Monday, May 02, 2011

Was Justice Done?

So what is justice? Is it an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Is it a balancing of the scales? Is it the restoration of the status quo prior to the injustice? Or could it be the creation of a state of peaceful coexistence and harmony?

In theory, American justice is the rule of law where even the most heinous criminal is given rights because preserving justice is ultimately much more important than the risk that a guilty person might escape consequences. In practice, American justice sometimes looks like frontier justice where an expression like “he needed killin'” doesn't sound like the absurdity that it is. In the pantheon of villains, Osama Bin Laden is perhaps second only to Adolph Hitler. So when President Obama said about his death, “And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done,” I doubt that many Americans questioned it. If ever there was someone who deserved an extra-judicial execution, surely it was this evil man, right? Tragically, when the President sets himself up as judge, jury and executioner, justice is harmed, not served.

Of course, the argument can be made that this was a war and he was an enemy combatant killed on the battlefield. I'm not expert in military law, so that may be justified. Even if this action is a legitimate act of warfare, I must question its strategic value. Surely the vacuum left by the leader's absence has already been filled. In fact, hasn't the second in command been the leader for some time now anyway? How can this be more than a symbolic action in the war on terrorism at this point? One would think that from the level of euphoria seen on American streets that this war was over, but not one word has been uttered about the end of hostilities and the return of the troops. Sadly, this leads to the conclusion that hunting down and killing Bin Laden had only political motivation. Simply put, this was revenge.

And so we return to the question of whether or not justice was served. Is revenge justice? The death of the one responsible for the deaths of so many does little to balance the scale. Perhaps if I had a loved one who had died because of him I might feel differently, but I doubt it. I find no satisfaction in revenge. I can't see how returning violence for violence and hate for hate brings any comfort or peace to the avenger. Most of the people who lost family on 9/11 whom I've heard interviewed so far have commented on how it feels wrong to celebrate the death of someone, even someone as awful as Bin Laden. There is a reason that it feels is.

As a Christian, I don't have an option for violence. If I am to be a true follower of Jesus, I need to love my enemy and pray for those who persecute me. I need to turn the other cheek. I need to return good for evil. I need to leave judgment and any vengeance that there may be to God. If that makes me a fool, so be it. I know it is not a practical way to live in the world, but that is not what is ever promised. History and personal observation confirms that violence is not defeated by violence. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

I believe that God's justice is the creation of what our Jewish brothers and sisters call shalom. Shalom is more than peace in the sense of the absence of conflict. It is harmony and balance among all beings. It is a description of what we want heaven to be. God wants to break into our lives with shalom, bringing heaven into the hell that we too often choose to inhabit. People like Bin Laden are so broken that they never open up to this grace and go about creating more hell on earth. Still, the love of God is so vast, so powerful and so persistent that regardless of the hells we find ourselves in (even of our own choosing) there is always hope.

Today I hope for more hearts to open to that love, that we may find shalom.


DavidJSpuria said...

Well written. I think for some families...I saw people crying at Ground Zero...this will bring closure. But you are correct. Even with his death, there is a creepiness to the celebrating that turned me off the same way there was jubilation when the buildings came down. But one thing we need to be careful of doing is speaking for the families this has affected. It's been a mind altering decade for those involved. And if this gives solace to those who lost a loved one, I would never protest that, question that, or throw any kind of opinion into that. It's not for me to know or question. In our speed to recognize the perfect and nearly impossible lessons taught by Jesus, we have to understand that we are nowhere close to that kind of perfect peace.

Culture Dove said...

I did try not to speak for others, but I take your point. But when it comes to the actions of the government (which are de facto in my name) I want to take a stand against vengeance. As I understand it, studies demonstrated that families of murder victims tend not to feel the closure they seek after the murderer has been executed.

DavidJSpuria said...

I think murder/retaliation closure is similar to Pascal's God shaped void. The void is not filled. But I think some of it is placated. As I've stated, it's not for me to know or inject my meager understanding in to. I pray for the victims and the perpetrators alike.

Culture Dove said...

As I read and reflect more I'm realizing that this mission was to capture or kill, not just kill. So I must give some slack here. We will never know for sure if Bin Laden did indeed fire back. Still, those involved believed it was going to be a kill operation and the question of what sort of justice we seek remains.

Bworl said...

Ian, I think your post is well thought and encourages a level of contemplation about this event and it's significance that I haven't read or heard much of today.

I didn't get the impression that this was an assassination/execution. My understanding from the news reports was that the plan was to use the information to capture bin Laden, but a firefight ensued during which he was killed. We will probably never know if this is the full truth or not, but that's how it was played in the reports I heard.

I have difficulty balancing the Jesus of "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemy" with the Jesus who also cleared the temple of the money changers. I get that the temple story was an issue of defiling the temple of God, but in this instance I at least see a Christ who exemplified the ability to be so deeply moved by the wrongness of man's actions that some definitive step must be taken.

Man's judgement is never a substitute for God's. And yet, civilization after civilization has recognized the need for a standard of conduct and an answer for when those standards of conduct are not met. Biblical judgement was passed on evil doers many times in the scriptures, particularly in the time before the new covenant. I say none of this to justify death for death. Merely to suggest that even God himself recognized that some crimes had to be addressed.

I do not grieve the passing of this man. In the name of his "religion" he encouraged people to attack and kill others. He expressed no remorse for his crimes, and hunting him down was proper in my eyes. I would like to think that ideally the U.S. forces desired to capture him to allow him to stand trial.

As for whether or not his death makes a difference, well, there you and I must disagree.

I agree conceptually with the idea that violence does not end violence. And I completely support the notion that only the light can dispel the darkness. But if you look in the pail of evil that exists in the world tonight, there is one little piece that is no longer there to bring pain and suffering. And that's the piece that bin Laden carried with him.

It may not make much of a dent in all that is wrong in the world, but I truly believe that in that respect, we are better off without him.

Patrick said...

Greetings Ian
been along time!

I guess my only question is whether or not the action is rightly wrapped in the language of revenge. Part of me agrees with Michael Moore that he should have been tried in some tribunal for all to see, and then shot or hung if found guilty. But that would not be revenge, but in my estimation justice (I know we disagree on the death penalty and not wanting to debate that per se)

By the way, it is nice to be doing some work on a common cause, i.e. the Grace House. Our church, "Christ Our Refuge Fellowship" in Sturbridge (I left HCC three years ago)gives monthly support and I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking to some of the folks.

Culture Dove said...

I'm so glad to have had a reasoned, civil discussion both here and in comments on my facebook status. Some of these deeper issues will too easily drift by in situations as momentous at this.

I do want to point out that it now seems that Bin Laden was unarmed and possibly there were no shots on the SEALs after they killed the first armed man. If that turns out to be true (and I don't expect to know that for sure for a very long time) then I am truly disappointed that the decision was to kill not to capture. In the end it certainly seems like an assassination ordered by the President.

Finally, I may write another post on the topic, but there is a sad reflection of the darkness of the American psyche in the naming of this operation "Geronimo."