The top CNN headline today, on May 2, 2011, is the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of U.S. special forces. The following detail from the article about his killing and death likely raises questions in the minds of many:
Bin Laden’s body was later buried at sea, an official said. Many Muslims adhere to the belief that bodies should be buried within one day.
Why would U.S. forces (or US contracted security forces, as the case may be) choose to bury the body of Bin Laden at sea when the world will doubtless demand incontrovertible proof of his death?
My best answer to this question is that by burying Bin Laden at sea, the United States sought to avoid the creation of a memorial, shrine, and pilgrimage site for Bin Laden and his cause following his death. The same CNN article indicated that DNA testing was underway to confirm his identity. One of the strategic objectives of the United States in its declared “war on terror” is to avoid actions which would promote the “martyrdom” of key terrorist leaders who oppose the United States and support the use of violence to destroy both the country and its interests.
Think back to the days of Christ and the Roman Empire. Just as Roman leaders of the time, leaders of the United States today have used violence to kill the key leader of a revolutionary movement. (Of course Jesus did not advocate violence in a revolutionary cause, as Bin Laden did, but both were killed in efforts to stem revolutionary movements.) The word martyr, according to WikiPedia, has an etymology (word history) which can be traced back to the death of Christ. I’m certainly not intending to elevate the life and role of Bin Laden in making this comparison. Rather, I’m drawing a historical parallel in an attempt to understand a specific question: Why was Osama Bin Laden buried at sea?
Muslim religious practices generally specify a dead person should be buried as soon as possible. The question of what to do with Bin Laden’s body once he was found and killed (if that happened and he was not captured) was doubtless addressed by US military planners long ago. Given the available options, it makes sense U.S. leaders (if given the choice) would favor the option least likely to amplify and showcase Bin Laden and his ideals following his death. If he was buried in a Pakistani, Afghani, or (more likely) Saudi grave, that site would almost certainly become a shrine for him and his cause. Viewed from this perspective, the decision of U.S. policymakers (and we can rest assured this decision was made at the highest levels) to bury Bin Laden at sea makes rational sense.
Several weeks ago, at the TEDxOKC event in Oklahoma City, I heard US interrogator Eric Maddox discuss the highly successful interrogation and negotiation techniques which he employed in Iraq to locate Saddam Hussein. His story is currently being made into a movie, Mission Black List. At the conclusion of his speech, Eric stated (in humble yet clear terms) his unequivocal belief that his interrogation methods, if allowed to be used in Afghanistan, would result in the location and capture of Osama Bin Laden. Today, many people may be surprised that Bin Laden at last was found and killed by U.S. security forces. After hearing Eric describe the successful methods he used to locate Saddam Hussein at TEDxOKC several weeks ago, today’s announcement about Bin Laden comes as much LESS of a surprise to me.
Our family heard this news today before my girls left for school. My ten year old asked me, in reference to the killing and death of Osama Bin Laden, “Is that a good thing?” My answer to her was this: It is never a good thing when a human being dies or is killed. Osama Bin Laden was the primary planner and organizer of the 9-11 attacks on the United States. Our nation as been at war against Bin Laden and his terror network for over nine years. Now, he is dead.
That may well be an incomplete answer, and of course at this point we have incomplete information about the specific circumstances surrounding Bin Laden’s capture and killing. Based on the limited information from the press available right now, it is not clear if he was executed after capture or killed during a firefight. I am confident the facts surrounding this situation will emerge.
The issues which surround this specific incident, and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world between individuals as well as organizations who espouse the use of terrorism and violence to promote political change, are extremely important to discuss and understand. While we always have a limited amount of information about a historical event on which we can base our opinions and conclusions, it is wonderful today that our media landscape provides a rich, diverse array of information sources. As the Al Jazeera article today, “Osama bin Laden killed in Pakistan,” notes, U.S. President Barack Obama was clear to point out in his announcement about the death that the United States IS NOT and WILL NOT be at war against Islam or the Muslim people of the world:
“Tonight, I can report to the people of the United States and the world, the United States had carried an operation that has killed Osama bin Laden, a terrorist responsible for killing thousands of innocent people… Today, at my direction, the United States carried out that operation… they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body… We must also reaffirm that United states is not and will never be at war against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, in fact, he slaughtered many Muslims,” Obama said.
In February 2010 I wrote the post, “Message for Oklahoma Christians: Muslims are NOT our enemies.” My thoughts on these issues continue to develop and be informed, most recently by this weekend’s presentation “Muslim Neighbors: Building Bridges or Building Fences? Or Both?” by Mateen Elass at the 2011 MoRanch Men’s Conference near Hunt, Texas. The worldviews of Christians and Muslims have historically been at odds for fundamental differences, and will continue to remain so in the future. These differences in beliefs, prescriptions, and condoned behaviors have historically been misunderstood and misapplied by thousands. The Crusades are the best known examples. I am glad at the time of this announcement, our President was quick to remind a listening world that the United States is not and will not be at war against the Muslim world.
On November 14, 2001, following the 9-11 attacks on the United States, I wrote and published the article, “Time to Weed the Garden.” The 9-11 attacks were a terrible tragedy, and a memory which has been burned into the minds of a generation of United States citizens as well as others around the world. Today’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s capture, killing and death is not the final chapter in this continuing story, but it will doubtless be recorded by historians as a pivotal event. My hope and fervent prayer is that the people of the world would choose to focus on peace and reconciliation in the wake of this news, rather than revenge and more violence.
As leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus Christ have taught us, the path to peace is paved with forgiveness and love rather than hatred and revenge. It is the more difficult road to follow, but the only one which can ultimately bring us both the safety as well as peace we need as human beings to thrive on this planet.
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