The Left is often morally confused when it comes to issues of violence and death. A textbook example of such mixed-up thinking was an opinion column in a local newspaper by Jo Page (a sometime Lutheran pastor), concerning reactions to bin Laden’s killing. (Here’s a link to it.)
Page writes of “reprisal and revenge” which “perpetuate a cycle of violence.” This would apply where some grievance is avenged not upon actual perpetrators but innocent people who happen to be members of the same “tribe.” Such “collective punishment” is unfortunately all too common in the world, and does perpetuate violence. But Americans in general have outgrown that primitive mentality. We know it’s wrong.
In contrast, where a culprit himself is punished, the proper terminology is not “reprisal and revenge” but “justice.” This is the concept the Left often has trouble with, confusing justice with revenge, and hence in turn with unjustified reprisal.
But humans evolved with powerful instincts for justice and fairness, and hence seeing a transgressor punished evokes strong – and appropriate – positive emotions. Consequently, punishment of crime is a key pillar of organized society, and it’s also integral to society’s key purpose of protecting its members. That’s what celebrations of bin Laden’s death mainly reflected. Americans were glad that a measure of justice had been achieved, and a threat removed.
This doesn’t, as Page says, “[reveal] a dehumanizing contempt for life.” To the contrary, it was precisely because Americans value life so highly that we felt so wounded by 9/11. It was to honor the human lives lost that we pursued justice through punishing their killer. And to those who say Osama was a human being too, after all, I would answer that his crimes removed him from the reverence we normally accord to human life. While one does have a fundamental human right not to be killed, a person who violates that right of others forfeits his own right to enjoy life.
We thusly have no qualms about depriving criminals of their enjoyment of life by locking them up; for a heinous killer to lose his right to life altogether is not so great a further step. No, that does not bring back the dead victims; but neither does imprisoning the murder. Why is it right to punish crimes at all?
Because there is no justice to be had in some imagined future life; the only justice we can achieve is what we accomplish here on Earth. And the definition of justice is people getting what they deserve – whether it be rewards for virtue or punishment for evil.
Page, true to form, simulates moral sophistication by mocking the notion of a “dualistic world” wherein some persons are seen as embodying evil. Such aversion to black-and-white, and viewing everything only as shades of grey, is symptomatic of the postmodernist denial that anything means anything. It’s a way of simply shirking the human responsibility to make moral judgments. Yet contradictorily, Page herself says “[e]vil remains very much with us,” and “we must be committed to stand” against it.” Surely that applied to bin Laden. And, when a victory in that battle against evil is won, why might it be considered somehow wrong to rejoice?
Page also, like many, draws a parallel between that rejoicing and some Muslims “dancing in the streets” to celebrate 9/11. But 9/11 involved the murder of innocent people, and celebrating it was sick. Bin Laden was not innocent, and his death was just punishment for his horrific crimes. There is no analogy. It’s bizarre that liberals who are so into nuance and complexity can be blind to such non-subtle distinctions.
Oddly, Page herself writes that “we are our better selves when we acknowledge the distinction between enacting justice and celebrating violence.” Which is exactly what she fails to do.