The Crime Thread - Cause, Effect, Sentencing, Empathy
I just returned from watching Wicked in the West End. It was pretty rad, and it got me thinking a bit about how our politics work.
Bin Laden wasn't that bad, for example. He killed 4,000 people (and this is ignoring that he probably didn't mastermind 9/11) and destroyed a national landmark. Compared to other figures of the past and present (Qaddafi, Mubarak, Hussein, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc.) he did nothing. By all accounts, he was a pretty decent family man by Muslim standards, friendly to western reporters, and believed he was doing the correct thing in starting the modern equivalent of a holy war. He was then used as a scapegoat by a far more powerful nation, called the modern equivalent of Hitler, and there was public celebration in the streets when he died.
If I agreed with Bin Laden's cause, I would label him a tragic hero. As I don't, I think the worst thing you could accuse him of is having the wrong cause. Men like Bin Laden were the Founding Fathers of America, the leaders of the French Revolution, et cetera. I can see why some Muslims of a more fundamentalist bent still look up to him as a hero of Islam. While I actively despise his ideology, the man himself was of a rare breed, and the whole saga of 9/11 and the demonisation of Islam is probably better thought of as a tragedy of cultural differences.
The main problems I can see with Bin Laden are, as I said above, his ideology, and, as Kodos talked with me about on AIM, his methods. Being the liberal atheist I am, I can't condone the end result of a successful fundamentalist Muslim insurgency, which would be some sort of highly authoritarian, patriarchal society. However, Bin Laden clearly believed that a heavily Islamic society would be a sort of utopia. Ask yourself this question: if you believed you could create a beautiful, perfect society by sacrificing the lives of a mere four thousand people, would you do so? Islam, and especially fundamentalist Islam, have dozens of valid criticisms that can be levelled against them, but Bin Laden's actions were, at worst, the actions of a calculating revolutionary. They weren't the actions of a monster; provided you imagine that you believe that Islam is the one true way and that all non-Islamic people are amoral, then Bin Laden's actions can easily be empathised with.
Moving onto Bin Laden's methods, Kodos pointed out that terrorism doesn't work. Which, as he said, makes it useless at best, and at worst just angers much bigger and nastier organisations (such as America vs. terrorist group). This, however, is a fault that can be attributed either to Bin Laden's optimism (hardly the trait of a monster), or to a lack of research/knowledge, rather than any amoral intentions. If I, say, attempted to help a homeless person by giving them money, and instead of using that money to help themselves they bought heroin, accidentally overdosed on it, and died, would I be responsible for their death? To what extent? If I believe I'm doing good, am I morally culpable? Quite possibly. But is my character in question? Doubtful.
In conclusion, I don't think Bin Laden was a wicked man. He was, quite possibly, mislead. He was also, quite possibly, overly idealistic. And he was certainly pursuing a dream that, had it been successful, would have led to a massive reduction in quality of life for millions of people (especially women). But those aren't criticisms that would make him a monster or a madman, like propaganda said he was. My interpretation of him is that he was an unfortunate, mislead man, with extraordinary hope and ambition, and that, while what he preached and did was abhorrent, we need more men like him in the world.
To tie this back to Wicked, bear this quote in mind: "There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we pretend they don't exist."
Then listen to this song and cast your mind back to the celebrations on the streets when Bin Laden died: