This week's news was extraordinary, although surprising. Nearly ten years after 9-11 the principal architect of these terrorist attacks was killed. There should be no moral qualms about our efforts to hunt him down and finally kill him. Punishment is served. Deterrence, we hope and pray, is also achieved. That his punishment is just does not mean as politicians and pundits now pronounce that justice is also served. There can really be no justice in the face of the deaths of thousands. I doubt very much if the families of those murdered feel any more sense of closure now that this architect of death and destruction is no more. To my mind justice is also about re-balancing the scales. How can this be achieved when so many have been murdered, so many still suffering and countless more terrorized? For that matter, how can there ever be such an accounting when even one life is taken?
This as well does not mean that we rejoice over his death. We belong to a tradition that teaches that we never celebrate death, even that of our self-proclaimed enemies. The Talmud declares: If someone comes to kill you, get up earlier to kill him first. Had we followed this dictum and killed bin Laden 12 years ago, or immediately following the bombing of the USS Cole, now that would have been cause for rejoicing. We would not then be celebrating his death but the saving of so many lives. Our cause would have been equally just at that time, but far more difficult to explain to the American public. We would not even have known then what were celebrating. Those were innocent, and naive, years. I also celebrate the decision to send commandos to carry out this mission rather than bombing from the air. I recognize that the decision may have had more to do with the desire to prove bin Laden's death than the preservation of civilian lives. Nonetheless I rejoice that civilians were not killed during this justified raid. Such things are what we celebrate. I do not dance when another human being is killed. Even a just punishment is never reason to celebrate.
Today nearly all recognize that bin Laden needed to be killed and his ideology needs to be eradicated. All that is, except for the likes of Hamas. Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas ruled Gaza, said: "We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood." Reason appears to fail such leaders. Even though bin Laden was responsible for murdering Muslims as well, it is wrong when a non-Muslim kills a Muslim. Apparently it is only right when Muslims kill non-Muslims. Such appears to be his view. It is a contorted morality. It is twisted reason. And this is the leader with whom Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have signed an accord. Such actions indicate that the West Bank's leadership prefers Palestinian unity over all else--even the possibility peace with the State of Israel, even the establishment of a Palestinian State. This accord makes such achievements far less likely.
It is eerie as well that only a few days after writing about Eichmann's trial and punishment I am now discussing the death of another who professed a similar malignant ideology. Like Eichmann bin Laden was buried at sea. There is now no place to pilgrimage. No country can claim his memory. It is remarkable that the US made sure that Muslim rites were provided. Even our enemies are guaranteed religious freedom. That more than anything else illustrates the difference between us and "them." We celebrate our differences. We give honor to our differences. Bin Laden wanted to eradicate differences. He and those who subscribe to such ideologies of hate offer a stark choice. Believe and practice like me or be killed.
I am going to celebrate that even our enemy was granted the rituals important to him. I am certain that he would not have done likewise. I will rejoice that here in this great country differences are celebrated and not reviled. I seek not to erase such differences. I revel in them. In my view the only infidels are those who scream at all but themselves, "Infidel!"