Killing the “Enemy:” What Happened to Nonviolence?

May 6th, 2011, by


At the demise of Osama bin Laden, I felt tremendous grief – for his victims and their families, for the United States and its loss on September 11th and for Osama bin Laden himself. He was a man after all. A man who went astray and used his life for evil purposes.

That last part might make many people uncomfortable or angry – that I felt grief for bin Laden. You can let me know how you feel in the comments below. But first, you must understand my moral compass always points me in the direction of love, compassion, forgiveness and bridge-building. I do not believe in “enemies.” I adhere to a belief that every person on this planet (EVERY PERSON) is a member of a global family. We are brothers and sisters. And when our brothers or sisters go astray and injure another member of the family, we are obligated to pray for them (if you believe in prayer) and to bring them to justice.

That brings me to bin Laden’s killing.

The United States, under the leadership of President Obama (a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, no less) shot and killed a man. Granted, this man was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, but why not capture him and bring him to trial? Killing him was revenge. What message does that send about the United States? That we are violent? That we use force to solve our problems? That we hunt down our enemies, annihilate them and thump our chests?

And that brings me to the celebrations in the streets.

Some Americans, upon learning of the death of bin Laden, took to the streets to celebrate his death. They cheered and shouted and clapped as if they were at a parade.

So my grief continues.

I do not delight in the fact that the United States answered violence with violence. I do not delight in the fact that we cheered in the streets about it. I celebrate the demise of no one. Even the demise of a man who caused as much destruction as Osama bin Laden. I also wonder where our moral leaders are. Who will speak up and speak out about our preoccupation with the use of force to solve our country’s problems?

And for those of you who care to be reminded, one of our country’s fallen moral leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed this issue in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later, all the peoples of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Read Dr. King’s full remarks here and share your thoughts below. What was your reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden?

  • Shelly

    It is a natural and immediate response to feel victorious whenever the opponent goes down. Though it may seem cold and heartless, I believe that some have not thought it through completely, considering the repercussion that might follow. Additionally, as stated, Bin Laden didn’t have the chance to a fair trial and as we are learning, he had taken a back seat with his involvement in Al-Qaeda. Sure it was a needless war with precious lives lost and valuable money spent; and, we live in a country where we’re led to believe that violence wins.

  • Eva Gordon

    I was so glad to read this post. I am an American living abroad and have been ashamed at the victorious tone with which the killing of this man has been discussed in our American media. I have followed this story with sorrow, not pride, because of the way our military, led by our President (whom I deeply admire) exercised a total lack of interest in the laws and the ethics which have built our nation and lifted us forward from the time of the civil war to the age of Obama. I agree that we cannot meet violence with violence and expect anything but continued strife between peoples. If this is not our goal, if instead our goal is peace, and working together toward a common good, then we must stop resorting to muscle and guns.

  • Brett Mungo

    Life long resident of the United States and I would say that my knee jerk reaction was less moderate than your own. I assumed it was a fabrication, “We finally found the guy who is the reason you citizenry have supported our continued war across the globe–and we shot him in the head and dumped his body in the sea last night. Moving on…next question?”. Whoa!

    We have a govt acting above its own laws. The world must know many do not believe that foreign occupation is in our interest at all. Time to show the world we are opposed to all war against civilians.

  • Brian

    Osama bin Laden was enemy number one of the U.S for the past 10 years. His death brought out a lot of pent up emotions in several people. I for one was elated he was dead. I see nothing wrong with celebrating the death of thus madman.

  • Rosa Rangel

    That’s great, Tamika. I think exactly the same. “Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.” And i also think we need to pray for all them, mainly Obama – he is a very bad example.

  • Z_na

    Did one who lived by the sword deserve to die by the sword? I too contend strength and honor can be found in silence and embracing moral and ethical codes. It sadden me to know we could disregard ethics, morals and our so called christian values so easily and quickly. Yet, on the other hand I was not surprised at the cheering and clapping in the streets because as time progresses, I am witnessing self serving, rude folk who justify their actions – it’s all done in the name of love.

  • Megan DaGata

    I couldn’t agree more with writer of this article. The reaction that Sec. Clinton had, a little shock and awe, would have been more appropriate than the disenfranchised celebrations for solving a problem with violence. We as a world have evolved passed violence. We should have handled it a little more like Hussein. But had the world court at the Hague make the choice. I am completely against a one world government but in this situation it shouldn’t have been up to us or to NATO.

  • Dee

    My grief goes out to the young black men who are incarcerated and murdered over senseless acts of violence! I grieve when I see a child who lost their parent(s) to drugs! I grieve when I see a child turned away from a hospital because the parent has no insurance to cover the visit! Bin Laden! Never will I grieve over a man who was born into wealth and use that money to do the devils work! Bin Laden’s ideology included the idea that innocent civilians, including women and children, are legitimate targets of jihad he was anti-Semitic, and delivered warnings against alleged Jewish conspiracies! You and Mr. Smiley should go out and walk the streets at night and have a talk with the young brothers and sisters and tell them to stop resorting to muscle and guns! By the way Osama bin Laden hated blacks! By the way Bin Laden was shot before he could reach his AK-47 according to his wife Amal, and was not armed. He nonetheless resisted capture before he was shot!

  • Elaine

    While I’m not prone to praying and am not opposed to the death penalty, I was taken aback by the celebration in the streets. It reminded me somehow of images I have seen of other countries burning the American flag or an American leader in effigy. I don’t believe we would have celebrated so if it had been one of our own, no matter the crimes they might have been accused.

  • Mary Spicer

    First of all I have to say, I will not celebrate any human beings death. Secondly, I will say especially a Man of Color! I know many do not understand this statement, but I really could careless. As, I am taught to forgive. I pray that President Obama was not as delighted as it appeared his staff was.. I know that violence begats violence and I hope that we are not so blind to think, this Man Bin Laden woke up one morning and had an Idea of destruction towards the United States! My Father taught me to look at all the evidence! We should have learned this thorugh the Justice System in which our Youngmen continue to be sentenced only in part of there crimes, but in majority of there race!

    I was truly saddened to see an article where a wife whom lost her husband, state that now her son can be at peace! This saddened me because this young boy about 12 years old, was without a father! But, also how can you be at peace being rejoiceful? He is still without a Father!

    My concern is that we the United States preach innocent until proven guilty! We should stand on that, even while not on United States Soil. We have to stand on the words in which this country was built and in which our youngmen die for!

    I Pray that we learn the lessons being displayed in front of us, before it is too late!

  • Jonathan G

    It struck me, watching the celebrating crowds jubilant at the news of Bin Laden’s assassination, that this was no different in tone or manner to the jubilant crowds CNN captured in the Middle East dancing at the new of the 9/11 attack on the WTC. Revenge is only skin deep. We can heap scorn on the Arabs dancing on our graves yet will resort to precisely the same behavior in a heartbeat. In the old days we called this shameful hypocrisy. What lessons do we teach our children with acts of revenge and self-righteous hypocrisy? We don’t. All we do is perpetuate never-ending acts of violence. And in the end, nothing changes. An eye for an eye. When the human consciousness awakes at a global level one day in a very distant future, though, all will then understand the message of Gandhi, of Christ, of Martin Luther King, of Pope John Paul – that nothing is solved through hate and violence, but all can be healed through tolerance, compassion, love. And courage. The right thing would’ve been to bring Bin Laden to trial, just as they did the Nazis at Nuremberg. The world needed to see, Germany needed to see, humanity needed to see – that revenge by the victors would simply have reduced us all to nothing better than those who perpetrated the crimes in the first place. Justice is not a bullet though the head. It’s about bringing to account those who have hurt others. Justice must be seen to be working in order that others may better grasp and understand that there is another way.

  • Tony Dean Smith

    Hi Tavis. Thank you so much for posting this. I completely agree. One day, we will wake up to realize that our children are emulating our every move. When governments solve their problems by going to war, it is no mystery as to why kids open fire at school or employees open fire at work. Solving problems through violence is rampant in our society – and it starts at the very top. I was very disappointed to hear that we murdered Bin Laden. What an example it could have set to the entire world if Obama refused to play the “tit for tat” game. What a marvellous precedent it would have set if we rose above the animal nature of our selves and stepped into a new era of non-violence. Here’s another quote from Dr. King that I personally love. My best to you and the world, Tony Dean Smith. “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” – Martin Luthor King, Jr.

  • Lisa

    I don’t believe violence is the appropriate response to all differences, but it is appropriate to SOME.

    There are times in this world, when one must be sacrificed to save all.
    We should not celebrate the sacrifice however, instead, we should celebrate the lives saved.

  • Tamika Thompson

    Thank you for the comments, everyone. I am happy to learn that I am not alone in my thinking on this issue. I think Eva said it best in her comment: “we must stop resorting to muscle and guns.”

  • amelie

    This is the message we need to be hearing. We need a voice of reason to state the obvious.
    I thought the same thing when I saw the dancing in the street. We called them barbarians when they did it. What does that make us ?
    It played out like a bad movie.

  • Lora

    I’m seeing this very late, & I’m sorry for that, because there are some very glaringly inaccurate analogies/ comparisons/ equivalencies here that I still feel a need to address.
    First, I agree that non-violence trumps violence whenever possible. Dr, King was a true Christian who followed Christ’s actual example– a very rare thing in this world, much less in a LEADER in this world. But Dr. King’s fight is not equivalent to the response to 911. To make an equation does Dr. King a grave disservice. Dr. King is largely responsible for many positive changes in this world. It is hard to say exactly how he would have addressed Islamist Jihadist violence; his leadership is missed here as in so many areas of national & international suffering & conflict.
    My response on hearing of Bin Laden’s death was also grief, but it was more in the realm of PTSD; his death brought back the horror of 911. It also underlined the intransigence of the Jihadist position: Bin Laden had 10 years in which he could have tried ANY tactic over or other than ugly, hateful, violent terrorism. But he towed the line of hate & violent terror to his grave. That is truly tragic, for his own soul but especially for the many who followed him & the many who died as a result of the wars in response (often wrong or even immoral, but nevertheless we enjoy the freedoms that Jihadists would steal & that American Soldiers protect) to his terrorism.
    The false & frankly offensive equivalency that strikes me most is the equating of the definitely misled, mostly young, people who cheered BL’s demise with the cheering of some people over 911.
    One avowed warrior vs. 3,000 civilians. One man vs. 3000. A man who is RESPONSIBLE for a sneak attack on a completely unprepared civilian population, a man who was killed in order to STOP him from continuing his murderous quest as much as for revenge or even justice. No, those 2 things are not equivalent.
    I would also add that — as much as the cheering seemed wrong to me at the time, in retrospect I realize that some of those young people MAY have been cheering what they HOPED would be the END to the wars sparked by 911, rather than Bin Laden‘s death.
    Bin Laden was like Jared Loughner, shooting into unarmed crowds without remorse & with no intention of stopping– except Bin Laden stayed in hiding.. He had to be found & he had to be taken into custody. He had 10 years in which to surrender, & it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which he could have been taken alive.

Last modified: May 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm