I know this topic has been and will be done to death, but here goes anyway.
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the attacks of September 11th. I was behaving as prosaically as those hundreds of people who, little did I know, had been incinerated, crushed or hurled to their deaths as terror and death overwhelmed them.
As it happened I was driving along on my way to buy a new washing machine. Simon Mayo was doing his afternoon show on Radio 5 and he said that reports had started to come in that a plane had crashed into one of the two towers of the World Trade Centre. He sounded rather uncertain about what was going on. I remember that I smiled a world weary smile and raised an eyebrow. For some reason I immediately had fixed in my mind an image of a micro-light piloted by some incompetent nutcase. What a mad world we live in, I thought, full of crazies and idiots!
By the time I reached the electrical shop some twenty minutes later I had been corrected in my delusion. The owners, genial Sikh brothers, had a TV handily perched in the corner and the first pictures were coming in. As it happened I was able to return quickly to the office (I wasn’t a monk back in those days) where we also had a television, and to watch the drastic and dramatic events unfold all afternoon.
I suspect that like a lot of people I could not really begin to take in what I was seeing at first, but by the evening as I watched the endless re-runs of footage, I was deeply upset. I have a fear of heights, and a fear of fire. I was watching ordinary men and women burning, falling, and cart-wheeling to their deaths. I had been up those towers the year before. I had friends in New York. I felt horribly guilty about my stupid initial reaction.
Now as it happens I am a long standing opponent of the death penalty. I find it offensive and disgusting that the state, in cold blood, can terminate a life of even the most heinous criminal. But I am glad Bin Laden is dead.
Why do I countenance the killing of Bin Laden? And I have no doubt, by the way, that the orders of the soldiers sent on their lethal mission were clear: no prisoners. Murder, assassination or execution, call it what you will, the intent was plain, the effect deadly.
First, because in my opinion Bin Laden was not a criminal in the ordinary sense of the word. He was an ideologue and organisational figurehead behind what was and is an assault on civilization itself, in both physical and intellectual terms. He was, in that sense, not a criminal in the ordinary sense but a combatant in an unjust war which he had helped declare.
Now even in a war prisoners are taken. Indeed it is a curious feature of western civilization that whilst we have spent the greater part of the last 2,000 years carefully and efficiently slaughtering each other with a violence and panache that amazes the rest of the world. At the same time, almost as necessary counter balance to the mayhem so that civilization does not completely collapse, we have our rules for the niceties of how to behave when doing so.
But the Al Qaeda ideology espoused by Bin Laden recognises no such rules or limits. It is driven by that most potent and dangerous of forces, absolute and blind theological faith. Therefore it is of course entirely without pity, humanity and Godliness. All who do not subscribe, “the Kafirs”, are unclean and must die. And hence the act committed on that day and indeed on others which was, in the true sense of the word, an atrocity. It crossed the line which civilization can tolerate.
And finally because it was necessary as an act of State and for the preservation of civilization. Necessary because it said to all men like Bin Laden that whilst we in the West may be the lesser sons and daughters of greater ancestors, our reach is still long. You cannot hide forever. This will not end the problems with Jihadist terror. It might even make it worse for a while, but it was an important, symbolic brutal act of state, crucial to redefining the American psyche and perhaps the psyche of those who would order attacks, sending the indoctrinated and gullible to cause death at the expense of their own futile little lives. And necessary that it be a quick and destructive end and not turn into some farcical circus.
And so, well done America. In my view, the abrupt physical destruction of this man was just and proportionate to the crime.
But to those prancing fools whooping and jeering outside the White House, I would say: shut up and go home, little boys and girls. You betray your own country and the standards to which it should aspire. There is no joy in this grim act, but in my view there is justice, remorseless and terrible.
But I hope that he knew what was coming for him, and had time to reflect, just as did those whom he helped to send tumbling thousands of feet to their deaths, terrified and bewildered. I would find that just.
So, good riddance to bad rubbish.
“He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword”
Battle Hymn of the Republic, (Julia Ward Howe, 1861).
Gildas the Monk