I wanted to wait until the dust settled, at least somewhat. Like most people I felt a wave of euphoria when the news came through. I immediately googled the President’s announcement and waited with anticipation to watch The Daily Show live.
I dismissed the ethics of targeted assassinations, of whether we should have tried to capture him, and what the implications would be for world peace. I just wanted to bathe in the relief that the bad guy had been taken out and that the good guys had finally won. Most of all as I watched the reactions of people on TV, I felt that just maybe, those who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and other attacks perpetrated from this man and his terrorist organization, could find some quality of closure and be able to move on in their lives.
But now, less than a week later, I want to share five concerns.
1. It’s not over. Al Qaeda seems far too extensively organized to suddenly disappear because their ailing and sick spiritual leader of several years is dead. The money, fear and ideology is probably still there, and the top-tier of management might not be anticipating a career change.
2. Targeted Assassinations – this is sticky. It is generally condemned by many who hold the political views of our readership. Where do you draw the line? In Judaism when someone approaches with the intention of killing us, we are commanded to strike him down first. Still, it is easy when clear-cut, but how often is that the case?
3. The media are going to milk this news-byte and as they do, the American people will become more divisive and our enemies will exploit this to revive extremism.
4. The end of terrorism depends on the outright rejection of extremism in whatever political and religious guise. As long as we turn a blind eye to poverty, exploitation and the materials being taught to millions of children in schools, we are allowing the next generation of terrorism to be bred.
5. The most effective players to counter religious extremism are the moderates of that religion. The moderate majority of Muslims, Christians, and all religions where there are extremists (probably most), must become more active and empowered in setting the limits of what is acceptable in the name of their religion.
I appreciate your skepticism when most of my political commentary is gleaned from The Daily Show and the wisdom of car bumper stickers. So I shall turn to another philosophical well of wisdom: Star Trek.
In one of the Next Generation movies, the Enterprise goes back in time to about 20 years in our future (it seemed much further in the future when the movie came out a few decades ago!). Earth is reeling from nuclear war and environmental devastation. Commander Riker describes to a disenchanted man how a few centuries later the people of earth all enjoy peace, freedom, have clean water and nutritious food, good education and health care, and a world free of NFL and NBA labor disputes (my artistic license, but you get the point).
The disenchanted man, staring at the devastation around him, asks how they achieved this and Riker replies that everyone was made to see that this was the right way. This scene has always made me think – how did they do that? Sure, many saw the light, whatever that light is, but what about those who couldn’t be nicely persuaded?
I believe in self-defense. I have justified serving in an army as the way to protect my family, my people, and my beliefs in freedom and democracy. I cannot tell you specifically where the line should be drawn wherein it is justified to use violence, but there are too-often occasions where I am sure the line has been crossed.
bin Laden crossed that line and we ended his life on Sunday. This is one such occasion where the line was clearly crossed. Let’s leave it there and focus on the future – offering positive options to those who choose peace and a clear, firm message to those who don’t.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).