Q:The bible says that white hair is found among those who live a virtuous life. So being, at the time of his death, Osama bin Laden had lived a more virtuous life than Krista Tippet. Not to hard to believe.
This reasoning might be considered a hypothetical syllogism. If you are being sincere when making this deductive inference, I might suggest that you reevaluate the validity of your premises and redraw your conclusion. For clinging to this fallacious reasoning deceives yourself and others you are trying to persuade.
Now, if your deductive reasoning is intended to be hurtful (even through humor) rather than logical, I’d like to offer a perspective Martin Marty once shared with our program on how he measures a person’s character:
“I’ve often thought — I’ve often said, ‘If Billy Graham had been born mean, we’d be in terrible trouble,’ because he had so much power, so many gifts, and so on. One of my distinctions in religion is not liberal and conservative, but mean and non-mean. You have mean liberals and mean conservatives, and you have non-mean of both.”
I hope you are one of those non-mean people whose influence betters the conversation rather than hastens its demise with sarcasm and weak logic.
Kind regards and happy new year,
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Violence We Live By
by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor
“I Think I’m Ready to Fly Away” (photo: DiaTM/Flickr, by-nc-nd 2.0)
“However much we try to distinguish between morally good and morally evils ways of killing, our attempts are beset with contradictions, and these contradictions remain a fragile part of our modern subjectivity.”
—Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing
You can often detect it when a politician or journalist uses a word like “barbaric” to describe the actions of any suicide bomber before, on, or after 9/11: the assumption that “Islamic terrorism” represents an uncontainable hostility toward modernity.
The extremists, on this view, are primitive; we are civilized. They are irrational; we are people of prudence and reason. This is the “clash of civilizations” narrative that has held sway in the West for generations, but with a special power in the last decade.
Yet as anthropologist Talal Asad points out, the histories of Europe and Islam are not so neatly separated and thus the clash of civilizations rhetoric ignores a rich legacy of mutual borrowings and continuous interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. More than that, though, the very selective heritage that shapes a people (that strange, unknown hybrid called Judeo-Christianity, for instance) often bears no relation to the hard facts on the ground — to the way people self-identify, to what they do, how they negotiate the world, and so on.
The concept of jihad is a case in point. Asad notes that the term is not central to Islam, but Western histories of the religion have made it integral to an Islamic civilization rooted in religion. In fact, jihad has been a subject of centuries-long debate among Muslim scholars of different historical and social contexts. It is simply not part of a transhistorical Muslim worldview but rather belongs to, as Asad writes, “an elaborate political-theological vocabulary in which jurists, men of religious learning, and modernist reformers debated and polemicized in response to varying circumstances.”
All of which is to say that the West’s tidy narration of Islam vis-a-vis modern liberal social orders has posited a set of very persuasive yet fictive binaries: freedom vs. repression; savagery vs. the rule of law; legitimate warfare vs. terrorism. So much so that in the deeply partisan, brutally contentious world of American politics, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, routinely employ a model in which, Asad says, “rational democrats in the West react defensively to destructive terrorists from the East.”
The point here — mine and most certainly Asad’s — is not to condone or justify atrocities committed by extremists. Osama bin Laden was a bad guy and the violence he was responsible for indefensible. Period. The point, instead, is to question the moral high ground America regularly claims in response to criminals like bin Laden and to ask the difficult questions that arise from inhabiting such a lofty perch.
The point also is to be willing to entertain unsettling answers to these questions — to name the contradictions that beset our attempts to rationalize, and celebrate, state-sponsored violence while we categorically condemn, and punish, rogue terrorism.
Can we begin to acknowledge that violence is embedded in the very concept of liberty that lies at the heart of liberal social orders like the United States of America? As Wendell Berry puts it in a poem, “When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies and the horror inflicted by insurgents? Shot-off limbs, dead babies, destroyed livelihoods — these are the on-the-ground realities whether the munitions come from teenage suicide bombers or the U.S. military.
Can we begin to acknowledge that Americans seem to take a de facto stance in which war is condemned only in excess but terrorism in its very essence?
Can we begin to acknowledge that terrorists often talk about what they do in the language of necessity and humanity (as do five-star generals and American presidents)? But, as Asad notes, the banal fact is that “powerful states are never held accountable to [war crimes tribunals], only the weak and the defeated can be convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that, as Asad perceptively puts it, “human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ peoples” and that “this is necessary to a hierarchical global order.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that events in recent days ought to disturb us sufficiently to resist the prepackaging of acceptable responses by corporate-controlled media outlets?
To entertain the possibility that the violence wrought in the name of “liberty and justice for all” bears a moral equivalency to that waged by operatives of al-Qaeda is not to impute sinister motives to the American military or its leaders. Not at all. That’s the easy, cynical view born of occupying the moral high ground on another plane.
But the uneasy truth remains: Osama bin Laden is dead, and we have killed him. And the story of violence continues — his, ours, and the inextricable link between the two.
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
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“Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemies Fall”
by David P. Gushee, guest contributor
“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
Photographs of firefighters killed on 9/11 are seen outside the World Trade Center site after the death of accused 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was announced May 2, 2011 in New York City. Bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
We feel compelled to respond today to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States and to the jubilant response across the nation.
A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense.
But as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.
In that sense, President Obama’s sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.
For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.
This event does provide new opportunities for our nation.
President Obama’s respectful treatment of Islam in his remarks, and his declaration that Osama bin Laden’s body was treated with respect according to Islamic custom, offers all of us an opportunity to follow that example and turn away from the rising disrespect toward Muslims in our nation.
A second opportunity is for the United States to reconsider the questionable moves we have made in the name of the war on terror. From our perspective, this includes the indefinite detentions of scores of men at Guantanamo Bay, the failure to undertake an official investigation of detainee interrogation practices, the increase in Predator attacks in Pakistan, and the expansion rather than ending of the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan.
We also now have the opportunity for national reflection on how our broader military and foreign policies — including the placement of our troops throughout the largely Muslim Arab world, our posture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our regular military interventions around the world, create a steady supply of new enemies.
There can never be any moral justification for terrorist attacks on innocent people, such as the terrible deeds of 9/11. But we must recognize that to the extent that our nation’s policies routinely create enemies, we can kill a Bin Laden on May 1 and face ten more like him on May 2. Might it now be possible for us to have an honest national conversation about these issues?
May we learn the right lessons from the news of this day. For Jesus’ sake.
This statement was originally published on the website of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good on May 2, 2011.
David P. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is the co-founder and board chair of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a columnist for the Huffington Post, Washington Post, and Associated Baptist Press, and a contributing editor for Christianity Today. Dr. Gushee also currently serves on the Church Relations Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has published 12 books, including Kingdom Ethics, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Getting Marriage Right, and Only Human.
Osama Bin Laden is dead. God-willing the news is true. Yes, it is a moment to celebrate the death of an evil mastermind. But let us also remember that evil flows in the veins of all of us, as does goodness, and the struggle for goodness over evil is perennial.
The professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina and author of Memories of Muhammad has created an interesting comment thread after updating his Facebook status this morning. What do you think?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor