I've just returned from an uplifting author tour with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi for her new book The Golden Cage, to be met with a near opposite experience at the death of Osama bin Laden.
Whereas Dr. Ebadi is a moderate Muslim seeking equality and democracy for all through nonviolent means, OBL sought to exploit people with messages of superiority, intolerance, and violence.
There is significance in contrasting these two followers of Islam. While we can and do rejoice with Dr. Ebadi for her moderateness and sensibility, for her love of freedom and democracy, one would think OBL would be held in opposite light. But no, his death is bringing a rejoicing of another kind.
The general reaction to OBL's death saddens me. I understand it is a relief to some, in particular bless those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those brave soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their families and loved ones also have my heartfelt sympathies and I hope for their comforting. Beyond the immediate jubilation over his death, I do hope that the nation and world will temper its emotions and see this for what it is, the human tragedy of violent struggle.
The world is a better place without him. But there is little to rejoice about in OBL' s death. There are consequences for how we experience the death of our enemies--for those on what is now an open battlefield including targeting civilians, and for those who are bystanders. There are consequence for taking the easy way out to rid ourselves of complex relationships.
What is the rationale for letting relationships get so bad that conversation can no longer begin to address the roots of our differences? To kill our enemies is a short term fix. In some sense, we dodged a bullet, while OBL clearly did not. Our fate as a society and as a species depends on us reaching out to understand one another. Because killing to resolve conflict dangerously insulates the survivors from a higher responsibility that requires understanding one another. How much longer can we dodge that bullet?
There are many peaceful, moderate, lovely people practicing the beautiful religion of Islam. The followers also include hot tempered fanatics. As Dr. Ebadi pointed out in one of her recent speeches, in the United States the sensitive subject of abortion has made enemies of friends and fanatically divided pro-life and pro-choice believers. Please don't mistake this to equate murderous Al Queda with others. The point is that all religions have internal, socio-political struggles and all have worrisome trouble-makers. Some obviously more severe than others.
It is time again, to remind ourselves of the senselessness of violence. In this particular case at this particular time in history, we are burdened with the responsibility to end the violence with the Muslim world. Burdened because we must also repair what our predecessors failed to take care of in addition to taking care of our own doings. There are so many, Dr. Ebadi being only one of them, who are well-educated, well-intentioned, and well-deserving citizens who follow Islam and are ready to talk about peace.
Nonviolence is not an ideal, it is a practical approach to living together. Conflicts will still arise, hatred and bigotry will still flare, but we can insist there are limits to how far we will let things escalate. Right now we will still let relationships decay to the point of violence. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard on what is acceptable behavior for resolving differences.