Because it’s the elephant in the room

2 May

It seems inappropriate to blog here about the death of Bin Laden and evasive not to. After all, if there were ever a test case for advocates of restorative justice, prison reform, and prison abolition–and Razor Wire Women includes all three perspectives–Osama Bin Laden was it. I, like millions of Americans (though not all of this book’s contributors, I’m sure), would have shot the man myself. I am impressed by the bravery and diligence of those who brought him down.

Yet I am troubled–disgusted–by the mood of celebration that has gripped the country. If there is one thing that prison reformers, prison abolitionists, and everybody else should be able to agree on, it’s that life and death are serious propositions. They matter. The existence, and the extinguishing, of any human being–whether humans are conceived as image-bearers of God, tiny parts of the Great Whole, servants of the Goddess, potential Buddhas, unique products of billions’ of years’ evolution, or what have you–is a big deal. No matter the awfulness of one particular individual’s crimes, death can never be celebrated. After all, it is the wish to take the deaths of crime victims seriously that inspires so many good-hearted people to advocate for or defend the present cruel, counterproductive, self-delusive system.

I come from a family of death-penalty supporters: people not automatically sympathetic to the project of Razor Wire Women. And yet my father has always spoken of the death penalty gravely. After Saddam Hussein (another test case!) was hanged, his reaction was awe and fear for the man’s soul. Contrast that with Mike Huckabee’s statement, in which he says “Welcome to Hell, Mr. Bin Laden.” If I held Huckabee’s beliefs about Hell, I’d be terrified of the idea of anyone going there, no matter who they were! When we start to wish that sort of thing on other people we create hell within ourselves.

Another thought. President Obama has said, of this death, “Justice is done.” President Obama knows enough about justice, and the history of the social movements that have fought for it (even if he’s had to forget half of what he knows simply in order to maintain his place in the institution he heads), to know that justice is never done. And the violence that brought down Bin Laden is not done either. There will be reprisals against US embassies and soldiers, and reprisals against the reprisers, and reprisals against the reprisers against the reprisers. We live in a terribly violent world. I write this blog posting for all those, including I suspect many RWW readers and contributors, who find in Bin Laden’s death mainly another reminder of this sober fact.


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