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Monday, May 02, 2011

Burning Osama bin Laden

The streets of America filled with jubilant crowds last night as news of Osama bin Laden's death, via a bullet through his skull, was publicly announced.

Now, let me be clear - I'm as happy that man caught nine grams of lead with his forehead as any red-blooded American can be. But I have a few questions to ask about how we prioritize things.

For instance, where were the jubilant crowds when Pastor Terry Jones burned the Koran?

This is not a facetious question.

How many national and international commentators, including Catholics, are happy that Osama was killed? I would guess, apart from a few Muslim malcontents, pretty much all of us.

Now, how many national and international commentators, including Catholics, were outraged and upset that Pastor Terry Jones burned a Koran?
Quite a lot of them.

So, let's think this through.

Which is more terrible: destroying a man's life - taking everything he has and everything he ever will have - and sending him to God's judgement unprepared, or destroying one copy of an easily reproduced book?

Is it more hateful to put a bullet into a man's head, or put a match to a bunch of paper?

What if the man whose brains you sluice against the wall repeatedly insisted that every objectionable action he took was inspired by the book that was burned?

Where comes this tremendous outcry against book-burning, yet this tremendous happiness in the destruction of a human life? And, as I said, I'm perfectly fine with this particular man being killed in exactly the way he was.

And keep in mind that the discomfort with burning books is a purely post-printing press phenomenon. Back when books were hard to create, no one had a real problem with burning books. It is only since the Enlightenment, only after burning books no longer had any real effect on the ability to access the book, that it has become such a stomach-churning event for so many.

What is it about the Enlightenment that made book burning worse than taking human life? Well, when we consider what many Enlightenment philosophers fought against, the answer becomes a lot more clear.

Voltaire didn't combat Confucianism. Rousseau didn't rant against Rastifarians. The big names among Enlightenment philosophers all fought the one philosophy that bestrode European culture like a colossus - they made their names big by trying to make the Catholic Church small.

But how do you attack the very person that defined your culture and your life? You must do what every rebellious teenager does to every parent - you must show that your parents are ignorant, backwards, and engage in shameful superstition.

So, once we examine our unexamined prejudices, is it possible to conclude that our antipathy to book-burning is not reasonable, but is, in fact, merely an antiquated expression of anti-Catholic bias?

Think about it: book burning has been common to every civilization that has had books. Yet, in the modern West, only two groups are constantly associated with the practice: Nazis and Catholics. Everybody brings up the Catholic Inquisition, nobody talks about the Protestant burning of Michael Servetus. Everybody talks about the Nazi bonfires, no one talks about the French Revolution's bonfires.

Liberals happily conflate Nazism and Catholicism all the time, but are mercilessly silent on the connections between the Nazis and the Communists or the Nazis and the "Enlightenment" or the socialists and the Muslims, for that matter.

The same liberals who romanticize the Enlightenment, the same men and women who maintain an infernal silence concerning the atrocities committed by the French Revolution's "infernal columns", these same people get upset when someone fires up a Zippo too near a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook.

Yet it was precisely the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the books written by Enlightenment philosophers, which drove the genocidal atrocities found in the French Revolution, in National Socialism and in International Socialism. It was precisely the philosophy espoused in Mein Kampf which drove Hitler's genocide. It was precisely the philosophy in Das Kapital which drove Lenin's genocide.

And it was precisely the philosophy espoused by the Koran which drove Osama bin Laden.

If we can dance on Hitler's grave, if we can thank God for Stalin's death, and if we can put a bullet through Osama bin Laden's skull, then what on earth nauseates us about putting a match to the books that embodied their beliefs and drove their actions?

Which is more likely to engender violence?
Burning a book?
Or killing someone's leader?
In this case, of course, both will engender violence, but when the Muslims riot, will we blame the US Military and President Obama for all the deaths that result?

Why is it more heinous to burn a book than to is to blow a hole in someone's head?
Perhaps it is because Catholics have burned a lot more books than they have blown holes in anyone's head. And the point is to hate Catholics.


Alan Aversa said...

I'm as happy that man caught nine grams of lead with his forehead as any red-blooded American can be.

From Federico Lombardi, S.J.'s Holy See Press statement (my emphasis):
"Osama Bin Laden, as is known, claimed responsibility for grave acts that spread division and hate among the peoples, manipulating religion to that end. A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man's death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person's responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace."

Would not "any red-blooded American," let alone Catholic "red-blooded American," rejoice much more over Osama's conversion than his death?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

There's nothing wrong with taking joy in:
(a) justice served and
(b) the increased likelihood that future terror acts will not be as well-funded, well-organized nor, therefore, as common.

Conversion would have been nice, but it apparently didn't happen in time to stop the blood loss.

Alan Aversa said...

So we can at least hope there is an implicit assumption in Fr. Lombardi's statement which he should have explicated: "A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man's death...unless it is just." Was it just? Why was he not captured and given a trial like Sadam? I suppose we must just trust the right-judgment of the military in this state of war.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

No, Alan, you misunderstand.

We may licitly take pleasure in the justice. The death is a separate matter.

Your question about the trial is a good one. Since Osama happily admitted to being the mastermind behind 9/11, and since we are in a state of war, the state has the right to carry out the execution.

Now, we are not in a situation of formal war between two sovereign states, because Al Quaeda is not a sovereign state, but it is a war nonetheless.

It is interesting to note that Pakistan could, if it desired, argue that the undeclared incursion of American troops across its borders is just reason to declare war on the United States (we would never countenance another country doing that in the US). I doubt they will, however.

Alan Aversa said...

Thanks for the clarification

R said...

I would have preferred that the man had been captured rather than be summarily executed by our government. As a Catholic, I find it troubling that our mission was to kill and not to capture.

scotju said...

Burn the book and wage war against the fools who want to practise it's murderous precepts. Thyese people want to fight us to the death, so lets accomadate them and make sre they're the ones who eat death!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, I don't think going in to kill him was necessarily a problem.

If you can't stop a man from committing evil in any other way, you are permitted to kill him. It's part of the self-defense (defense of innocents) doctrine in the CCC. Indeed, if it is to protect innocents under your care and there is no other way to stop him, you are REQUIRED to kill the person, since it would be a sin to failing to protect the ones given to your care.

I think that case could easily be made here.

Alan Aversa said...

Would you say the same thing, Steve, about your or my local abortionist?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Depends on the circumstances.

Alan Aversa said...


Steve Kellmeyer said...

Because it has to fulfill the conditions laid out in the CCC.

A) I have to be protecting an innocent whom it is my duty to protect,
B) I have to have exhausted all other means available to me to prevent the evil, and
C) the licit use of deadly force requires that it is the only way known and available to me to stop the evil from taking place,
D) and my response has to be proportionate to the evil contemplated by the evil-doer.

Only then am I permitted to use deadly force. If any of those conditions are missing, I am not permitted to proceed with deadly force. It's just war rules.

Estase said...

So Alan,
You think that aborting a baby can be considered killing in self-defense?

Patrick said...

For Osama, he falls under the status of statelessness, so the only binding laws are any treaties or agreements we have with Pakistan. This certainly falls under just war theory if we believe that during his trial terrorist acts would occur to try to disrupt the trial and bring lawlessness. My only objection would be to point out that we believed that exact situation would occur with Sadam but continued proceedings anyway, so how concerned are we really?

Flambeaux said...

Odds are good that he was dead when we got him -- killed by his bodyguards.

Despite the crowing of the politicians, there was no point to whacking him -- he was of much more use to all concerned if taken alive.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

It's not clear to me that Obama ever cared about the intelligence that could be gleaned from bin Laden.

I think all he wanted was photos of a corpse.