Comfort for Liberals Upon Bin Laden’s Death

Comfort for Liberals Upon Bin Laden’s Death

It just seems that liberals are consistently unhappy with anything bordering on patriotism. It's understandable to a certain degree, since patriotism is considered ill-mannered, gauche and too sentimental for evolved tastes.

How else to explain the wave of revulsion over spontaneous celebration of the death of Osama Bin Laden? Liberals are disgusted with other people—their own compatriots—being happy that this symbol of and author of the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor found himself at the end of a Navy SEAL weapon. Almost immediately, left-of-center condemnations appeared: Salon and the Christian Science Monitor quickly posted "this is wrong" articles to their sites, in an attempt to act as the nation's moral guardians. On social media fronts, or article comments, the choir reacted to the sermon in the expected way, reducing it all down to "we're no better than those who celebrated the 9/11 attacks."

That response is ugly in and of itself. It represents a belief that America is an exceptional nation and should never act like other nations, a deep irony considering concepts like American exceptionalism are repugnant to liberals. It offers nothing more than an opportunity for self-satisfied and smug suburbanites to hold themselves morally superior to the wretched unwashed mass that gloats over Bin Laden's death. The attitude also offers nothing by way of what a "proper" response is: should we have never gone after Bin Laden in the first place? Should we have done everything to make sure he was taken alive, knowing full well of a jihadist's desire for martyrdom? The liberal disgust with reactions to Bin Laden's death masks a deeply confusing set of ideas: he is an evil person, but American policy is more evil and 9/11 was merely payback, so his death means nothing; civilian deaths in Afghanistan are no different from 9/11 deaths so 19 hijackers or a team of Navy SEALS are merely doing the same thing.

The most confused liberal response has been: I understand the impulse, but I find celebrating the death wrong. No, you cannot be for and against something at the same time. You only have three options: indifference, satisfaction, or disgust. It's indefensible for anyone to claim they understand the impulse of satisfaction but disgust with celebration. Where does the impulse of satisfaction come from? The killing of Bin Laden is either repugnant or not, there's no margin for squirming. And if that sounds like an absolute, it is, because in this world, the uncomfortable fact is that we sometimes have only black and white to choose. Either killing Bin Laden was a goal, or it is not. This is the heart of the matter and it's deeply unsettling to liberals who prefer not to answer by cloaking their discomfort with moral equivalency ("we're no better than they are") or finding the bigger culprit in American policy ("9/11 is payback"). Disgust with those gleeful over Bin Laden's death is a nice way to suppress any initial "impulse of satisfaction". Perhaps the internal threat of satisfaction is more uncomfortable than imagined.

What underlies liberal discomfort is a deep, abiding fear of Muslims, specifically Islamist retaliation. If liberals believe that 9/11 is nothing more than payback, then subsequent actions (Afghanistan, Iraq) are proof that American policy is set on making Islamist grievances worse. This means that liberals are agreeing with Islamists that the true source of the violence rests with America and America alone: if we realize this, then the American government can make changes to foreign policy and address these grievances as legitimate. (This helps explain a liberal refrain: "I understand their anger although I disagree with their methods," but this is accommodating two distinct views, see above.) For liberals, the solution is not found in military action, but "understanding," and the remedy is apparent to all. This helps explain the predilection for pushing civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq to the fore, principally at the expense of American soldiers' deaths ("everyone is the same"). The worry here again, is future retaliation ("this is why they hate us, and I understand it") and the refrain "this (Bin Laden's death) changes nothing."

These conflicting ideas put liberals in a quandary, but it explains the disgust with those people who spontaneously celebrated Bin Laden’s demise. If there is no difference between America and its enemies, then celebrations perpetuate the worst aspect of American behavior (read exceptionalism) and partying over Bin Laden's death merely plays into Islamist hands ("this is why they hate us.") What we have is a desire for Americans to behave better in order to stave off Muslim displeasure at America’s actions. But consider this: what other power in history goes of out its way to give the enemy a decent burial? According to reports, Bin Laden’s body was washed according to Muslim tradition (by a Muslim no less) before burial at sea. Who knows what was said: a prayer? I have yet to see anyone acknowledge this at all, nor is there word from either al-Qaeda or the Taliban that any killed American servicemen would receive a Christian burial. The men who carried out this action will not become national heroes; their very identity may never known. How does that strike the liberal conscience who wants America to behave better so as not to inflame Muslim passions?

But of course, at the end of the day, this is still the United States, and you can stand on the street corner and condemn the government, the military, or our foreign policy until you’re blue in the face. You can rush to condemn celebrations of Bin Laden’s death. So perhaps there is some comfort for liberals in all this messiness: there will always be people of lesser moral stature than yourselves to condemn.