America’s exceptional arrogance in the bin Laden killing?

While we Americans tend to embrace our “exceptionalism,”  people from other countries often see that as a bad thing.  Britain’s prominent Christian author N. T. Wright excoriates America for our presumption in the bin Laden assassination:

Popular author and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has accused the world of giving America a free pass for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and killing an unarmed man during the recent attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

The former bishop of Durham sent a short statement to The Times’ religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill in which he pointed out that Americans would be “furious” if Great Britain’s military had staged an unannounced raid against hypothetical Irish Republican Army terrorists and killed them, unarmed, in a Boston suburb.

The only difference, Wright says, is “American exceptionalism.”

“America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not,” said Wright, who is now the research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “By what right? Who says?”

President Obama, Wright says, has “enacted one of America’s most powerful myths,” the vigilante hero going outside the law to execute “redemptive violence” against an enemy who has rendered the legitimate authorities impotent. “This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world.”

While this myth may have been a necessary dimension of life in the Wild West, Wright says, it also “legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one’s own hands, which provides ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort.”

“What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us?” he asks. “And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?”

via N.T. Wright Slams ‘American Exceptionalism’ in Osama bin Laden Mission | Politics | Christianity Today.

How would you answer him?   Would we, as he says, object if British commandos killed an IRA operative in Boston?  If so, how can we justify what we did in Pakistan?

Analyzing the Situation Room photo

We don’t get to see a photograph of Osama bin Laden’s body, but we did get to see a  photograph of the President and his team watching the mission go down.  It’s quite dramatic to see the expressions on everyone’s faces during this intense moment–the President’s intense stare, the Secretary of State’s hand covering her face (apparently in emotion, though she says now she might have just been coughing due to her allergies).

The Situation Room during the bin Laden operation

The Washington Post features various experts commenting on the picture.  I was especially taken by this one by art critic Philip Kennicott:

At least two basic metaphors of power are at play: being in the room and at the table. Both metaphors expressly exclude us, the viewers of the photo, who are not there, not in the loop. The photograph fascinates because it represents the most basic aspects of political power: knowledge, access, influence and proximity.

The photograph thus puts the viewer in a subordinate position. But the chain of meanings continues at least one more step. The anxiety on the faces shows the degree to which some of the most powerful people in the world can’t control events. They (and their administration) are subordinate to chance and fate, to unknown unknowns and known unknowns.

So the sequence is this: We have less power than they do, and they have less power than reality. The photographer creates a kind of “V” of sightlines to emphasize this drama: We look in from one angle as they look out at another, almost a perfect mirror image.

We enjoy narratives of great power because we have so little power in our own lives over things such as errant buses, disease, death and the vicissitudes of love. The photo reveals that sometimes even people who seem to have invested in them the talent and power to be masters of their fate are frightened, worried, tense and uncertain. And so by excluding us from the world of one kind of power, the photo reminds of a more fundamental powerlessness. It keeps us out of one room but puts us all in another, from which there is no exit.

via Breaking down the Situation Room – The Washington Post.

How should Christians react to bin Laden’s death?

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard offers nine points for reflection on how Christians should react to the killing of Osama bin Laden:

1.  The prophet Ezekiel writes, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Eze 33:11) A Christian does not find delight in any person dying, except in the death of the saints. Our delight would have been in bin Laden’s repentance.

2. God relented of His wrath and punishment for ten years following bin Laden’s most vicious attack. He had ample time to repent of his wickedness, but showed himself time and time again to be an enemy of both the Church and the State.

3. Though we do not delight in his death, it is a cause for rejoicing.

4. After Moses and the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and the host of Pharaoh’s army was drowned, they sang, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Ex 15:1). While this certainly has a spiritual meaning in Christ’s victory over sin, death, and hell, we must not forget the historical fact that the saints rejoiced over the death of their enemies. Psalm 68 says, “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! (Ps 68:1, 3).

5.  But we live in the New Testament. Jesus has died for the sins of the world. Doesn’t that mean that Christians should condemn any act of violence? Shouldn’t we rather depend on the Gospel to deal with the wicked? First, the essence of God’s nature did not change from Old to New Testament, for it was also in the Old Testament where God says that He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (see point 1 above). Also, the path to salvation has not changed. Even in the Old Testament, people were saved by repentance and faith in the promise of Christ. Yet God still punished the wicked by the sword (often the swords of His saints).

6.  Second, Sts. Paul and Peter reaffirm that God has instituted the government to punish wickedness. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pt 2:13-14). And, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:1b, 3b-4). The Kingdom Christ establishes (the Church) is distinct from worldly kingdoms, but worldly kingdoms and their authority still exist and more so, are instituted by God.

7.  The Lutheran Reformers also teach “that the spiritual kingdom does not change the public state. Therefore, private remedy [i.e. personal revenge] is prohibited not by advice, but by command (Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:19). Public remedy, made through the office of the public official, is not condemned, but is commanded and is God’s work, according to Paul (Romans 13). Now the different kinds of public remedy are legal decisions, capital punishment, wars, and military service” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XVI).

8.  In his work Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, Martin Luther makes it clear that the work of a soldier–even when it’s killing and bloodshed–is a good work when done within vocation. He writes, “This is why God honors the sword so highly that he says that he himself has instituted it [Rom. 13:1] and does not want men to say or think that they have invented it or instituted it. For the hand that wields this sword and kills with it is not man’s hand, but God’s; and it is not man, but God, who hangs, tortures, beheads, kills, and fights.” The entire treatise is highly recommended, as well as Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed and On War against the Turk (all are found in Luther’s Works, American Edition, vols. 45 & 46). If the work of the Navy Seals was indeed God’s work, then it is rightly to be praised.

9.  How should a Christian react to the killing of Osama bin Laden? We do not delight in his death, even though he was an adamant enemy of Church and State. Yet we rejoice that God has given us the sharpest sword ever borne by Caesar in the history of the world in the U.S. military. Everyone from the Commander in Chief to the special operators of the Navy Seals performed well within their vocations to protect the citizens of this country, to bring justice to a wicked man, and to carry out God’s wrath on a wrongdoer. They are all to be commended. And, as an American, there is reason to celebrate.

via Steadfast Lutherans » How should a Christian react to the killing of Osama bin Laden?.

Closure for 9/11?

My theory of our recent wars–as I said at the time they started–is that after the 9/11 attacks, America was so enraged that we had to strike back.   We invaded Afghanistan, seizing control of the country in weeks.  But that was not enough.  We still needed to strike somebody.  So we attacked our old enemy Saddam Hussein and invaded Iraq.   It wasn’t that we thought he was involved in 9/11.  But we felt the need to fight.   I’m not saying this feeling wasn’t justified or that there weren’t objective reasons to conduct a war on terrorism.  But I contend that the need for revenge–or justice–was the primary factor.  After awhile, as wars will, they bogged us down, not so much in the combat phase as in the nation building phase, with the constant and maddening guerrilla warfare.   Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, can we finally close the books, emotionally at least, on 9/11?   Yes, terrorism will remain a problem and there will likely be jihadists who will pull something to try to avenge bin Laden.  But can we finally have closure for 9/11?   Will this help us end those other wars?

U.S. forces kill Osama bin Laden

A major victory in the war against terrorism and in the war of vengeance for the 9/11 attacks:

Osama bin Laden, the long-hunted al-Qaeda leader and chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, was killed by U.S. forces Sunday in what officials described as a surgical raid on his luxury hideout in Pakistan.

In a rare Sunday night address from the East Room of the White House, President Obama said a small team of U.S. personnel attacked a compound Sunday in Pakistan’s Abbottabad Valley, where bin Laden had been hiding since at least last summer. During a firefight, U.S. team killed bin Laden, 54, and took custody of his body in what Obama called “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda.”

via Osama bin Laden is killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan – The Washington Post.

Air support for al-Qaeda

Oh, great:

Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25″ men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are “today are on the front lines in Adjabiya”.

Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.

His revelations came even as Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, “including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries”.

Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against “the foreign invasion” in Afghanistan, before being “captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan”. He was later handed over to the US, and then held in Libya before being released in 2008. . . .

via Libyan rebel commander admits his fighters have al-Qaeda links – Telegraph.

Do we have any idea what we are doing in our military interventions into the Arab world?

We assume that those who are rising up against brutal dictators–with another uprising now breaking out in Syria–are doing so for the universal desire for freedom.  But aren’t we projecting our own civilization on a very different civilization with very different foundations?

The jihadists, such as the members of al-Qaeda, have long called for the overthrow of these secularist and worldly dictators.   The jihadists may well be for democracy, which for them is not the expression of liberty but the vehicle for the imposition of Islamic law.

I’m not saying that this “rebel commander” is representative of all of the rebels against Gaddafi, and a mere 25 fighters are not very many, though he is suggesting that there are more.  But now our pilots, under the foreign command of NATO, are put in the position of defending some of the very men who fought against them in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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