In response to Bin Laden’s death, many people have been reminding us that death is not something to be celebrated and chastising us for taking pleasure in the news of Bin Laden’s demise.
To these I say: you’re right, in general. But right here, right now? I respectfully suggest that you’re missing the point.
The point is not the death of Bin Laden the man. It’s never been about Bin Laden the man, any more than 9/11 was about destroying buildings.
I don’t celebrate the death of Bin Laden the man. Why should I? Bin Laden the man is insignificant. What I celebrate – what I think most people are celebrating – what I think is worth celebrating – is the demise of Bin Laden the symbol.
Vengeance is not so simple as hate or bloodlust. Peace is not so simple as love (few things are as violent as love). Love by itself cannot conquer reckless hate, just as wisdom by itself cannot conquer a reckless fool. And vengeance is not the headlong pursuit of destruction.
People say, “Don’t pursue vengeance. It leaves you hollow.” But vengeance is like grief. Both rage inside you, and when they’re gone, both leave you empty and drained. But that emptiness isn’t a bad thing. It’s what allows you the room to rebuild.
So this is a small part of vengeance. This is a small part of grief. Violence is not peace – but it hollows out the space in which peace can, hopefully, be built.
The symbol is dead. Now – where will we choose to go from here?