Bin Laden In Heaven
Osama bin Laden is in heaven.
Upon his death, bin Laden went to heaven, as he'd expected to, a warrior of righteousness claiming his longed-for reward. An archangel escorted him to a large, lavishly appointed salon, where he found nearly three thousand people waiting in an orderly line to tell him about their deaths: the terror, the desperation, the cries of their children who survived them in the night. Each of these people takes bin Laden's hand and tells him a horrible story, and he has to listen. Occasionally, he tries to flee the room, only to find himself in front of a wall of TVs, all showing Americans blithely spending money at the Gap and McDonald's; he returns to the salon, and the line is there, endless, inexorable. "I jumped." "I burned." "I miss my mom."
When he reaches the end of the line, it begins again, and he may hear the same appalling stories of the murders he committed — or he may have to look at every stamp in a 17-album collection. He may have to make chit-chat with a lady who ate cabbage and Stilton while waiting in line, and who is now crop-dusting him so assertively that his beard begins to fall out. Another lady talks for four full days, through a karaoke microphone that feeds back constantly. He is guilt-ridden, nauseated, miserable, bored, depressed, filled with fear and self-loathing, bereft of comfort and dignity. He is, at times, compelled to wear a tutu. He always has to pee.
This is his eternity. Satisfying, no?
The vision is more satisfying, for me, than the news of his death, which, after the initial elation, left me down and queasy. I think bin Laden's demise is deeply satisfying for some; I hope it is for the many who lost friends and family on 9/11. He murdered people in front of me, and the world is a better place without him, so I'm not unhappy he's dead.
But he should have had to face us. It would have made a more fitting punishment for him, and it would have renewed our own faith in the American system, flawed and maddening as it often is.
One of ABC's commentators mentioned last night that bin Laden's bodyguards had orders to kill their boss if his capture seemed imminent, no doubt to deny us the satisfaction of bringing him back here to face his accusers — hundreds of thousands of us, orphans, widowers, older siblings, groomsmen. He would never have allowed us to force him to sit for weeks and months in a courtroom and listen to the families and friends and bosses talk about every single victim. He would never have submitted to the subsequent, massive wrongful-death suit that would have taken what remained of his money and distributed it among the families; he could never have tolerated playing out the string in a Midwestern supermax prison, unheard, forgotten, under lock and key in the country he loathed.
That's why we should have tried to make him.
There is no evening the scales of 9/11. There is a knee-jerk satisfaction, I suppose, in knowing he got shot like a dog, but it doesn't make up for, or bring back, or any of that. If we had made him come back here and sit in front of us, though…if we had quietly, carefully, firmly focused our attentions on finding him and bringing him back here to answer for his crimes…if we had devoted our intelligence energies to tracking down bin Laden and his accomplices, and given them due process, put them into a system they hated and tried to bring down? If we had done that, and only that?
That wouldn't make up for, or bring back, or any of that either. Nothing can, and if bin Laden's death lets victims' family and friends move on, then there's something good out of it. Everyone else feels how they feel. For me, nearly 10 years later, thousands of civilian and service casualties later, if this is what our vengeance hath wrought, it isn't enough. No time machine, no answers, no safety, just a sense that we have to do better.
So, in my imagination, bin Laden is in heaven, because it's not me he has to answer to, or the president, or the Navy SEALs, or even God. It's the people who got there not quite ten years ago, and I hope they hear what they need to.
The rest of us just stay here in this imperfect world and try to do better. Take care of yourselves out there.
Tags: news September 11th