Lessons from the shores of the Nile: In response to the slaying of Osama bin Laden

I am certainly no biblical scholar, but I find myself reminded of a biblical fable Jewish families across the world retell at Passover:

The lord parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites crossed safely. When the Egyptians attempted to pursue the Israelites across the dry path, the river resumed its course and the Egyptian army was largely drowned.

The fable tells that as the Egyptians were vanquished, the angles in heaven rejoiced, but the lord silenced their celebrations saying, “my people are dying and you rejoice!?”

Human life is sacred. I have seen video of Americans celebrating the death of bin Laden and to me this is a sign of a dangerous degradation of our values. It is not healthy or moral to revel in death–even in the death of a hated enemy. What makes our nation great and worthy of our loyalty is our collective refusal to change our morals even in the face of terrifying enemies. When we give in to our fear, we lose ourselves; we become less human, less divine, and more animal. 

In the past decade I fear that we have begun to lose our way. We have build moral bridges that violate our beliefs and return no moral value to us. We have invaded and oppressed, we have tortured, and we have propagated hate and death. Even if we did these things to protect our homes and families, we did so at great cost to ourselves and our children. We have torn the fabric of our moral purpose and we will have serious work to do if we hope to repair it.

I would not presume to tell those who lost family that they should not feel satisfaction that the architect of 9/11 has met his end. Certainly, we are all somewhat safer today than we were last week. However, we would do better as a people to use the event of bin Laden’s slaying to reflect on what makes us worthy of praise–equality, democracy, the preservation of the individual, the commitment to live together in the best ways possible. We assume that world should honor us for the way we uphold these values, but when we celebrate death rather than renewing life, why should we deserve honor?

If we care to teach something important to our children, we should teach them that all life is precious. While murders and lost souls may carry hate in their hearts so strong that they are driven to kill, we should not be so easily drawn down that path. A world filled with suffering and anger is not improved with more rage and hate.

I ask my students to evaluate their own actions the same way I evaluate mine–does the action I take today make the world better for my having taken it? And so, a hope for our children:

Should we again stand over the bodies of fallen enemies, let us weep.

Let us cry for lost humanity.

For lives mislead.

For precious love lost

and, for precious human time wasted on hate and destruction that might otherwise have been committed to love and creation.

This week I will mourn a broken world that has been ruptured by hate and I will hope for and work for a world that has learned the value of sympathy, empathy, and human care.


One comment

  1. AGREED! Put simply…two wrongs do not make a right!
    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies
    hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction
    of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of
    annihilation.” -MLK

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