Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama bin Laden Was Not Evil

There were hoots and hollers, there was flag-waving, crowds flocked in front of the White House in celebration. Similar eruptions of happiness occurred in cities across America.

What was it? The 4th of July being celebrated a little early? Nope. It was the death of one Osama bin Laden.

In the 2 days since President Barack Obama made the stunning announcement that U.S. forces had killed the terror leader in Pakistan, the old words have once again been bandied about. Osama was "the face of evil" and "a monster almost on par with Adolf Hitler." The Toronto Sun today ran an editorial cartoon of bin Laden standing in Hell next to Satan and a snake. Satan says to bin Laden "I'd like you to meet your mother, Osama."

I'm here to say that Osama, as much as we may like to paint him as such, was neither "evil incarnate" or "a monster."

What is even more frightening is that Osama bin Laden was none other than a human being, just like you and me. He came kicking and screaming into the world, played with trucks and cars growing up, and he laughed and giggled as a toddler. As a teenager he inevitably crushed on girls and discussed music or sports with his friends.

"Now now" you may be thinking, "you're not trying to humanize Osama bin Laden are you?"

Yes, yes I am. And here I will insert my necessary caveat. What Osama bin Laden orchestrated on 9/11 and beforehand with acts of terror were heinous, terrible, heart-breaking, and utterly condemnable.

But this is my point. I think as a society, whether in America or here in Canada, we like to set certain people apart and then label them in order to make ourselves feel better. "A human being couldn't possibly order planes into full skyscrapers," we say. My answer is "Yes, Yes they can. Yes we can." The same goes for Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Paul Bernardo, Ted Bundy, and Russell Williams, the military man who assaulted and killed two women a few months ago.

These are human beings, just like me. The difference came in the choices that each of these people made. Each of us has a choice when we wake up in the morning whether we're going to do acts of beauty and good, or offer negativity and even violence. In my opinion, the people listed above as well as others who have committed inexcusable heinous acts have simply fallen further and further into an abyss as they've repeatedly made awful choices.

So if people aren't evil in and of themselves, does evil exist? Well, let's look at the definition of evil from Dictionary.com: 1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; 2. harmful; injurious. I can get behind all of these definitions of evil. What I can't get behind is this one: "the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin." I don't believe we have a "force in nature" that gives rise to such things.

So if evil is not in our natures, where does it come from? I have a couple thoughts here:

1) Evil comes from the absence of love. Where love is healing and expands our worlds to include other people and those who are different from us, evil collapses our hearts in on itself and becomes suspicious of people who are different from us. Whereas love causes us to think of other people's well-being, evil causes us to only think of our own survival.

2) Evil comes from a place of fear. People become very very messed up out of fear that they have experienced, whether it be in their family of origin or from their peers while growing up. They learn to place walls of defence up around themselves and live a life of suspicion instead of growth and openness. This breeds evil acts.

3) Evil comes from a place of loneliness. For one reason or another people's minds and hearts back away from healthy relationships with others, whether this is insecurity or, again, something that happened to them early on in life. In order to not be hurt they stay away from people. The power that it within them to love instead turns in on itself and becomes intense pain, which can at times turn to acts of evil.

Of course there are many many other reasons for evil acts, but my point is that while it may be easy to set people like bin Laden, Hitler, and Bernardo apart from humanity, the truth is they are flesh and blood and as human as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, or you and I.

Osama bin Laden was not evil incarnate. He was a human being like you and I who made terrible terrible choices.