Neither Victim Nor Executioner
Murder throws us back on murder.
Osama bin Laden’s death spells the end of jihad. His martyrdom infuses radical Islamists with new fervor. His death is irrelevant: He was already a has-been among a decentralized network of young terrorists.
The Obama administration embargoes the photograph of bin Laden with a hole in his head. LiveLeaks.com posts a photograph of a bearded man with a hole in his head. Hackers entice Facebook members to look at the photograph; the link unleashes malware into the users’ computer. LiveLeaks.com posts an update: “The Osama bin Laden death picture that is posted below turns out to be photoshopped and was not of Osama bin Laden.”
Conspiracy theorists claim the SEAL raid was a hoax — the CIA killed bin Laden in 2002 and froze his body to be unveiled at a propitious time. Other conspiracy theorists contend the SEAL raid was a hoax — bin Laden is still alive.
Sarah Palin calls for the photos: “No pussy-footing around, politicking,” she tweets. Ann Coulter tells Sean Hannity: “If Americans can handle Hillary Clinton’s ankles, they can handle this photo.”
The Left demands that Obama declare an end to the War on Terror, bring the troops home and disarm Homeland Security. The Right proclaims the War on Terror has not ended and probably never will.
“President Obama needs to go to the American people in the weeks ahead to explain plainly and forcefully why more days of danger and sacrifice lie ahead in Afghanistan and across the globe,” says Karl Rove.
Obama says: “We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
“Justice is done,” he says.
“Vengeance at last!” the New York Post blares.
The Daily News seconds the sentiment: “ROT IN HELL!”
Worldwide, sales explode of a souvenir figurine of Obama holding the head of Osama, like Judith brandishing the head of Holofernes.
The Vatican releases a statement: “In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”
In the streets and stadiums American crowds cheer: “USA! USA!” A Guardian blogger reminds readers that, of al Qaeda’s victims, only 15 percent have been Westerners, the rest mostly people living in Muslim-majority contries.
“Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people,” the president avows. “May God bless the United States of America.”
Former Bush administration officials boast that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” produced the intelligence that led to the raid.
The idea arises that Osama bin Laden won the War on Terror. He turned the U.S. into a police state and a torturer, its riches and moral prestige squandered in endless, boundless wars. Those wars in turn have impassioned new generations of terrorists to martyr themselves in endless, boundless war.
People like myself want not a world in which murder no longer exists (we are not so crazy as that!) but rather one in which murder is not legitimate. Here indeed we are Utopian — and contradictory. For we do live, it is true, in a world where murder is legitimate, and we ought to change it if we do not like it. But it appears that we cannot change it without risking murder. Murder thus throws us back on murder, and we will continue to live in terror whether we accept the fact with resignation or wish to abolish it by means which merely replace one terror with another.
It seems to me every one should think this over.
The passage comes from an essay published in 1946. World War II was over; 50 million to 70 million dead. The Cold War had already begun, its weapons threatening to annihilate everyone left standing. Camus had grown to despise violence.
The piece is by turns idealistic and pragmatic, like most pacifist arguments. It calls on Europeans to “grant to each side the right to affirm its truth but refuse it the right to impose it by murder, individual or collective.” The title rejects the only two stances Camus’ contemporaries seemed capable of imagining: “Neither Victim nor Executioner.” This strikes me as an excellent oath for a new resistance.
“Poli Psy” is a monthly column by Judith Levine. Got a comment on this story? Contact email@example.com.