On Bin Laden’s Lingering Face

ID_IC_MEIS_BINLA_AP_001 Morgan Meis being characteristically wise, over at The Smart Set:

The most surprising thing about the death of Osama bin Laden was his funeral. Islamic law declares that a person must be buried within 24 hours of death. “We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition,” Time reported a U.S. official as saying, “This is something that we take very seriously. And so therefore, this is being handled in an appropriate manner.”

Bin Laden was buried at sea, presumably so that there will be no burial site, no country that owns him, no place on Earth could be associated with him ever after. The sea gets him, being the only place capacious enough to take on the burden. There is dignity in having done it this way. Not dignity for him, but dignity for us. It is understandable that people want to celebrate the death of a man who scared us, who was the author of a traumatizing act of violence, who plotted the deaths of thousands and dreamed of the deaths of thousands upon thousands more. But I am not sure that celebrating death ever does anything very good for the one who celebrates.

I shuddered for the souls of the men at Saddam Hussein's execution. The footage is, now, widely available on the Internet. It was captured surreptitiously on a cell phone video camera. Saddam is brought into a dingy room in what looks like a basement. He is bustled toward a noose and begins praying. Some of the people standing below begin to shout. They are calling out, “Muqtada,” in reference to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia religious and political leader. Saddam says the name Muqtada back to them and then asks, “Do you call this courage?” Another person yells at Saddam to go to hell. He replies, “the hell that is Iraq?” Then he goes back to praying. All of a sudden, the trap door beneath Saddam opens and he plummets. He is gone. It is impossible to watch that footage without feeling that Saddam stole his dignity back in those final moments. The people in the room gave Saddam the opportunity to do it. They gave him a moment to be the honorable one in death. It lessened those men, those witnesses. They became small in the face of the ultimate thing, the death of a human being.

The last few days have seen a lot of talk about whether or not it is appropriate to celebrate the killing of Osama bin Laden. I would phrase the question in a different way. What does it do to one human being to celebrate the killing of another human being, whatever the circumstances? What happens inside you, how does it make you feel? Is that something you want to feel? Is it a way you want to be?