Last Monday, the world learnt largely through the internet the unfolding of the news of the death of Osama bin Laden. This news was met by various groups of people, and the media showed how they reacted to it. The New York Times webpage showed many clips and photos of people who were jubilant and ecstatic, almost as if America had won some major international sporting event, with car horns blaring into the dawn. I must say that I was bothered and saddened as I saw what went on.
I tried putting myself into the shoes of the many millions of lives who had been badly affected by terrorism. Yes, I myself may not have been directly affected in large ways. Perhaps in small ways, I was. I have become more careful and vigilant about my surroundings, perhaps living in some degree of paranoia, and insecurity, and it is most apparent when I need to travel internationally. Visits to the States nowadays require us to remove all footwear, undergo scans and searches, and accept these as de rigueur. But I cannot say that I have lost a loved one in the collapse and destruction on the World Trade Centre in New York on Sept 11 2001, or even known anyone personally who did. Putting myself in their shoes, it would not be hard to feel the anger, resentment and bitterness that can envelope and darken one's world, and want some form of retribution. But when news of Bin Laden’s death is announced, would I rejoice and be happy?
The larger and more important question that every single one of us needs to ask ourselves is why would anyone's death make us happy? The fact that another human being who shares my very same dignity as God's child is no longer alive, no longer breathing and existing in this form must weaken my own existence. Of course, the greater the contribution that this person made to humanity, the more I will be aware of this, and feel a certain diminution of my own humanity.
But what if this other human being was an apparent mastermind behind some very heinous and egregious crimes against humanity? Can this justify extermination? The upholding of the dignity of every human person is a very Catholic (read UNIVERSAL) mind, which unfortunately, is not very universal. What seems to be much more universal is an 'eye-for-an-eye' mentality which makes us all live in a very inhumane way. Some of us may even argue quite convincingly that now that Osama bin Laden is dead, the world is a safer place. But doesn't this also mean that we who have sanctioned, supported and justified a man's murder have failed to make the world a safer place too?
The Blessed Karol Wojtyla, also known to the world as the late Pope John Paul II who was beatified only last week in Rome sent the world the key to universal peace and healing when he went to the prison cell to forgive his assassin Mehmet Ali Agca after he recovered from the assassination attempt in 1981.
Yes, it is true that Agca never plotted a wave of terror or sent planes into buildings killing thousands of innocent people. He never masterminded anything close to a network of terrorists in various parts of the world. But numbers alone cannot justify our sense of elation, jubilation and joy at the death of any one person. And it must not. It is because we think in terms of numbers and have a disjointed sense of justice that we find ourselves picketing for the upholding of the death penalty instead of a chance for reform or long-term incarceration to keep dangerous minds from harming innocent folk. And we think we are better off with one of us dead.
Two thousand years after the public cry for the release of Barabbas in exchange for the crucifixion of Jesus, we should have learnt the tremendous lesson of forgiveness when he said from the Cross "forgive them for they know not what they do". The Blessed Pope John Paul II put that into action in that jail visit to Agca in 1981.
Apparently, most of us haven't yet learnt that lesson well, and feel more or less justified with the deaths that we cause or feel jubilant over, all in the name of 'justice'.