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Why I Don’t Cheer bin Ladin’s Death

May 12, 2011

Osama bin Ladin is dead and the western world cheers.  Their reasons are obvious enough: We, as a nation, are justified in killing him because he killed so many of our citizens.  We are safer with him gone and, of course, Al Qaeda’s end is closer.  So why would anyone in his right mind not be cheering?

How about because each of those reasons is likely to be wrong?

Do you feel we are justified to kill?  I understand that the sixth commandment is properly translated as “do not Murder” and that laws that call for execution as punishment don’t fall under that category.  I know that Old testament law includes capital punishment and even Jesus never said that the government had no right to kill – even when He was the condemned.  But I also know that he made “judge not, lest you be judged” almost a mantra and Greg Boyd’s commentary on Capital Punishment and Jesus declaration to the pharisees that “he who is without sin cast the first stone” has merit:

Since all people are sinners, it seems to me that Jesus’ teaching in this episode applies not just to this particular accused sinner and to this group of sinful accusers, but to all accused sinners and to all sinful accusers. And if you think it through consistently, this entails that none of the Old Testament’s commands to carry out capital punishment should ever be acted on! Indeed, for followers of Jesus, it entails that no command to carry out capital punishment should ever be obeyed, regardless of where it is found or who it comes from.

The command itself may be just, but unless you are without sin, you’re not  justified putting it into practice.

On a more secular level, of course we have the question of whether this was a battle fully in accordance with the international laws of war or if it was, in fact, an extrajudicial killing.  If he had been captured, it wouldn’t be an issue.  He could be tried and, if found guilty, killed fully by the letter of the law.  The only reason I could see that the government wouldn’t want that is that they may not be comfortable with the actual evidence of his guilt (which, unless there is more I am unaware of, consists of a tape found by soldiers in 2003 that, according to the government that killed him, ties him to the attacks).  Of course, if we aren’t actually sure he is guilty, then we ought not be so sure of the justification of his killing.

So, while I don’t condemn the government for killing Obama, I don’t feel comfortable turning cartwheels over it either.

Do you feel safer with him dead?  The U.S. Government doesn’t.  They have elevated the Forces Protection condition level because of his death out of fear of reprisal attacks.  This is a reasonable precaution as well.  Movements have grown out of the martyrdom of its people.  Wars have begun because of them and sides are often more easily rallied around them as well – this is why the cry “remember the Alamo” is a call to arms and not a caution warning of the consequences of battle.

The data is unclear whether we have exchanged a live hiding fugitive for a dead martyr, so it is impossible to say what the long term repercussions are.  It’s just that, when I see Americans celebrating in the street, cheering and chanting, I can’t help but be reminded that I saw very similar scenes on TV in Muslim nations and I remember how it strengthened America’s resolve to fight back, and I wonder why this effect wouldn’t work both ways.


Do you feel this hurt Al Qaeda?  According to Bruce Schneier, at least one reputable expert with a well researched study disagrees:

Particularly ominous are Jordan’s findings about groups that, like Al Qaeda and the Taliban, are religious. The chances that a religious terrorist group will collapse in the wake of a decapitation strategy are 17 percent. Of course, that’s better than zero, but it turns out that the chances of such a group fading away when there’s no decapitation are 33 percent. In other words, killing leaders of a religious terrorist group seems to increase the group’s chances of survival from 67 percent to 83 percent.

For starters, reflect on your personal workplace experience. When an executive leaves a company — whether through retirement, relocation or death — what happens? Exactly: He or she gets replaced. And about half the time (in my experience, at least) the successor is more capable than the predecessor. There’s no reason to think things would work differently in a terrorist organization.

So unless we KNOW that bin Ladin’s successor is less able to lead Al Qaeda than bin Ladin himself – and remember, his successor isn’t holed up in a remote location because he is at the top spot of everyone’s most wanted list – the only evidence we have is the historical evidence that our actions likely had the exact opposite effect we hoped for.

Now none of these are certainties.  This may be completely justified in God’s eyes, we may have just cowed all the potential terrorists into submission and this may even be the straw that breaks Al Qaeda’s back.  However, the risks associated with the killing are real and that is enough to pour cold water on my celebratory mood.


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