And, this is Who we Aren't...
When I first heard the news of the US raid on Abbottabad, it was the same sadness came over me as on the day in New York City when the planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
In 2001, I was in midtown Manhattan and watched the towers burn, people tumbling from their heights, through the viewfinder of my Sony video camera, on a 16th floor balcony on Madison Avenue between 39th and 38th Streets. As I did so, I glanced up at the Empire State building just a few blocks away as if it might be next.
When the towers fell I was in my office, having no stomach to watch the inevitable end. I was primarily a pastor responsible for some 400 New York City Christians, some of whom worked in the World Trade Center. I knew it, and so I began to turn my attention to making contact with them all.
My first instinct was to assure my family back in Australia, that I was not near the towers. I sent an email. Clear to me in that moment, as a permanent resident in process of obtaining a green card: the US would vow revenge and use its extraordinary military might to get it. I emailed home that afternoon how I hoped against hope that there would not be this knee jerk response.
The way I know Christ, as one of his followers, is to turn the other cheek. To receive the blows rather than dish them out. To overcome evil with good. But it’s human nature to justify violence in the name of God. And so it turned out. Bin Laden had invoked Allah to perpetrate a shocking evil, and the US would respond in spades under the so called Christian theological category of “just war.” My reading of history says this pragmatic approach to life, a concern for immediate power, wealth, and pleasure of life, creates perpetual violence between empires and the people disempowered and impoverished by imperial agencies.
My email to friends and family back home got picked up by the Sunshine Coast Daily and published without my permission. So in my hometown, Maroochydore, in the state of Queensland, Australia I’m on the record for my view written on the 11th of September, 2001.
I have been slow to respond to the events of this past week waiting for the full story to emerge. I read the first of the reporting at 5:30am Monday morning May 2. What was clear was that Bin Laden was dead. I was so uncertain of my response to the news that I didn't mention it to a group of friends I met for breakfast at 6:00am.
Since 2003, I’ve spent more time as a journalist making documentary films than as a pastor. I have fourteen years experience now in the US and felt certain in that moment this news would not be coming from President Obama unless he knew it was true. He has shown great restraint over the past two years in public pronouncements (at great political cost) - he’s not like his predecessor.
As for the details of the reports, I've had no more confidence in them than anyone else other than those who must find a conspiracy. The details will come clear, and have clarified over the past week, since the online press is vigorous and diverse, not only in this country, but worldwide.
Now a US citizen, I’m as aggrieved by this state sponsored assassination as I was when the US went to war in Iraq. Yet, you would think reading the New York Times and other major US journals of record, that almost all Americans find the execution justified. But it’s not so. Many wanted due process, the mark of a truly free democratic state. There is a slavish patriotism that binds the major newspapers in the US to breach journalism’s commitment to the truth and covenant with the public, in moments like this. Liberal or Conservative alike are invested in America remaining dominant and the end justifies shortcuts with the means of reporting.
But because of the intensity of reporting by foreign correspondents, and by foundation- funded investigative reporters, how Bin Laden died, armed or unarmed, and the people with him, will come out even in the US press. I see the cleverness of the disposal of the body and how it makes sound pragmatic sense to those who conceived the raid, but again at the huge expense of relationship with a Muslim public.
On the release of the photo - I’m one of those who believes that documents and eye witness reports are the best enablers of truth. Journalists know that truth is established best by multiple independent eye witness testimonies, and documents (textual evidence of decisions taken, conversations had). And whether we acknowledge it or not, the veracity of a photo or video images (which can indeed be manipulated) depends on the personal testimony of the camera operator, not on the bare fact of the image/s. Whichever way we cut it, in the end you have to have confidence in the journalist and editor that they have a methodology for getting to the truth of a thing. If this personal trust gets broken - we lose ability to be sure of what’s true.
But beyond this issue of knowing what is true - my worry from the get go on Monday morning has been the high handed mistreatment of Pakistan’s people. The US embarked on an unannounced raid inside a sovereign country, ignoring a culture which majors on personal dignity and an acute sense of what is shameful. I believe the US administration did it because its officers didn’t trust the government or the military of Pakistan not to warn Bin Laden. From the perspective of the US administration, the billions given to Pakistan had earned it the right to act unilaterally, and besides, it’s so powerful, it simply can. And did.
But the price for demonstrating to the world as much as to the people of the US, as President Obama put it: “This is who we are!” will be a deeper alienation of a people with little power and wealth, and with a different view of the world. Resentment and violence have been re-enforced for a very short term gain of “vindication” for many US citizens.
It will be said that US citizens are heartless imperialists, and so a vestige of goodwill gets squandered, not because Bin Laden was not fair game to be brought to justice but because of the way the US has done it - pragmatically and true to historical type - “this is who we are” - the epitome of justice in Hollywood films.
Acting by the lawlessness of the old wild west has been deemed more important than a relationship with people who might have admired a more restrained exercise of justice. Last night I watched a Reuters video clip from Khandahar in Afghanistan where even a teenager in the street argued intelligently for the universally held ideal of justice, through jury trial, which the US has spurned.
And so I remain saddened to the core and will continue to represent my opposition to the use of overwhelming force by the US as a solution to the world’s evils. "Capture and kill" in its own way is like "Shock and awe," a form of terror. By styling this past ten years as a “war on terror,” rather than a police action, the US looks less and less like the light of liberty on the global hill. Do we want the world to believe this is who we aren’t? The moral authority of our global leadership in the eyes of important others has been shot down with Bin Laden. He knew this cultural blind spot, and that was always his game plan.
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