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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.

8 thoughts on “OBL

  1. The West's great interest is itself, Jeremy. Oil is the main need for which it is prepared to ignore the cruelties and indignities heaped upon the general citizens of the ghastly regimes which supply it. It would be good to think that after the Arab Spring there would be improvements for those citizens but I fear they will be short-lived if they come at all.

    As for Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are mere hangovers from a colonial past and I am still trying to work out, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, why anyone has any interest in helping/interfering with it other than burning the poppy fields. Do people really believe that the main aim is to give women their rights? Pakistan has the bomb and needs watching but not funding.

    It is the ignorant who take pleasure in the death of others – they have so little pleasure in their daily lives that it is probably a form of entertainment – a hideous thought to most thinking people.

    Thanks, Jeremy, for a great article. Have a peaceful Shabbat.

  2. Totally agree. Well said.

    Whilst I'm happy that the man is no longer posing a threat to the world, I don't think chanting "USA USA" is an appropriate response. I'm not going to shed a tear at his death, but it does sadden me that a situation like this can arise in the world – that a once successful man can turn into an extremist to such an extent that the only way society can deal with him is through elimination.

    I believe that people are connected. You can interpret that as a spiritual statement if you like, but I refer to the fact that no-one exists in a vacuum, and that the actions of each person, group and nation affect, and are affected, by others. I don't want to side with the conspiracy theorists that the USA created Osama and forced him to commit his atrocities, and I don't want to draw any moral equivacy between acts of terror against the US and US military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, a man died, and I simply cannot see that as a cause for unbridled celebration.

    Let's not even get into the question of whether being shot by a soldier constitutes a better form of justice than being brought to a court of law…

  3. I am sad about the fact that there are so many violant muslim fanatics who are not just killing others but also kill themselves and treat their own people badly. They are usually seriously brain washed. Even if you get rid of one evil or fanatic man others will follow after him. I do not believe that every muslim and Arab has this attitude. It depends in which way they were brought up. I met very educated Pakistani people who were very liberal. I guess in many arab muslim country the education is very bad and there is too much brain washing going on. That has to change. Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg were arranging many faith exchange programmes. The best was with the Pakistanis at his home. I wish there were more Muslim like them.


  4. Aggression invites retaliation. So best not to stoop to the barbarism and uncivilised spectacle of displaying the bodies of those whose deaths have been accelerated.
    Or celebrating death like savages. So I am generally with you, J.

    I met a lovely young Palestinian street seller in London just before the OBL news. Could have happily talked to him for hours about Jerusalem. It was splendid just to wile away the time with him. Much more positive than looking to carp on about what I don't have in common with him.

    But don't forget to strive for some balance Sabine-There are quite a lot of violent and fanatical Christians and Jews too! You sound quite jaundiced.

    Hazel E (celebrating Mother's 90th somewhere…)

  5. Thank you Leila!
    The latest justification for staying in Afghanistan I heard here from the military is that it is a base they can send their drones into Pakistan from! Put the money into Health Care ( or safer bridges at least).
    I completely gree with you.
    Shabbat Shalom

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