May 4th, 2011


"We don't need to spike the football." (215.2)

While I can understand arguments and desires on both sides of the argument, I'm in favor of President Obama's decision not to publish photographs of Osama bin Laden's body from Sunday night, or of his burial at sea. There's a morbid curiosity at play, but there's also an understandable desire for certainty and closure at play. That's balanced by the President's concern that releasing images could further inflame anti-American sentiment or be used as martyr propaganda. What it came down to was a feeling that we don't need to be seen gloating. On Sunday night, I saw the photo that made the rounds, but it turned out to be a fake, a composite of a real corpse photo and a real photo from a few years ago of Osama. I was OK with seeing what seemed real at the time, and I'm OK with not seeing the real ones. (If they were released, yes, I'd look.)

Most of what I've said in the last couple of days on this subject has been in the form of sharing what I've seen from others, whether it be news or analysis or insight or, yes, even gallows humor. As I said to someone on Twitter who was put off by one of the items I passed along, humor is often an outlet for uncomfortable situations. The extreme discomfort that's inescapable in this situation is, not surprisingly, generating extreme humor. Some of it, I'm rolling my eyes at, but some of it I think is genuinely funny. I understand if you don't.

There are also, of course, at least two schools of thought on whether killing UBL was the right thing to do. The President's language on Sunday night made it clear to me that the mission was to kill him, not capture him. Not try to capture him but kill him if you have to -- just go kill him. Revealed today is the additional tidbit that the Navy SEALs who conducted the mission were told that if he offered to surrender and be taken alive, they should let him, if they could do so safely.

Frankly, I have hugely mixed feelings on this whole matter. It's probably been hard to tell the last few days, but I am, at heart, a pacifist. I don't believe that violence is usually the right solution to much of anything, though I do understand that sometimes force is necessary in response to defense of ourselves or our friends, or in situations where defenseless others are being preyed upon. I'm not usually in the "an eye for an eye" camp, or in the "___ deserves to die" camp.

Just this once, however, I'm willing to make an exception.

This was never abstract for me, as I understand it has been for some. I'm a New Yorker. I've never lived in New York City, though (and I realize most people don't know this) I was born in Manhattan. I spent the first 18 years of my life living right outside the City. Two members of my immediate family were in Manhattan that morning nearly a decade ago, friends were in or near the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and I'm one or two degrees of separation away from multiple people who died that day. When USS Cole was brazenly attacked, I had friends in the Navy.

Will terrorism evaporate now? Will evil be no more? Of course not. But there's no doubt in my mind, none whatsoever, that the world is a safer place, a better place, without this man. I firmly believe that, even if there's a flurry of activity sparked by this incident.

Meantime, I'm glad the President made a point of separating this deceased terrorist from Islam. He did not espouse muslim beliefs or precepts. He simply didn't. This, then, was not a strike against Islam, but against terror, and against evil, against the establishment of both.

When I learned that Osama's body would be treated in accordance with Islamic tradition, my first reaction was that perhaps he should be buried face down; Islam calls for the body to be buried facing Mecca, and I don't think he deserves to face Mecca. The revelation that he'd been buried at sea seemed at first as though it could indeed deprive him of that eternal alignment, but apparently a burial at sea isn't inconsistent with Islamic tradition. (There've been a couple of complaints that burial at sea is only acceptable when a muslim dies at sea, which he didn't, but that's beyond my knowledge of the subject.)

One thing that fascinates me this week is the variety of reactions among younger people -- people who were in grade school on 9/11, and who have only ever thought of Osama in the abstract, if at all. (Yes, I've seen the Facebook screen shot of the college student asking "Who's Osama?") There's certainly a fascination, especially among college students I know in the field of journalism, who are watching the coverage as much for its own sake as for anything else.

All told, I'm comfortable with Sunday's action, and I'm also comfortable with the level of respect for the enemy being shown by our government. More than he deserved? Maybe. But the right course of action to present ourselves the way we want to be seen, and the way we'd want to be treated? Absolutely.