Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Empathy for the Devil: Osama bin Laden and Civility

I first heard about Snooki and the gang some 18 months ago, via this text from a friend: "Just saw a show called 'Jersey Shore.' I feel like my eyes have STDs."

Having watched a day's worth of celebrations in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden, I now understand how my friend felt. Every time I see video of an impromptu NYC subway singalong; crowds chanting "U-S-A!" on the street; or news anchors making glib remarks about what a "great job" the SEALs did -- as if the SEALs just finished power-washing the back deck or building a treehouse for the kids --  I too feel like my corneas are covered with seeping venereal lesions.

Amid all the bravado, it would be nice to see at least some perspective and empathy. Not empathy with bin Laden as a person. Never mind that cheering for the killing of another human is of dubious virtue. We don't need to go that far into it. We don't even need to consider his life in abstract as a lesson about the power of hate and fear. I simply mean "empathy" as the ability to see past one's own perspective to acknowledge two things: (1) that other perspectives exist, and (2) that there also exists the possibility that some of those other perspectives might contain some degree of validity.

For instance:


The world is a safer place today.

Right. Because bin Laden didn't have deputies. His replacement hasn't been waiting in the wings for years, learning at bin Laden's feet. Al-Qaeda has no structure whatsoever in terms of staff and succession. What's more, Osama bin Laden served as a sort of Mother Brain for terrorists. The instant he died, terrorists all over the world looked up from their in-progress IEDs and wondered aloud, "Where am I? What are all these wires? Am I making a stereo? Did I finally stop dreaming about an exciting future in electronics and finally enroll at ITT?"


Osama bin Laden was a "monster." 

I heard this from a relative of someone who died in the 9/11 attacks. It's tricky business, thinking of another human being, or group of human beings, as subhuman. It sets up an us / them dichotomy, in which each group, unable to empathize with the other, presupposes the illegitimacy of the other's actions. When forced to examine why people do bad things to us, we end up saying embarrassing things like, "They hate our freedom."

Although completely asinine, we continue to say, "They hate our freedom" because it requires less thought than considering the possibility that some people in the Middle East resent America for our tendency to hand-pick which governments rule the region, and then establish insurgents to oust those governments whenever our puppet dictators grow a spine. Or the fact that you can't spit in any direction in the Middle East without hitting an American military installation. Not that you should be spitting in the Middle East to begin with, especially if you're in Saudia Arabia. You might be standing on sacred Muslim ground. In which case, it would be a really, really bad idea to build a military installation there. Not as bad an idea as deciding to build a mosque in the middle of New York City, the world's cultural capital and largest metropolis in a nation that prides itself on freedom of religion, mind you.

But a bad idea nonetheless.



The only decent commentary I've heard on the bin Laden killing came on the pregame show before last night's Bulls-Atlanta showdown. Kenny Smith, god bless him, blathered on for a minute or so about the similarities between a successful NBA playoff team and a crack squad of Navy SEALs. Then in reference to bin Laden, Kenny said words to the effect of, "It's not even about him." Kenny went on to say that the death served as a symbol, one which allowed Americans to finally put 9/11 behind them. That actually makes a great deal of sense to me. The killing has less to do with how bin Laden's death will improve the world, and more to do with how his death provides a catharsis for those most affected by 9/11.

And we will indeed be able to put 9/11 behind us. Right up until the point that al-Qaeda operatives, inspired by the martyrdom of their leader, exact revenge.

Osama's gone, but things will remain the same. Kind of like how a different actor stepped in to play Teeny after the third season of Big Love. New actor. Old role. Same relentless tide of bullshit that at first pulls you in, until you start noticing all the holes in the plot.

Points 2 Ponder:
  • Imagine if Osama bin Laden were taken alive. What would our public displays look like? Jubilant celebrations? Something else? What would his trial look like? (Imagine the bids for television rights and subsequent advertising.) What kind of crowds would we see outside the courthouse? Why, do you suppose, this was a kill, not capture, mission?
  • How long until we can expect the special SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs "Geronimo" special-edition video-game download on the PS3 Network? 
Finally, here's the Osama cartoon I published last week. If nothing else, can we recognize, first and foremost, that this guy was batshit crazy? Please?

1 comment:

  1. We were saying where I work the same thing about the fact that they will want to get their revenge.