Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead

"Ding dong! The witch is dead." 

Americans and our allies flock to the streets to dance and sing, weep and drink in celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden. For nearly ten years we have spent untold resources to pursue and achieve his end. Thousands have died, both innocent civilians and our own young fighting men and women, many of whom were inspired by the events of 9/11 to join the military to kill Bin Laden and the ideas he inspired.

Bin Laden, while I cannot know the workings of his mind except by the terror and the pain he has wrought, vilified America and Americans. He blamed us and our policies for the poverty and prejudices suffered by his Muslim brothers. In the end, the result of his work is that Muslims themselves have suffered globally by the same process of vilification and projection. We have witnessed the burning of the Koran, bombing of mosques, the banning of veils, Abu Graib, and the profiling of Muslim American citizens  in every city and airport in our country.

Ironically, in recent months, the Arab uprisings across the entire Gulf region have been fueled, not by the leadership and philosophies of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, but by the tenets of democracy embraced by young Arabs. This is happening even as many Americans are supporting legislation that restricts the freedom of our own citizens if they "appear" to be "illegal". Even our president had to produce his own "papers".

And what lesson may we take from this?

There is a saying that I remembered as I watched Sunday evening's presidential announcement and the news surrounding it. "In every Buddha there is a devil. In every devil there is a Buddha."

While it is easy to view Bin Laden as the devil incarnate and his work as evil, his death at the hands of the Americans does not make us more holy except in our own minds.  It is a victory for morale, not for morality. Yes, I believe what he did was wrong and actions to bring him to justice are right. His hatred was pure, powerful and profound as was his ability to act on that hatred and inspire others to do so.  In the face of that, I would not expect anyone to look for his kinder, higher self though I suspect that somewhere in his life, it existed. Not all of us can or would mastermind a 9/11 attack on innocent civilians. But looking at the roots of that action, we may see that each of us is capable of "villainizing" and victimizing those with whom we do not agree.

Perhaps in our lives there are others we wish dead, banished, off our radar screen, out of our communities. Likewise, within ourselves, there are feelings we wish gone, hidden, expunged from our thoughts and awareness.  And yet they are there and when we ignore them, or unconsciously feed them by seeking only information that seemingly justifies them, or work hard to cover them up, we are more likely to project them on someone or something else...our next door neighbors, the evangelicals, immigrants, the Muslims, our president, our office mate, our spouse. Bin Laden did this and built an ideology and base of power on the fear and hatred he generated toward Americans. George W. Bush and his administration did the same, targeting first the "terrorists" and then anyone who opposed our misguided wars. We Americans do this to our fellow citizens every day.

 Am I glad Bin Laden is dead? Yes. Yet I know that the hatred, prejudices and projections that he embodied and that we ourselves embrace are not. The process of becoming aware of our own devils is painstaking and requires the cultivation of humility. In this moment when we are so eager to beat our chest in primal victory, let us remember not just the pain of our many losses, the courage and forbearance of our soldiers and citizens, the sweetness of success, but also reflect with humility on our common humanity, the good and evil within all of us. That would be something to celebrate .. a step toward victory over our darkest selves.

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