Muir Beach, May 4, 2011

by Norman Fischer | May 04, 2011 at 12:54 PM

Bin Laden is dead.  It's a great victory for America and Obama they say and maybe it will help us to recognize that the War against terror should never have been a war and that now we can declare that it is over.  Fight terror and find terrorists, but bring troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.  This is good.  But it is of course impossible to rejoice over the death of a human being, any human being.  I have never shared the feeling of Bin Laden as a devil, as evil incarnate.  He was a human being with a powerfully destructive belief system, not Islam, that he came by honestly, through the powerfully negative forces of history.  He is us when we are resentful and full of fury over the injustices that have happened to us, when we lash out.  Us magnified and twisted beyond recognition.

Interesting column by David Brooks today in which he says that the source of Bin Laden charisma was his piety and gentleness. That in personal matters he was kind, forgiving, and asking for forgiveness when he was less than thoughtful.  That he was generous in his approbation of his colleagues.  That his handshake was gentle, his gaze benign.

In fact this seems true, judging from photos.  Not true of Hitler who looked nasty. Not that Bin Laden was not nasty.  Yet it seems he was not a soldier not a killer but a religious idealist.  His example shows the power of that sort of idealism, its capacity to inspire others, and it's enormous destructive power. Thomas Merton (courtesy of Joan Halifax):

The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody.  He trusts his own visions.  He obeys the attractions of an interior voice, but will not listen to other men.  He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel, within his own heart, a big, warm, sweet interior glow.  The sweeter and the warmer the feeling, the more he is convinced of his own infallibility.  And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he really is a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or a religious order or even a nation. The world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.

Another recent magazine piece I'm reminded of, in The New Yorker, about Obama's foreign policy, notes that there's a gender split in the State Department (amazing in itself that there could be enough women in the Department with a woman's point of view that there could be a gender split).  Hillary and her female allies emphasizing "soft" power, society, culture, poverty, women's issues in particular, with the men emphasizing "hard" power, high level diplomacy, force, states.  Maybe the death of Bin Laden will usher in a new era of soft power, which is going to work better in the long run.  Something in foreign policy that for a change we can feel good about.

Karma: this is the way Bin Laden wanted to die, the way his actions dictated that he would die.  No way he was going to die of old age, peacefully in his bed.  His successors will not equal him.  They will be warriors, not gentle, ruthless, determined souls.  They won't  inspire unity of vision and religious inspiration. Al Qaida is mortally wounded.


Norman Fischer