the life of a person in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Do we really think God considers people in Afghanistan to be worth one-three hundredth of an American?

President Obama spoke movingly tonight of the memory of those killed on 9/11–how their absence is still felt by their families and loved ones even ten years later, how they are still grieved and mourned and missed deeply.  But are there not now, because of things the United States has done, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan families feeling the same pain, experiencing the same grief, similarly mourning the absence of equally irreplaceable people?

It is surely insane to protect the innocent by killing them, isn’t it?  And it certainly isn’t “justice.”

20 thoughts

  1. Spot on, Katie. We can call this a lot of things, but “justice” isn’t among them. “Closure”, for some, maybe, but not justice. I hope to see a post later on about your thoughts on how the reaction toward this news event reflects the conflation of patriotism/american christianity. If only the church hadn’t gotten in bed with the roman empire all those centuries ago…

  2. OK, I had not seen this in my reader when I left my other comment.

    I have a heavy heart and I am not rejoicing. I find myself disturbed at all the events of these past days and their “get-them-kill-them” mentality.

    This morning I read this Facebook status update from Alan Wilson, an Anglican Bishop in the UK: “Osama Bin Laden’s death is a military success, but he was a human being better put on trial as a criminal than killed in a way that some will call martydom.

    We also have to note he was in Pakistan, and known to be so. The billions spent and hundreds of thousands killed in conventional war in Iraq, and even the Fourth Afghan War, seem to have had nothing at all to do with his demise. Food for reflection and learning.”

    It captures some of what I am feeling today.

  3. I have nothing interesting to add, but just wanted to say that this is a great post, thank you.

  4. Obama did not oversee the “murder” of Qaddafi’s relatives.

    While the hunt for Osama was separate from the war in Iraq. it was related to the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Osama’s death is therefore not the culmination of these wars or the deaths of terrorists and innocent civilians. It is the long overdue result of mistakes and missed opportunities.

    How do you think we should we have dealt with Osama bin Laden?

    1. Actually, the main reason for each of those wars was to bring to justice those responsible for 9/11 and to prevent further terrorist attacks from happening again. So I’m not sure what you mean by saying that Osama’s death was unrelated to these larger wars.

      And Obama is the commander in chief of the US military. So he is in fact responsible for US military policy. If he takes credit for Osama’s death, as he did last night, then he should also take a share of the blame for all that the military does. When you target Qaddafi’s presidential palace or other places where civilians are known to be living, which is what we did, then you should not be surprised when civilians are killed. Also, remember that, in the 80s, we also tried to assassinate Qaddafi, bombing his home. That time, we killed his 18 month old daughter.

      Osama bin Laden should have been apprehended and brought to justice (trial) via channels established by international law. I understand that he (understandably) resisted arrest and that is what led to the firefight (or so our government is telling us…what really happened there only those present can know). My problem is not so much with the death of Osama but with the fact that we killed hundreds and thousands of innocent people in the process.

      Think of my argument this way: imagine a person was murdered heinously. Imagine that to apprehend the alleged murderer would require killing 300 other innocent people. Would you think we should do it? Imagine this crime taking place in your hometown and imagine that it would be 300 of your neighbors and friends who would have to die in order to bring this murderer to justice. How would you feel? This is what I am asking us to consider. Because that is essentially what happened.

      1. 1. Targeting the individual is not the same as going to war against the Taliban. The war in Iraq had nothing to do with the hunt for Osama. It did not take years of war in Iraq or years of war in Afghanistan to find Osama in Pakistan. A “surgical” strike, which is precisely what happened now, could have taken him out much earlier. Clinton narrowly missed him in the late90s. Connecting his death with the death of innocent civilians is a logical fallacy. It’s what the terrorists are saying. Post hoc propter hoc. The US did not steamroll over the entire Middle East and many innocents just to get to Osama Bin Laden. His death is separate from other military operations.

        2. Obama did not order the airstrike. This was NATO.

        3. I would have preferred an apprehension and criminal trial. Though where would it have been? Afghanistan, where hundreds of Taliban members escaped from prison, or an another unstable Middle Eastern country, or Europe, or the US? I’m not sure many countries would want him.
        I honestly think that our government sent our troops specifically to kill him. That’s disturbing and horrific. But I can imagine that they did not want him to be on trial, have a platform, and become an even larger than life martyr on his way to death or prison. I do not delight in the death of a human being, but I understand the desire to take the simplest route of all–execution.

        4. I understand your argument. The war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda certainly took many innocent lives–both on account of our troops and their troops. Getting to bin Laden didn’t require the war in Iraq or the extended war in Afghanistan. There were other mistakes and factors that prevented his assassination years earlier. And there were other mistakes and factors that led to an extended war in Afghanistan. Had bin Laden been killed at Tora Bora years ago, Bush’s failed war plans would still have led the US on the same path in Afghanistan.

      2. 2. Obama did not order the airstrike but the US military is still a part of NATO, and so bears responsibility for what NATO does.

        as to 3, and 4, it sounds like we actually agree that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were unjust and ended up taking many more lives than they saved (if they saved any at all).

        on 1, I think we will have to agree to disagree–I was always under the impression that “getting Osama” and the other leaders of Al Qaeda was a big reason why we were over there. Also, we removed the Taliban from power because they supposedly gave refuge to Al Qaeda, as Obama mentioned in his speech last night. Remember back to Bush’s implying that Hussein and Osama were in league together…I can remember polls from before the Iraq War showing that a substantial percentage of Americans thought Sadaam Hussein was involved with 9/11.

        So, I would just agree with you in saying, if we could have “gotten” Osama without fighting two wars, why didn’t we?

  5. I am a new follower to your blog. Thank you for this. I was wondering about these numbers just this morning. Violence only begets violence.

  6. What should our pastoral response to people be? Most everyone is celebrating Osama’s death. How do we steer them away from a patriotic Catholicism that distorts the gospel message without upsetting them? I realize that being prophetic sometimes means stepping on people’s toes. But in this case, there is a mixture of grief, fear, and loss (as well as some anti-Islamic sentiment) that’s hard to unpack. It’s like trying to convince a family of a murder victim of the immorality of the death penalty multiplied thousands of times.

    1. Hey Jennifer,
      Excellent question. I think you also perceptively and compassionately identify the complex mix of emotions (some of them not so good) that are behind the response to this news. And yes, your concern to be both prophetic and loving/charitable is right on, in my opinion.

      I’m not sure exactly what the pastoral response should be, but i think that part of the problem is that the church, in general, is not very good at forming Christians to think and act Christian-ly about matters of patriotism and war, there’s a sort of vacuum, so people are kind of patriotic by default, if that makes sense. So our pastoral response to this situation should be part of the church’s overall identity and liturgical and ethical practices.

      How would you go about it? (and I ask that in all sincerity….I know detecting “tone” can be difficult on the internet…I am sincerely interested in hearing what you have to say on this. 🙂 )

  7. The most I can think of is that a typical parish this week at Mass and next Sunday should focus on prayers for the victims of war, particularly the innocent, as well as prayers for the 9/11 victims. Whatever Bin Laden’s death means, it at least means some kind of closure for families. When it comes down to talking about Osama’s character and downfall, perhaps there’s a way of comparing him to biblical figures who had some sort of downfall–but perhaps that only ends up helping us gloat in his death.

  8. And as a friend pointed on out FB, has anyone noticed that bin Laden’s codename was Native American? Really???

    1. Yes, Brad. This is very disturbing to me as well. I don’t want to read too much into this, but I am deeply troubled that those in charge of this operation saw Osama as an analogue for Geronimo.

      If only we could learn to kill for the right reasons…. (and I meant that both rhetorically and completely seriously).

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