I’ve been trying to work out why I find the scenes of jubilation at Bin Laden’s assassination so disturbing. Part of it is that these people celebrating have, quite clearly, appropriated other people’s grief – they can’t possibly all have lost people in al-Quaeda attacks (many of which haven’t happened in the US), they can’t all have been personally affected, and yet they’ve decided they have been personally harmed, their response to his death is a personal response. I really understand that those damaged or who have lost people in terrorist attacks now feel a sense of closure, I understand that have been waiting for this – both those who were not at all personally affected? What right do they have to another person’s grief?
I was brought up by two people who had both not only lived through, but also fought in WW2. My mother was in the British army, was bombed out of three homes during the war, lost friends and welcomed home a damaged husband (her first, before my father), she also lost a stillborn baby during the war, no doubt due to everything that was going on around her. My father in the RNZAF was shot down over Germany and was a PoW for over four years. His was a war of brief excitement and fear and then long deprivation and greater fear.
Neither of them ever spoke about Germans as ‘them’, they taught us about politics, that a people can be taken over by a dictator and propaganda, they taught us that the ‘other side’ were not evil* or wicked, that actions could be wicked, not people. They became strongly anti-nuclear and loathed all talk of future wars. They believed in better means, in dialogue.
They both lost so much to war, not least their youth, and yet they weren’t full of vengeance and they certainly didn’t teach us, their children, that kind of behaviour. Patriotism, lightly worn, is fine I think, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of one’s country as long as it isn’t blind belief and as long as it always welcomes questioning as well as support, hope and work for a better home – no country is perfect already! Jingoism on the other hand, smells like mob rule and hysteria. Terrifying, whoever is exhibiting it, especially when it’s allied to appropriated grief.
* this calling people ‘evil’ – when we call someone evil, we’re suggesting their actions are non-human, beyond human. They’re not, human beings are capable of dreadful atrocities. That’s what’s so hard to understand and why we all need to be mindful, both about our own feelings and those we encourage in others. There is no evil, there is no devil prompting dreadful actions, there’s just us, people doing things that are dreadful and wonderful, because if we’re capable of huge atrocities, we’re also capable of huge good.