Dancing In the Streets

Essays

A fine season I pick to return to the blog: a bit of Easter, a vote on 10-A, oh, and then the death of Osama bin Laden.
The interwebs were all abuzz yesterday, and social media machine in full flux first with the news of bin Laden’s killing, then with reaction, and then with reaction to the reaction.
Perhaps this falls into the category of “reaction to the reaction to the reaction.” It’s going to get pretty meta in here real soon.
My own reaction to the initial news was rather muted, in the way of reactions to news that comes to you as you are making one final trip to the bathroom before going to bed for the night. Our 17-year-old, who watched the Facebook status avalanche just before 11:00 p.m., told me.
I think I said, “hm, was it diabetes or did we kill him?”
He didn’t know yet. I went to bed.
Sleep is a good first response to ambivalence, and the news was certainly not something that I was going to get worked up over at this point. Thus I was initially somewhat surprised to tune in to the remarkable conversations that were taking place yesterday on Facebook, and, I’m sure, in all kinds of other venues.
Obviously, this is a big deal, but the emotional pitch strikes me as completely at odds with the utter disregard most of the American public has at this point for the fact that we are still engaged in two wars that bin Laden launched. If we care so little for the wars at this point, how could be care so much about the demise of the man who spurred them on ten years ago?
Personally, I still can’t get that worked up about the end of bin Laden, because I fear that his life is all that has ended of the terror wars of our time.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t encounter anyone who was unhappy that bin Laden had been found, nor, come to think of it, anyone who was particularly unhappy that he was dead. I certainly include myself in those camps, and would put it this way, personally: I’m glad they found him, and I’m not sad that he’s dead.
On the other hand, I certainly did not feel compelled to dance a jig when I heard the news, nor even sing, “ding, dong the witch is dead.” Although, to be honest, any serious pop culture fan had to have had that song run across the internal screen at least once. Admit it.
I know I did, and it’s not just because middle child and I had just that afternoon been talking about how they made the tornado effects for the Wizard of Oz. Bin Laden has been the wicked witch to the west for a decade, the bearded boogie man of countless terror fantasy/nightmares.
I’m not proud of the fact that the movie ditty flitted through, but I’m not particularly upset over it either. There is a struggle within many of us between the thirst for something that balances the scales of justice in the simple terms of an eye for an eye, and the recognition that such logic leaves a whole lot of blindness in the world.
There is embedded in that logic the myth of redemptive violence, the classic American myth, and one that I just don’t grasp. Is it that the cleansing fire of violence redeems what has come before? Is it the pax — not true shalom, but rather a momentary lull — that comes after the violence that redeems the violence?
In the midst of it all, the realist part of my brain recognizes that bin Laden was not likely ever to be taken alive. He had long declared his intention to die a martyr to his own twisted cause, and the notion of police knocking on his door with an invitation to “come out with your hands up,” is absurd. We may (or may not) be grateful that he is dead, but he was not going to be singing, “if you’ve got a warrant I guess you’re gonna come in.” If disease did not kill him, his life was bound to end in violence.
But I cannot escape the irony of his death at the hands of the American Empire arriving on the second Sunday of the season of Eastertide, when Christians celebrate the great “yes” of God over and against the violent “no” of the cross of the Roman Empire.
I found myself wondering yesterday, if Facebook had existed in Jesus’ time would there have been a great virtual gnashing of teeth among the good citizens of the empire concerning the way it dealt with its enemies such as Jesus? Would there have been celebration among them that another threat to the pax had been removed? Would there have been concern about the propriety of such dancing? Was it simply business as usual, move along, nothing to see here?
To be clear, there was nothing of Jesus in Osama bin Laden, but there is much of Rome in us.
I don’t care about bin Laden. I’ll not mourn his death, but I will continue to mourn our collective, violent response to all of the death and destruction that he rained down from the skies ten years ago. I do not believe that his death will bring an end to any of it, but I continue to believe that there remains before us a better, ultimately more realistic path to real peace that is paved by nonviolence. Bin Laden’s end, in the end, was a long, but fairly simple task of tracking down one bad guy and shooting him. What remains now, as surely as it did ten years ago, is the far more complicated yet far more urgent task of creating the just social order that will not give rise to another generation of bin Ladens.
When that order dawns it will be news worthy of dancing in the streets.

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