I froze when I saw the bold, large headline on the New York Times website – “Osama bin Laden Dead.” I called out to my husband and read it out loud, disbelief in my voice. As I read through the story that bin Laden had been found in Pakistan and killed by US special forces, my stomach soured. I searched my heart for feelings of relief—relief that this man our nation has feared since long before Sept. 11, 2001could no longer wield influence. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were a family member of someone killed in the attacks on Sept. 11, or if someone close to me had been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would bin Laden’s death provide them some kind of closure?
But I felt no relief, and certainly no joy. Instead, all that welled up was grief – for the nearly three thousand lives lost on Sept. 11, for the tens of thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the trillion dollars spent so far by the U.S. to end terrorism.
In the following days, as I read about celebrations around the U.S., I felt alone in my sadness. In the comfort of my rural, remote community, with no threats to my well-being, I re-examined my commitment to non-violence. Although my heartache was real, I judged my rejection of killing another human being, even one who had brought so much violence to thousands of people for decades, as naïve. Yet I couldn’t shake the darkness that I sensed as I read justification for bin Laden’s murder.
Since the news of bin Laden’s death, I’ve read, prayed, and talked with others to find clarity about my opposition to my government’s actions. One friend recommended the site of Sojourners Magazine and its “God’s Politics Blog.” There, Jim Wallis posted some helpful queries:
· How do we best respond to evil and those who perpetrate it?
· What have we learned in the last 10 years about what truly is the best answer to the violence of terrorism?
· How do we change the conditions that have allowed terrorists to pull others into their agenda?
(For the full essay, go to http://blog.sojo.net/2011/05/02/how-should-we-respond-to-the-death-of-osama-bin-laden/).
An e-mail from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) directed me to a discussion on their Facebook page about bin Laden’s killing. And an essay by Kathy Kelley of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (http://vcnv.org/) presented sobering facts about the people and the place our country has been fighting for ten years. She writes in“Beyond Retaliation” –
“They live in a country where 850 children die every day, a country which the UN has termed the worst country in the world into which a child can be born, where the average life expectancy is 42 years of age. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five. Each week, the U.S. taxpayers spend two billion dollars to continue the war in Afghanistan.”
I also turned to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to help me discern my beliefs about the actions of my government. Once again, there I found grounded, Spirit-centered wisdom as well as tools for action that strengthen my commitment to nonviolence and support to speak my truth.
Jonathan Evans, FCNL Legislative Representative, Foreign Policy, questioned why he, too, felt no joy or relief at the news of bin Laden’s assassination. He spoke my mind on the FCNL blog:
“… I believe deeply that war is not, and never has been, the answer to terrorism. My Quaker faith leads me to the conclusion that nonviolence is the only way to promote peace and justice. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He did not teach (or ask) us to kill them. That basic teaching is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. In short, we are called to witness to the spirit of love that takes away the occasion for war. We are called to seek that of God in every person, even when that person perpetrates evil in the world.”
Posted on another page of the FCNL website was an action alert (http://fcnl.org/action/alert/2011/lam0502/) for those who viewed bin Laden’s murder not as a success but “a failure of imagination and of political will that led to answering violence with more violence.” With a few clicks, I drafted messages to both of my senators and my representative, expressing my view that killing bin Laden and more violence are not the answers. With the help of FCNL, I listed alternatives to violence that I believe will promote peace:
· begin a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan
· halt offensive operations against the Taliban
· engage Afghan parties and Afghanistan's neighbors in negotiating peace
· channel U.S. development aid for reconstruction through Afghan, multilateral, and other civilian humanitarian organizations.
Now, as the shock has faded, and I’ve felt buoyed by evidence of many others who mourn this act of violence, I’m starting to see the potential for changed approaches and opportunities. Jim Wallis suggests, “The death of Osama bin Laden could be a turning point in our ability to both resist evil and seek good, to turn away from the logic of both terrorism and war, and, as the Bible says, to find the things ‘that make for peace.’” Jonathan Evans also believes in the possibility of a turning point “…that takes us in the direction of realizing sooner rather than later two FCNL objectives: the removal of U.S. military bases and combat troops from Afghanistan; and diplomatic efforts to reach a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. When accomplished, both will be worth celebrating.”
David R. Woolley, a Friend from Minneapolis, is already thinking of how to celebrate. According to his blog (http://quakeruniversalist.wordpress.com), he’s promoting an idea for how Friends might turn this year’s tenth anniversary of 9/11 into “…an opportunity for honest dialog, mutual forgiveness, and reconciliation.” Here’s what he envisions:
“9/11 this year is a Sunday. What if Quaker meetings were to pair up with mosques and hold joint worship services? What if Friends were to attend Friday prayers at a mosque, and Muslims were to attend worship at a Quaker meeting on Sunday? It would make for a weekend of interfaith worship, fellowship, and learning, from 9-9-11 to 9-11-11…If this idea could spread beyond Quaker meetings, with HUNDREDS of partnerships forming between Friends meetings, other Christian churches, synagogues, and mosques all over America, it would be too big a story for the mainstream media to ignore. Maybe it could begin to turn the tide.”
I pray, and believe, that healing comes through nonviolent work toward justice. I’m grateful for Jonathan, Kathy, Jim, David, and many others like them who are leading the way.