18 May 2011

Justice for all, including Osama Bin Laden

Combating terrorism is not given to decisive victories. There will be no capitulation of Japan and no fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead, we face a problem that at times will smolder and at times will reignite. And our problem is like 20 or so other's, simmering in the world. In 2010 Yemen's shi'ite insurgency saw 8,000 deaths; India's Maost insurgency over a 1,000. And these conflicts have been on-again off-again for decades.

While we look to Osama Bin Laden's death as a victory, as I argue in a 16 May entry below, his death was of little consequence towards our goal of reducing terrorist attacks. As Al Qaeda's core was no longer the organization it was in 2001, with both operational abilities and authority over a network spread throughout the Middle East, the demise of it's leader does little for the United States' safety.

If we want to target terrorist leaders more threatening to US interests, the search shifts to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi and its English speaking preacher of jihad Anwar al-Awlaki. Though the capture or kill of either would offer little closure to September 11, for it was Bin Laden who perpetrated those attacks.


Osama Bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist. For many Americans, it was only him, dead or alive, that could heal the wounds inflicted on that September day.

In contrast, I felt no need for his death for me to heal. And in a greater sense, I felt a sadness for humanity--both for the ideology that drove the attacks and for the people asking for a violent justice. Though I am driven as much by emotion as my compatriot, who has equally persuasive beliefs. For he who asks, "life for life, eye for an eye, and nose for nose" is on the side of justice. And notably in Islamic, Christian or secular beliefs. Though too we can ask for compassion: "[in response to injustice] remit the retaliation by way of charity" or "bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you", from the Quran and Bible respectfully. Though it is reasonably argued, and I believe, that neither Mohammad nor Jesus were preaching a doctrine of non-violence. Rather the intent was to avoid escalation of hostilities, as seven-fold retributions have a habit of doing.

It is my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, that I think the most persuasive lesson can be drawn. Although it was military power that won the civil war, it was reconciliation and humility that won a lasting peace. President Lincoln's short speech at Gettysburg, as the South was in retreat, demonstrated his commitment to a post conflict of equals. He spoke only of commitment to a higher cause, not once speaking of Union vs. Confederates or justice vs injustice. While we are engaged in a war on terror, we must similarly be respectful if we are to avoid galvanizing more men to the cause of jihad. While we kill our enemy, we do so with compunction. When we bury him, we do so with compassion. When we take him prisoner, we do so with respect. Although it is the Geneva Conventions and Laws of Armed Conflict which we must abide by, we don't do so under threat, we do so because it is right. 

During Lincoln's second inaugural address, as it was clear that the Civil War was ending, he again spoke of reconciliation: "With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness to the right...All which may achieve a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." While conflict and death is inevitable and I do not avoid it, I do avoid celebrating the demise of anyone.

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