Sunday, April 14, 2024 -
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THE moment I heard the news of Osama’s death, I felt good. That primal feeling of wanting justice in this world, of the innocent good guys winning and the bad guys getting their due, is hard wired into us humans. And so for a moment, it felt good. The river of emotion and American pride that surged throughout the country was inspiring. The chants of USA! USA! all over, and the spontaneous outburst of USA! chant that rose at the Philly-Mets game, deadlocked in the ninth inning, was pretty special. I was proud of America. It felt like the end of epoch.

Proud of the military. Super proud of the Navy Seals, and especially a toast to Seal team 6! All those years of searching for Osama, of crossing over into war, those long days and nights of servicemen and servicewomen — what they fought for, the convoys and combats, were somehow compressed into this one moment of news: Osama is dead.

It sent a message to the world and, most poignantly, to us Americans.

Then, of course, came all the linguistic mix-ups of Obama and Osama, confusing subject and object. Squeals of, “Obama is really dead??” or, “Did you hear? they got Obama. Dead!” So, Obama got Osama. Then for a couple of days, a silly debate about who really got Osama. I really didn’t understand the point or need for that discussion. Obviously, a complicated hunt for Osama spanning so many years was a cumulative effort. But it culminated on President Obama’s watch, to his credit, with him coordinating the powers that be — a gutsy and effective plan. Kol hakavod!

I wasn’t expecting it, but colliding emotions hit me. I wasn’t even in New York (a place I called home for quite some years) on 9/11. I was living in Israel, dealing with those terrorist attacks, pigu’im, in the intifada. But on the day when 9/11 hit we all became New Yorkers.

And so on Sunday night as well.

I couldn’t erase that horrifyingly iconic image rushing back, of innocent civilians who just went to work that day, jumping to their deaths from windows in towers aflame, their flight indistinguishable from birds. Thoughts of the firefighters and NYPD came rushing at me. And then all those intimate 9/11 stories of pain and loss of beloveds . . .

SO many discussions and opinions are swirling around. Of course, there is the camp that feels that Osama should have been captured and put on trial. In fact, I myself wondered that in the second after my elation, but not out of consideration for Osama’s civil rights. Rather, I thought of the Eichmann trial.

It was an opportunity for survivors to come forth with their evidence, and a turning point in how the world viewed survivors and the Holocaust. The Eichmann trial was, after years of silence, a turning point for survivors themselves. Now they felt somewhat understood and received  empathy. They faced their evil tormentor and saw him hanged.

I don’t think political assassinations, the act of taking a human life, even when it is by a sovereign state, and even of enemies, is something to be taken lightly. I have always supported the Shin Bet of Israel in their assassination decisions (of course, Israel is always criticized, even by America, when she takes such action in the interests of her security; but for the US it looks like there is a different standard —a different topic). Israel seems to be as careful with who, why and how they execute their enemies as possible.

It’s sad, but some extreme and isolated cases of monstrous actions do cause one to forfeit his civil rights. Osama crossed that line when he sent airplanes into office buildings on 9/11. On that day, his civil rights were eclipsed forever.

I THINK it is sad to see a tzelem elokim, a human being created in the image of G-d, sink so low to become a demonic, sociopathic, mass murderer. I have compassion for the fact that a person has reached the depths of depravity. But I don’t reserve such compassion for the person’s actions. I don’t believe in giving such a person the opportunity for a fair trial, military or otherwise.

Will laws erode over time if every demonic, mass-murdering enemy of our country does not receive due process of the law?

I don’t think so. I think every rule of law has radical exceptions. That is part of the strength and risk of a system of law, especially with bin Laden, a declared enemy combatant of the US — never mind that he still had the power to harm more innocents, thus making him, however upsetting killing someone is, a justified target.

The sad truth is that Osama bin Laden came from unbelievable wealth. The resources he had at his fingertips were staggering. His life, at the very least, was a wasted life. He could have changed world hunger, or at least hunger among his countrymen, or helped discover a cure for a disease. Instead, he became a fake, posing as a holy Muslim leader, meanwhile spreading evil throughout the world, bombing and murdering his way through life.

SO back to the beginning about feeling glad upon hearing the news of Osama’s death. It didn’t last long. What are we happy about? Yes, there is that sense of justice in the short term. But the deaths that might, heaven forbid, come to pass in the long term as a result of Osama’s death is a frightening thought to contemplate. When dealing with such people who act without conscience, it is frightening to think of the consequences.

Osama was one of many terrorists. He has his Al Qaida “disciples.” Sometimes it can feel like the Chinese expression of emptying the ocean with a thimble.

One unexpected change from 9/11 is the recent wave of youth in the Middle East rebelling against all these evil autocrats. Who knows. Maybe it is a fantasy, but maybe, the wave of the future in some of these Arab countries will be self-governance and not Osama & Co. worship.

Let us hope.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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