I read the news this morning with a kind of muted surprise: Osama bin Laden is finally dead. There’s lots to puzzle over at the moment, from his secret compound outside the Pakistani capital and literally down the street from a military academy (yet more evidence of the complexities of the region), to whether it would have been better to capture him and put him on trial (I would have infinitely more favored that approach, especially given the fact that the adventurous way in which he was killed shall doubtlessly result in yet more accusations of American imperial cowboyism).
Personally-speaking, though, as a New Yorker and as a Baha’i, I’m — how best to say this? — stilled that justice has finally been served. Bin Laden’s ideology of hatred gave terrible credence to Baha’u’llah’s warning, “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench.” At the same time, however, it is precisely that violence I’m so exhausted by, and not only the physical violence, but the emotional and intellectual violence, as well. Some kind of blinding madness has seized control of parts of the Muslim and Western worlds; sensibility and conversation has ceased for many, and in its place has been the din of irrationality.
A key part of this has been the modernization of some very ancient and animalistic impulses. Consider this poem, written by bin Laden himself:
A youth, who plunges into the smoke of war, smiling
He hunches forth, staining the blades of lances red
May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent
Humans, should they fall, Djinn, should they ride
[And] lions of the jungle, whose only fangs
[Are their] lances and short Indian swords
As the stallion bears my witness that I hold them back
[My] stabbing is like the cinders of fire that explode into flame
On the day of the stallions’ expulsion, how the war-cries attest to me
As do stabbing, striking, pens, and books.
For my first Master’s thesis I spent a lot of time studying the Jahili tradition of Arabic poetry (الشعر الجاهلي), so reading this boggles my mind: how could a man who professes to be a Muslim profess such pagan sentiments?
This is to say nothing of the technophilia that seems to have enraptured so many of my own countrymen. During the Bush years, and continuing right on through the Obama years, we’ve spent countless billions on war trinkets and gadgets, finding ever cooler ways to kill people, but we can’t even decide upon a reasonable form of socialized healthcare for ourselves?
My nation is increasingly resembling the Soviet Union in the way in which the military-industrial network (or, nowadays, the military-corporate network) is at the center of our economy. Consider this graph by the US Census Bureau on military versus non-military spending,
and then consider how little else we produce in terms of goods, either materially or in terms of the knowledge economy.
Behind it all, I’m concerned there is some kind of, well, in Freudian terms, thanophilic push, some archaic paganistic instinct toward annihilation, up to and including the death worship of al-Qaeda et al. But in less esoteric terms, we are clearly still grossly misprioritizing as a civilization. May God be with us.