Thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden

May 2, 2011

I have felt disturbed since reading last night that US forces killed Osama bin Laden. Since then it has been sitting in the back of my mind but I had trouble putting words to my reaction. This afternoon I read an excellent blog post that helped clarify things for me: “Osama bin Laden is dead. One Buddhist’s response.” by Susan Piver. I wish I could quote the whole thing but I will restrain myself with these two parts that particularly hit home:

Was there even a hint of vengefulness or gladness at Osama bin Laden’s death? If so, that is a real problem. Whatever suffering he may have experienced cannot reverse even one moment of the suffering he caused. If you believe his death is a form of compensation, you are deluded.

When we hate, we cause hate. When we think we have won by vanquishing our enemy, we have lost. In killing Osama bin Laden, “they” lose because one of their leaders is gone. But we lose too, because we have deepened the causes and conditions that lead to more hatred and its consequences. This is not over.

I did not feel glad at his death. I felt sadness. And fear. And hopelessness.

I fear because I know that this death is not the end of anything. It will fuel the flames of hatred against the United States that bin Laden himself fueled. Do not be mistaken into a false sense of security: there is no doubt in my mind that there will be attempts at retaliation. It is just another peak in the vicious cycle of hatred and fear, of us versus them.

I feel hopeless that there will ever be an end to this vicious cycle. Hopeless that we will ever be able to move beyond us versus them. I do not believe that bin Laden was an isolated case, one sadistic individual, such that removing him removes all danger of terrorist attacks. No, rather I believe that he was part of a system, a system that the US helps create, in which the US is locked head to head with the terrorists from the Middle East. Another leader will rise to take his place and the cycle will continue. I feel hopeless that we will ever be able to break such a terrible cycle. Will we ever realize that violence is not a solution because it only fuels more violence?

And why do I feel sad? I feel sad because Osama bin Laden was a human being. I feel sad that we cannot see any solutions beyond violence and murder, that we are still stuck in the archaic attitude of an “eye for an eye.” I feel sad that societies do not have healthy ways of handling troubled individuals, ways that keep those individuals from turning into sadistic terrorists. I am sad that more people do not recognize the core humanity of every single human being on this earth.

Osama bin Laden will not harm any more people, but little else has changed. The United States still has an enemy. The people who died in the 9/11 attacks are not going to come back to life. The flames of hatred and fear continue to be fueled.

Lest we forget, we are all human. Every single one of us. I’ll end with this quote from Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.


Free speech

September 7, 2008

Amy Goodman wrote an excellent column about her arrest at the RNC. She describes the way in which the police violently arrested her as she was trying to find out why her two colleagues had just been (also violently) arrested. Repeated cries that she was from the press had no effect: “I repeated we were accredited journalists, whereupon a Secret Service agent came over and ripped my convention credential from my neck.” She feels, and I agree, that her and her colleagues’ arrests were serious violations of the First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press:

Behind all the patriotic hyperbole that accompanies the conventions, and the thousands of journalists and media workers who arrive to cover the staged events, there are serious violations of the basic right of freedom of the press. Here on the streets of St. Paul, the press is free to report on the official proceedings of the RNC, but not to report on the police violence and mass arrests directed at those who have come to petition their government, to protest.

It’s as if we live in some Orwellian world. This can’t possibly be happening in the United States of America, with all its rhetoric of freedom and democracy, can it? Sadly and frighteningly, it most definitely is happening right here in the United States.

In addition to arresting the journalists, police arrested hundreds of protesters as well:

Police in riot gear swarmed the area outside the convention center, deploying tear gas and distraction devices known as “flash bangs” in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Since when is a “crowd” illegal? In fact, doesn’t the First Amendment guarantee “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”? I suppose that this is open to interpretation; how do you define “peaceably”? Unfortunately, it seems the police have the power to be quite lenient in defining it: as these events illustrate, apparently they can arrest on the pretext of perceived threat, no matter how unlikely it is that their so-called perception is accurate (are they really perceiving threat, or just saying they do?). It sounds to me like the police were by far more violent than the protesters themselves:

The protesters, chanting, “Let us march!” and “No blood for oil, U.S. off Iraqi soil!” were non-violent in their actions. At one point, approximately 100 people sat down in the middle of the street, in front of more than two-dozen officers on horses, making the peace sign with their hands and singing the star spangled banner.

There was one phrase in the news article that confused me: “At 5pm central, the protesters’ permit expired, but demonstrators refused to leave.” Permit? I was not aware that one needed a permit in order to protest legally (and that it is thus illegal to hold a protest on a public street without a permit), but apparently this has been the case for quite a long time. In searching for more information about this, I came across this informative article, by a professor at Syracuse University, titled “Permitting Protest/Silencing Dissent.” According to the article:

It was not until 1939 that the Supreme Court finally declared that the use of streets and sidewalks for political assembly and speech was constitutionally protected. And when it made this declaration it immediately qualified it. Public speech and assembly, the Court declared, has always to be “exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order….”

That qualification was left open to interpretation by the states and cities, and it has been widely interpreted over the years. The primary system in use now is the permit system, where groups wishing to stage a protest must apply for a permit beforehand. Their application can be denied, and cities have not hesitated to deny permits. This, if you ask me, is blatant regulation of speech. Speech in this country is not so free as I thought: it is illegal to protest without a permit, and cities do not have to issue you a permit if they think your protest will present any sort of danger. In other words, if you are perceived as a threat. This doesn’t leave much room for dissent with the government, does it? As it says in the article:

…it is not just the corporate media, not just the condescending pronouncements of the current White House, and not just local, sometimes brutish police forces or vigilante groups that seek to silence dissent in America, but the very structure of the law that has grown up around the exercise of First Amendment rights. Reasonable as it sometimes seems, that law is stacked against dissent. True power, the writers of First Amendment regulations know, includes the power to control where and when and how dissent takes place.

The restrictions on free speech in this country are far greater than I realized. I can only conclude that the people in power make laws to protect themselves – that is, the government as a collection of people in power – rather than all the many individuals that make up this country who are not in positions of power. A person protesting violence and war does not present a physical threat or a threat to their neighbor, but he or she is a threat to the status quo and to the current government.

Free speech is a crucial and fundamental right in creating a peaceful society, and we should not let our First Amendment rights be taken away, even if it means breaking the law.

Police brutality

September 6, 2008

The police were disturbingly and frighteningly brutal towards journalists and protesters during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. At the RNC, they arrested prominent journalist Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now!, for no apparent reason. As Cara says in her excellent post about this arrest, “But beyond all of that, the simple fact is that she didn’t do anything to deserve arrest. And yet, at the RNC, arrested she was. For doing her job as a journalist.” This video of her arrest is quite disturbing:

This abuse of power and use of violence by police officers is highly frightening. Not only does it make me wonder what happened to our first amendment right to free speech, but it is a stark reminder that violence is perfectly acceptable in our society – when perpetrated by someone in a position of power.

Brownfemipower wrote an extremely insightful post about the links between power, violence, and violence against women. I highly recommend that you read her post in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts:

Remember this incident at the DNC, where a Code Pink woman was slammed in the chest by a male police officer?

What makes that case of violence against a woman different or more justified than a random man slamming his wife in the chest?

If this cop wasn’t wearing his uniform, we’d be outraged, rightfully so. But as citizens of the U.S., as feminists, as women, when a man wearing a uniform slams a woman in the chest with a weapon, suddenly, there’s relative silence, or casual assertions that this is normal, and what the hell was she expecting.

How do you tell a man that abuse and violence is not ok while wearing plain clothes, but once he puts on an official uniform, it’s not only ok, but expected?

The logic of abuse, the logic of power is *ingrained* in our society, is taught to our very young children from the time they are little kids. This logic is *compulsory* for the existence of our government, how else would we justify the unquestioned authority lawmakers, presidents, and judges have over all of our lives?

Wow. I had never thought about power in such clear terms before. Yes, I have written about police brutality and abuse of power before, but brownfemipower is making the links between power and violence more explicit than I have ever thought about. Abuse is violence against one person by someone with power over that person. And yet, when that person with power is also in a position of authority, in a uniform, suddenly their violence is no longer abuse, but is an acceptable part of their line of duty.

Is it possible to have a police force that is there for the protection of the citizens without allowing this abuse of power? Is there any way that our current law enforcement structure is workable in a pro-peace, anti-violence society? Or is our law enforcement structure so fundamentally based on the concepts of power and the acceptability and expectation of violence that to create a completely peaceful society we would need to completely rethink police? I am strongly inclined to believe the latter, but there are many factors at play here. The members of the police force were raised in a society with an expectation of violence, so of course they are going to use violence. If they were raised in a completely non-violent society, I don’t think they would be so quick to use violence. Our violent society perpetrates police brutality by both creating and condoning people who use violence while in positions of authority.

Finally, there is brownfemipower’s excellent point that we can not possibly expect to eradicate violence against women as long as violence from men in authority is accepted. And the solution is not simply to put more women in to these positions of power. Violence is too fundamentally ingrained in these positions of power. It seems that perhaps the only answer is to start from scratch building society structures that have foundations of community and caring rather than violence and us vs. them.

Police acquitted for murdering black woman

August 11, 2008

This is so awful, I don’t know what to say. Eight months ago police raided a house looking for a drug dealer, entering with drawn guns, and shot and killed an innocent black woman holding her baby, in the presence of her other children. Today, the police officer was acquitted by an all-white jury. This is so wrong, so totally backwards from the way things would be in a just and peaceful world. For one thing, it is clearly racist – as Cara says in the post I linked above:

Isn’t it funny really fucked up how white police officers seem to think that their lives are in danger when they’re not so much more often when it’s a black person that’s posing the not actual threat? And how white juries eat it right up?

To make things worse, the defense attorney said the officer was “doing his duty.” His duty? Last time I checked, a police officer’s duty is to protect the citizens, not blindly shoot them because they think they might be armed (if he even really thought that). As I said before, in my post on a similar acquittal, it is a sad world where police are so quick to be violent.

Beyond the awful jury decision, there is the fact that the six children saw the officer shoot and kill their mother. Those poor children, what an awful trauma to experience. If they do not receive the necessary support to heal from the trauma, I fear that some of them may turn to violence as they grow older. And thus the cycle of violence would continue.

I can’t say anymore. I am still in a daze that such things happen (I fear more often that I would like to know) in the world I live in.

I’m baaaaaack

July 23, 2008

Ok, well I haven’t actually been gone this whole time (I was out of town for a week) but for some reason I haven’t felt inspiration for blogging in the past couple weeks. For one thing, I’m trying to cut down my procrastination while working and consequently I’m spending less time reading other blogs and browsing the internet, which translates to finding out about fewer things I would potentially blog about. However, I think I’m also feeling a bit discouraged – or perhaps distanced – from thinking about peace. The thing is, issues related to peace do not often play into my everyday life. I live a very peaceful life in general: I live in a small town, and my neighborhood has little violence or crime – in fact none that I have noticed or been aware of; I do not often have serious conflicts with other people; and I earn enough to easily purchase all that I need without worry. Granted, perhaps I do not have conflicts with others because I naturally communicate in a peaceful manner. But my point is that much of the violence and war that is currently going on in this world has little perceived direct impact on my everyday life.

Now, I know that it does actually affect my life. Things like the economy, the environment, and the well-being and happiness of the people in my environment are affected by violence and war in the world. And, for me, simply being aware that such violence is occurring is enough to affect my perspective and attitude towards things. Still, I can only read so many articles about violent events or look at so many non-profits trying to make a difference or read about so many approaches to conflict resolution before I start to feel distanced from it all. I feel discouraged reading about mediation and conflict resolution techniques because the impact they may have had (and I know there have been some successes, although I wonder how long-term those successes are) seems so small compared to all the wars, genocides, and other violence. Then there is the domestic violence, rape apology and general misogyny that I read about on feminist blogs, areas where it seems that so little progress has been made. I think, perhaps, like I discussed in an earlier post, I have reached a point of information overload. I have been paying attention to issues related to peace so much that I have started becoming desensitized to them.

I want very much to make peace relevant to my life; that is, to take actions that I feel are making progress towards creating peace. I would like to work with people, as I feel that would give me the most satisfaction in feeling that I am doing something meaningful. However, I have yet to figure out what this type of work (either volunteer or paid) would be. For the moment, I am volunteering at a food bank, but I’m not sure it is quite what I have in mind (however, I have only been there twice so far and I’m sure there is much I will gain from the experience). I also feel that in order to take this action, whatever it is, I want to study peace and conflict resolution more formally, or with at least more direction, than I have so far. I don’t want to continue just reading news articles and browsing the websites of non-profits aimlessly, but rather I want to read such things with a goal in mind of what I want to gain from reading it or how I want to approach the topic mentally and analytically.

Writing this blog is one way that I have been hoping to find more direction for my interest in peace, but I think so far I have been interested in and been inspired to write about such a diverse set of topics that it hasn’t yet helped with giving direction! Perhaps I am simply still at the exploratory phase, but now, in addition to continuing to explore, I also want to work on narrowing my interest to something more focused.

information overload, or why I don’t read the news

April 23, 2008

I don’t generally read a newspaper, either print or online. Sometimes I feel like this is an irresponsible thing to do, that I should be keeping myself educated about what is going on in the world. But I just can’t take the news. Most of the time it is either too depressing or just another article on the same old topic not saying much at all. I know that there are terrible things going on all over the world; I don’t need to have the details of each one drummed into me day after day. If the article is about something the United States government has or is doing, it is likely to get my blood boiling, and I really don’t need that kind of stress on a day-to-day basis either. I do occasionally feel that I am missing something by not reading the news (for example, looking at right now I see a few articles which I would most likely find interesting), but it is so hard to do without becoming overwhelmed.

I do try to keep up with a few feminist blogs which include newsy items of interest to feminism. Feministe and Feministing are both multi-author blogs with many updates per day, while The Curvature is written by a single author who manages to post lengthy analyses of various things on average more than once a day. However, I’m starting to find reading even just these three blogs (as well as a few others, such as No Cookies for Me, which are updated less than once a day) somewhat overwhelming. My blog reader has unread items from weeks ago that I will probably never get to. All of the authors write interesting posts and are capable of making me think about something in a new way, but sometimes I just can’t read yet another post about a rape apologist. So much of the news written about on these blogs is negative and it is starting to take its toll on me. In addition, the comment threads on these posts can get quite long, and while I want to read the comments for the posts that interest me the most, it is so much to process. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see that there is a large community of people who share similar values and beliefs with me, and occasionally I even feel inspired to write a comment on one of the posts. It is hard to know how to keep with these blogs without becoming both overwhelmed and desensitized to the types of things that get written about.

To generalize for a moment, I think desensitization is a big problem with the way in which violence and war is written about and shown in the news. When you see similar violent images over and over again (photos in the paper, or even more powerfully, on television), they start to lose their impact on your emotions. And then you start to accept that this is just the way things are. Perhaps I get so easily overwhelmed reading the news precisely because I am not desensitized in the way that most Americans are.

The one news source I read religiously is Ms. Magazine. It comes only four times a year and it is always packed full of well-written, well-researched, thoughtful articles on a variety of topics, with both positive and negative news. I enjoy that all this is encapsulated in a single magazine, which makes it feel more balanced than the daily stream of blog posts. I look forward to each new issue.

This post is a little rambly, but I think the basic question I am asking myself (and you, if you care to respond) is: in today’s culture, with so many media and news sources, how does one keep up with the important things in the news (or the things that are particularly interesting to you) without becoming overwhelmed and/or desensitized?