Written the morning after Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces.
Dear Mr. Bin Laden,
Just so you know. I won’t be having cocktails at the White House or marching in the streets to celebrate your passing. When I heard you were gone, I only felt sadness. It is not a sadness that comes from any sort of love or solidarity or even pity. Do not misunderstand me. It is a deep sadness that comes when we glorify and justify violence as a means to destroy what we deem evil. It is something you were especially good at.
So why am I sad? I have sadness that your hatred has poisoned and murdered so many; sadness that fear and revenge is called justice; sadness that we Americans have justified tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan, nearly 1 million in the Iraq war, and many other targeted killings in Pakistan that weren’t you. I imagine we will see your death as a “successful campaign” with no American lives lost. The irony will escape us. I wonder if it does you.
We talk about “the enemy” and “evil” when we speak of you. Since that bitter September day in 2001, we have used the word evil as if a human can be evil to their core. You join the ranks of evil-doers like Hitler and Mussolini. My guess is that in some way, you have enjoyed that, although you knew we were wrong. You embraced that sort of extreme ideology that labeled Americans and others who disagreed with you as evil. For you, and for us, the way we try to remove evil is to hunt it down and kill it, saying “praise god” all the way down. We’re not so very different, you and we Americans.
- We think evil acts (and people) should be taken care of through war and violence
- We call upon God to justify our violence
- We use our financial resources to support wars that agree with us across the world
- We recruit our children to be our front line warriors while we give orders from board room
Mr. Bin Laden, I think that what you stood for and how you worked was evil, but I never thought you were. Even you were not outside the possibility of grace and change. I think of you as wounded and broken, mislead, oppressed and wrong, but not evil.
I suppose that makes me an extremist also. But, if I am going to be an extremist, it will be to say that no human being is evil, not even you. You will be accountable for your actions and although I do not fancy standing beside you “when the roll is called up yonder,” I do not hold those things in my hands. And I believe that love survives and that grace can change and heal us AND those we offend – and that it is not my job to decide what happens to you.
I won’t be the life of anyone’s death party.
So now, partly because I know your body may not receive any burial prayer, I offer a prayer for your death. And it is to our mutual creator.
God of love, Creator of all good and precious human beings. We offer to you our brother, Osama Bin Laden. He came into this world just like we did, born into imperfection and a broken and unjust world; human with potential for so much good. He made choices that took him on a horrible path. He hurt so many of your beautiful children. We know he is accountable to his actions and attitudes. Will you help those innocent ones whose lives he has destroyed to forgive him so that they can move forward into love? Will you open up the eyes of those who have loved and admired him to the possibility of grace and kindness toward even those they fear? Will you please take all of our feelings and after we have had a season to acknowledge them, and create something hopeful out of them? Please break through the bitterness of fear and revenge and bring healing. We want to give him into your hands, though we do not know if our hearts will let us. We trust that your broken heart can somehow heal us and even him. A-men.