Love for Bin Laden?

The news cycle for the last week and a half has been saturated with the events surrounding the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Besides being a probable game changer in the broader international effort to fight terrorism, Bin Laden’s death has evoked reactions of all sorts. Perhaps the most visceral images came from outside the White House shortly after President Obama made the news official. Video footage broadcast on CNN and other major networks showed Americans dancing in the streets in a raucous and joyous manner as if their favorite sports team had just won a world championship.[1] Anyone glued to the television must have wondered about the celebration. Obviously, the appropriate emotional response when a hero or a lauded public figure dies is one of mourning and grief, but is the opposite true? Is it right to cheer and jump for joy when a villain and infamous terrorist like Bin Laden is killed?

To be sure, for the thousands of families that lost loved ones on 9/11 and for countless others who were affected, Bin Laden’s death could and should bring a sense of relief, closure, or appreciation that justice has been served. As witnessed, some have rejoiced in Bin Laden’s death, whereas others now fear a backlash from Al Qaeda members who may hatch plans to retaliate. Whatever the reaction, the typical American response is clearly not one of concern for Bin Laden or his soul. As a murderer and mastermind of 9/11, Bin Laden has for the last decade seared himself into the American consciousness as the enemy of all enemies, and to think that one should love or pray for Bin Laden before or after his death seems completely radical and counterintuitive.

And yet this is exactly what is commanded in the Bible. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his listeners, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”[2] Jesus’ ethic is radical because it instructs people to face violence with unrelenting love. It is counterintuitive because it offends our pragmatic sensibilities and forces us to reconsider the way we relate to those who persecute us.[3]

So what is Jesus’ logic here? Is the command to love and pray for one’s enemies not merely counterintuitive but also exceedingly ineffectual or overly idealistic? Even in a world with enemies like Bin Laden, I would contend that it is neither weak nor quixotic to follow Jesus’ radical message. In fact, if anything can be learned from Bin Laden’s death, it’s that fundamentalist narratives which promote violence and destruction ultimately fail. Sure, Bin Laden managed to evade capture for years and tragically orchestrated a few terrorist acts, but to what end? Imprisoned in a fortress compound of his own making, Bin Laden lived out his last few years cut off from society and fearful of retribution.

In the end, one can see that Bin Laden’s logic is the one that is impotent. “To express our anger and hate to them,” Bin Laden wrote in 1996, “is a very important moral gesture. By doing so we would have taken part in (the process of) cleansing our sanctities from the crusaders and the Zionists and forcing them, by the Permission of Allah, to leave disappointed and defeated.”[4] By contrast, the radical ethic of Jesus to love our enemies proves to be more logical than one founded on anger and hate. If adopted, it offers an end to disappointment and defeat, and this, I think, provides all of us with a much better reason to dance in the streets.

Paul McClure

[2] Matthew 5:43-45

[3] I do not mean to suggest here that Jesus’ command to love and pray for our enemies precludes all military action. Though a frequently debated issue, my own take is that even while Jesus’ ethic of love is radical, it may still allow for forceful military action in certain circumstances, as long as love remains central and we seek the best, most redemptive option available for our enemies.

[4] Bin Laden, Osama. “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.” From London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. 1996.


2 responses to “Love for Bin Laden?

  1. Pingback: How do you respond to Bin Laden’s death? « 4th Point·

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