Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Justice and Revenge

In yesterday’s Metro newspaper (See, I don’t just get my news from the BBC!), there was a very brief story that I found extremely disturbing.

The shirt worn by the American Navy SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden is to go on display in the 9/11 Museum in New York.  Ostensibly, this is to act as a tribute to ‘recognise the bravery’ of US soldiers.  To me though, it represents a distasteful vindictiveness and vengefulness on the part of a country that is vehemently Christian.

If it were the coat of a fire-fighter who helped during the rescue operation on September the 11th 2001, I would understand and applaud an exhibit representing selflessness and courage.  If it were the jacket of one of the victims, or even one of the survivors, it would represent tragedy and the senseless loss of human life.  If it was the shirt of an American serviceman who’d lost his life fighting the Taliban or in Iraq (or even in the apprehension of Bin Laden, although I don’t believe there were any casualties), I would agree that it could represent and remind us of the bravery of soldiers and other military professionals.  But it’s not.  It’s the shirt of the man who cornered and killed Bin Laden. 

It’s time for the unnecessary disclaimer in which I point out that I execrate Bin Laden and everything he stood for, did and believed in, and that I am well aware that he was a dangerous man and a criminal who needed to be brought to justice.  That he was killed is saddening in that he had no chance to repent of his deeds, but was perhaps justified by the conditions both of his capture and the global military and diplomatic situation at the time.

However, the exhibition of the soldier’s shirt smacks to me not of justice and courage, but of revenge.  When the news broke that Bin Laden had been killed, American papers (and others elsewhere) printed triumphant headlines.  The New York Post’s read ‘GOT HIM!  Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard!’  The Daily News went with ‘Rot in Hell!’  I’m not American, and I’ve no idea about the quality of these papers, nor can I claim that our tabloids wouldn’t go with something very similar in the same position.  However, our country no longer makes any realistic claim to be a Christian nation, whereas religious rhetoric seems to be common in America.

A couple of Sundays ago, one of the readings was from Paul’s letter to the Romans, and in it he exhorted the Roman Christians not to take revenge, but to leave it to God.  ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord.  I will repay.’  Obviously earthly justice needs to be done, and criminals and terrorists prevented from committing more crimes, and punished and (if possible) rehabilitated.  Others should be deterred from committing similar acts.  Bin Laden’s death, though regrettable was probably both justified and necessary.  America’s jubilation at the news can certainly be understood, if not entirely condoned.

However, to me what this exhibit seems to be doing is making a relic of the shirt, celebrating neither courage or justice, but revenge and the death of a man, and if America made no claims to be Christian, it wouldn’t bother me nearly so much.  Terrestrial justice has been done, but now surely we should leave Bin Laden in the hands of his maker, and not crow over his death.

I am well aware that I am not American, not a New Yorker, and not someone who lost a loved one to the terrorist attacks on the 11th of September.  I feel no vindictiveness or need for vengeance against the men who perpetrated the bombings in London, although again neither myself nor anyone I know was directly involved in them.  I hope that I wouldn’t even if that was the case, although I can’t know it.

I hope and pray that I will never have to find out, and that if I do, I will be able to leave the final justice to God.

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