Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Killing Osama Bin Laden

On 9/11, I had woken up early to attend a political science class, and as a commuter student, it took me a half-hour to reach Slippery Rock University. Nestled in the woods of Mercer County between farms and Pittsburgh, SRU is pretty isolated. As one might suspect on 9/11, nobody came to class. On the contrary, hysteria was everywhere. When I entered the Political Science hallway, a girl was crying. She had family in New York City, and she was in tears.

That night, I had a blind date. I bought her a rose and we went to Ruby Tuesdays. It was a horrible time. I may have worried what's-her-name. I said that some policies of the West were aggressive, and that perhaps we had this coming. I did not mean in any way that we deserved to be attack, but that I could understand why someone would hate us enough to attack us. This conclusion did not go over well. This is the problem with philosophy. It allows you to view the world from different perspectives long enough that you can understand the rationale of why somebody did something even if you don't agree with it. Sadly, not everyone has this ability and in my private life, I was accused of sympathizing with terrorists. I did not care. I, alongside several professors, formed the Slippery Rock Peace and Justice Coalition and urged the campus community perspectives of peace.

Over the next year, I spent the year meditating on our response. I was going to school to be a philosopher after all. We attacked Afghanistan quickly enough. America had rose from the ashes of its anger and acted with Bush crying for vengeance. Suddenly, the lame ass Republican stood for something. All the while, American citizens heard and vilified Osama Bin Laden. We elevated Mr. Bin Laden to the level of a nation-state. We declared war on a group and focused on one person.

In many ways, Bush made me a campus activist. I became President of Amnesty International. I organized peace rallies. I fervently beat back the intellectual and naive challenges of my Conservative students in the Political Science Department, and I philosophized about peace. I did not seek a religious foundation for this peace. Instead, I went back to Kant as I usually do when I am confused. I re-read Perpetual Peace, and fell under the spell that if we can make the world more democratic, then a more pluralistic attitude towards the world could spread like wildfire--at least, this was my hope.

Since that time, I have never wavered in my commitment to peace. Peace is more important than anything else. In the past year, I am openly questioning my membership in the Democratic Party. To set them apart and convince Americans the Democrats are the choice for the Presidency, the Democrats boasted that they were the ones that "got Bin Laden." At the microphone at the Democratic Convention, Vice President Joe Biden cried out "Bin Laden is dead; GM is alive." At that moment, the Democratic Party violated an ethical principle felt deeply in my heart. You do not celebrate the pain and suffering of another, and it's even more important to not celebrate that death if the person is responsible for your suffering. Why?

Simple. You become the very thing you hate. You fuel hate, and that hate has a way of making it around the world like wildfire. Disagree?

Consider the mob mentality of lynching. If a society fetishizes a group and project all their hatred onto a type of people, then the mob can very easily pour tar, burn and hang another human being. We can re-feel the impetus of that hate, and take it into ourselves sharing in the very same substance of the experience alongside somebody else. Instead of racial attitudes, the experience of Bin Laden is more individuated. We want him dead and Bin Laden, then, symbolizes all others. All others must be like him in their villainy, and as such, the same mentality of racist attitudes that dehumanize an entire group and harness vitriol are focused through one man as the token example of how all others must be. Dehumanizing occurs. Now, I don't know which is worse, but I would propose the experiential difference between dehumanizing a group and an individual involve the same emotional structure. The only difference is that the more individualized the object of hatred, the more personal the hatred can be felt even by members of distantly removed from 9/11. Bin Laden attacked my country. And when it's that much more personal, we can obsess about it easier than we can about an entire group.

At great moral cost, Biden implicitly committed himself to dehumanizing one of the principal agents responsible for 9/11. At that point, he extended de-humanization and passed it off as a political virtue. Bin Laden needed to be brought to justice, and sometimes thinking back on that day, maybe he deserved to die. However, my feeling approval for his death, and Bin Laden's inability to share in a world with me reflects also my inability to share the same world with him. In that feeling, it is me versus him. There are times when I remember waking up for class and seeing the second plane impact the World Trade Center. I felt angry, anxious and sad. On that day, the emotions are many, and my lived-experience runs together like a seamless fabric. I cannot parse the emotions of that day effectively.

What I do recognize is the necessity for due-process, the proper exercise of the virtue of justice belongs solely to the domestic institutions that pursue it in a principled and regulated fashion. Say what you will about the American justice system. It is not perfect, but the system would have been a better avenue of channeling our want for vengeance into something higher than sending Navy SEALs to assassinate him. The SEALs should have brought him back. He should have been judged by the very principles we extoll that make us better than some other places in the world where justice is a matter of fending off the accusers.

The procedural requirements of justice are many. There are procedures for a fair trial, how evidence is handled and even how we treat prisoners all fall under strict guidelines, regulations and Constitutional amendments. These "rules" sometimes let the bad guys get away domestically, and other times we fail to honor them. Bad guys get away then, too. However, what these procedural requirements do is not only protect the victim's rights. More than that, these procedural requirements protect us from ourselves; they habituate society to accept these practices as a defense against the all-too-easy emotional contagion of mob mentality. If Bin Laden had been captured, brought to the United States, and tried in a US Court of Law, there may have been loopholes in the system. His trial may have revealed more about our virtue than we wanted, and for that reason, it may have been prudent to assassinate him overseas. We may have not wanted to reveal the impossibility of fairness, and what does it say about us that we were not even concerned with trying. Maybe the lesson learned is that it is easier to destroy than sustain and harder to sustain what might be given lip service but is no longer there at all.

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