I am about to write something potentially controversial. There is a part of me that says I shouldn’t open up this particular can of worms, partly because there are so many ways to offend someone in doing so, and partly because there is some danger to my career and other people’s opinion of me by being too public about sentiments that someone inevitably will find objectionable. Nevertheless, it’s Mindfulness Monday and that means it’s about being mindful in all circumstances, including those that are uncomfortable.
This morning I awoke to the news that Osama bin Laden is dead. I was fascinated, in a morbid sense, by the stories that surrounded this event. How did they find him, why did it take as long as it did, how was the puzzle finally solved, what happens next? My first reaction, probably like that of many people, was that this is a good thing – it brings some closure to a long-running anxiety and neutralizes someone who clearly harbors evil intentions. My second reaction, again probably like that of many others, is to wonder what happens next. What will the response be from al Qaeda, from other terrorist groups, from the Pakistani government given our covert action on their soil?
I was particularly struck by the burial at sea. Framed as a way to honor the muslim practice requiring burial within 24 hours, while avoiding the creation of a martyr’s shrine to which the faithful might flock, it seems on the one hand an elegant and creative solution to a problem. On the other hand, I have the queasy sense that others, specifically those for whom bin Laden is a hero rather than the ultimate villain, who will not see this so much as elegant but will instead see it as yet one more frustrating insult to a set of beliefs which most of us find incomprehensible. Let me be absolutely clear here that the set of beliefs to which I refer is not Islam, but rather the particular manifestation of terrorism in the name of the Islamic religious tradition.
All these thoughts I had with some dispassion. I am able to examine the story, my reactions to it, and my questions arising from it, with little confusion or emotional distress.
What I wasn’t prepared for was to see so many people so publicly celebrating the killing. Lisa Earle McLeod posted on Facebook this morning, almost exactly at the moment that I was thinking along the same lines, “I’m glad Osama is gone, I have no delusions about his evil. But something about watching people cheer about a killing doesn’t sit right with my soul.” The first thing I thought when I read those words was that I was thinking that same sentiment, but hadn’t had the courage of my convictions to post it up in public. I commented in kind, just as I was about to get on a plane for a business trip, and the first negative response was posted before I even managed to close out my computer.
A friend I know from high school posted on Facebook, “He deserved his day in court. At least, that’s what I learned in civics class.”
Tonight I saw this on the Huffington Post on the response of religious people to the death of bin Laden: Huffpost Religion
From the perspective of mindfulness, what I find myself wondering is this: How does a “civilized” people find itself so relishing the killing of another human being? A despicable human being, to be sure, at least from the perspective of most of the world. But still … how would we feel if we watched people in other parts of the world burn the US flag, or dance in the streets when one of our own is killed? Oh, that’s right, that did happen already. So how did we feel when we saw those images? I for one felt horrified, and I’ll be you did too.
As an experiment, please stop yourself from just reacting to what I’m going to say next, and think silently for a moment before you respond: What’s the difference between these two scenarios: our celebrating the killing of bin Laden, and street protesters celebrating the killing of US soldiers?
Just pause for a moment before you respond, please.
The ability to take that pause is what it means to be mindful. I don’t pretend to know the answer to how we should feel, or what we should think, in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden. It’s complicated, as only human experience can be complicated. What I do know is that I am uncomfortable at celebrating killing, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the person killed and the guilt or innocence of the one doing the killing. I understand the celebration, yet I am uncomfortable with it. To be mindful is to be able to hold both of those thoughts simultaneously.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind – M.K. Gandhi
Les Kertay, The Moments Project