When your enemy falls, do not rejoice. (Proverbs 24)
Of course I am delighted that Osama Bin Laden has been sent to his grave. Doubtless there are billions of other humans who are mourning his loss. I wonder how all those children named Osama or Usama after him are feeling today; I am sure a goodly percentage of them will aspire to follow in his bloody footsteps.
But I am sad, too. Every time I have seen Arabs and Muslims rejoice over the deaths of women and children I have felt positively sick at their primitive and barbaric bloodlust. Modern communication enables us to see this revolting behavior. I cannot erase from my mind the way young men dipped their hands in the blood of those two Israeli reservists who were torn to death when they strayed into enemy territory, or the celebrations in Gaza when young Israeli children were wantonly slit apart in their beds. I know War is War and both sides want to win. But I always derived quiet satisfaction from the fact that you never saw Israelis dance in the streets when Palestinians were killed. There might have been rogue soldiers and acts of brutality. There have been coldblooded Mafiosi killings and rapes in Tel Aviv. But the mood of the Jewish people, has never been one to rejoice in public displays of delight at the death of others.
It is ingrained in our tradition that every human being, however malevolent, is still a creature of God. So on Passover when we celebrate the overthrow of an Egyptian tyrant who made Bin Laden look like Cinderella, we are commanded at the seder to reduce the amount of wine we drink in memory of the suffering of the Egyptians. Then after the first day we recite a shortened Hallel prayer of thanks because, according to the Midrash, God told his angels, “My children have died in the Red Sea how can you sing songs?”
It is true we sang songs of deliverance when we survived Pharaoh’s pursuit at the Red Sea. It is true Devorah sang her song of deliverance when the Canaanite chariots of Sisera were caught in the Jabok floods. She uttered those famous words, “thus may all your enemies perish”, and I identify of course with that sentiment. May those who try to destroy the Jews and their land perish indeed and may those Jew who behave inhumanly go the same way. But nevertheless, there is a difference between rejoicing at one’s survival and rejoicing at the deaths of other human beings.
The Talmud tells that Rebbi Meir was suffering because of local gangsters and prayed for their deaths. His wife, Bruria, asked him to stop and instead pray for the death of evil. One can hate evil people but that is not the same as celebrating their elimination.
Bin Ladin, the successor to the medieval Muslim Assassins, was the manifestation of the distorted tradition of jihad which has been as twisted out of its spiritual meaning as has the notion of crusade in Christianity, and (lehavdil) the idea of a Chosen People, on a purely theoretical level. All of them are, in spiritual abstract, no more than a call to be a better person. Sadly, in Islam it has led to actions that consistently belie a vision of peace that is said to give Islam its name. The history of all religions is the history of religious fanaticism all but destroying the purer visions of their idealistic messages.
Nevertheless, I did not enjoy watching the reaction in the USA to the announcement of OBL’s death. I noticed that most of those who survived 9/11 and relatives of those who perished expressed quiet satisfaction. I did not see them dancing in the streets. I can understand the army recruits who celebrated wildly because so many of them may still lose their lives in the battle against fanaticism, oppressive dictators, and mullahs. But still I found the Times Square and Washington parties more reminiscent of a Saturday night club frenzy or frat raves on campuses. Obama was dignified in his moment of triumph and success. They were not.
I fail to understand the Western mentality that still thinks it is possible to do business with religious fanaticism. Hamas condemning Bin Laden’s death and lauding him as a great Muslim hero rationally shows how far their real mental state is from peaceful coexistence. It is clear Bin Laden was sheltered in a military zone in Pakistan, next door to an army academy and surrounded by retired generals. Is this the sort of failed state the West should be funding? And why, while the American economy is in such dire straits and the welfare of its peaceful citizens is at risk through lack of funds, are billions being spent supporting the corrupt, two-faced Karzai in Afghanistan?
I applaud striking at evil dictators who massacre their own (and OBL killed more Muslims than anyone else). I certainly don’t expect the UN or any organization that can invite Syria to sit on a Humans Right Council to approve or agree. But just because others lose their sense of humanity in the pursuit of political power, we must not.