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Friday, May 06, 2011

Rowan Williams and David Foster Wallace

I saw that the Archbishop of Canterbury has made a comment on the death of Osama bin Laden, and I thought I'd post some of what he had to say ....


The Archbishop of Canterbury's bad manners

[...] Yesterday, while people were stil celebrating the extinction of Osama bin Laden, he [Rowan Williams] was asked at a Lambeth Palace press conference whether the US had been right to kill him. After some reluctance to give a response at all -- Archbishop Rowan always knows when he is about to flung into the fire, and yet his honesty always wins out over his fear -- he replied:

"I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances. I think it’s also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know full details any more than anyone else does. But I do believe that in such circumstances when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal, in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed."

... (snip) .....

He was making a point about the one fact we now do know: that bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was shot. Whether he was executed by deliberate order (the complications of arresting and trying him are after all almost too great to contemplate) or because he failed to surrender (the Navy Seals feared a suicide vest or worse) is among the facts we don't know. But that he was shot while unarmed leaves open the strong possibility that this was an extra-judicial killing.

To which a chorus of voices has cried: so what? Did bin Laden care about the death of unarmed people? Why have any sympathy for such a monster? But this is not about him; it's about us, and whether the means of self-defence we deploy to preserve our way of life are consonant with our values, or whether, in sacrificing principles for the sake of a perceived immediate goal, we hand our enemies a victory, and so prolong the battle.

That's the point the Archbishop wanted to make. When terrorists wage war on democratic countries under the rule of law, they not only slay the innocent but tempt civilized nations to abandon the rule of law. And they key point about the rule of law is that nobody is outside it, whoever they are and whatever they have done; and the law cannot be set aside because it is justified to do so. The enormity of bin Laden's crimes, therefore is irrelevant; if anything, it makes the need for deploying the law more, not less, compelling ..........


This reminds me of the short essay by David Foster Wallace at The Atlantic - Just Asking

And I recommend this really good post for going over all the ethical and practical implications of where we throw down on the killing - The Osama bin Laden exception by Glenn Greewald.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I've heard so much self-satisfied vitriol directed against the "progressive" xtian Left's political enemies on blogs that I find their protestations of "Let's be better than that." ringing hollow.
He was offered a chance to surrender-and knew that he'd be made to give up information harmful to his sick cause and didn't surrender, knowing that he was going to die.
No tears shed by me. Somewhat concerned that he was living in a mansion close to Pakistan's West Point.
Other than that, no real feelings about the situation.
As an atheist, I find the idea of praying for the dead pointless (and also un-Protestant-do you people believe in Purgatory now?).

3:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:32 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

I thought Greenwald's point was valid. And will totally go unheard. What does it mean when you can't make the tough but right choice in tough times?

It's easier to be a butcher. To chant, "We're number one." We may have had a moment of civilization during the Nuremberg Trials, but we really don't care. Kill 'em all. (And give us their goodies.) That's what Jesus taught, after all. That's what makes us such a Christian nation.

8:05 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

Yeah, that's my feeling too.

9:49 PM  

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