Today, many a young American found a new spring in their step. It is the bouncy step of patriotism and sheer euphoria. Seventy-two hours before it was their president who strode with purpose on the White House red carpet to deliver a bombshell of an announcement — the death of Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama is now towering head and shoulders above some of the world’s most renowned commanders in chief. If anything, he will no longer be remembered as the first black president of the world’s sole superpower but as the president who directed and oversaw the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist.
America is riding high on the wave of victory. But it is a victory tempered with uncertainty; uncertainty because of the fear of reprisals to come. As audacious as the dawn raid in Abbottabad was, it was nonetheless a raid premised on vengeance, in the spirit of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
It was also a raid that proves we have not evolved beyond our most basic level of instinctively vindictive behaviour, which has governed human relations since time immemorial — the exacting of revenge on those who do us harm. We call it justice but the result is the vicious cycle of violence that continues to plague our civilisation into the 21st century.
Are the celebrations that marked the death of a fellow human being, who turned mass murderer in his perverted pursuit of Islamic fundamentalism, perhaps out of place? Should we not be mourning how over the millennia we, the collective that is the human race, have repeatedly failed to get along with one other due to ethnic, racial and religious intolerance? Are we content in accepting that the answer to violence is more violence? Most of all, are we prepared for the repercussions that await us should we maintain this course of tit for tat?
In the tumultuous euphoria of the celebrations marking Bin Laden’s death, the words of one great man have been forgotten. “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” They are the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who pursued change through non-violent means but died a violent death from the bullet of an assassin.
Ironically Martin Luther King’s death and the retaliatory killing of Bin Laden, who White House officials have confirmed was not armed but resisted capture, speaks volumes of how in terms of the evolution of goodness, we are still in the same place we were during the stone age when neighbours killed each other over food and water sources.
The expectation by some, who have studied and lived through the ebb and flow of history, was for the Americans to mark the passing of their nemesis with muted reflection at the evil men are capable of. Instead they chose to stoke the vengeful fires of retaliation when they hoisted placards proclaiming Obama 1-Osama 0. It would seem that the dark side of humanity thrives on this age-old crusade of settling grudges. After all it was Obama who on his inauguration in 2008 issued a potent warning to terrorist operatives when in a ringing speech he intoned “to those who would tear the world down, we will defeat you!” True to his word on Monday morning he announced to the world that at his direction, a targeted operation against a compound in Abbottabad had resulted in the killing of Bin Laden.
It is not yet clear what the fallout will be. For now we can speculate but history will not fail to confirm it.
What then will be history’s verdict on the momentous events of the past few days? Will it record that in so much as Bin Laden became an engineer of his own destruction by building a fortified mansion he could not escape from, Obama became a victim of his own success by unleashing an unprecedented episode of retaliatory attacks that plunged the world into its darkest hour?
In imploring humanity to end the vicious cycle of violence, Martin Luther King poignantly warned: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
But is anybody listening?