May 6, 2011 -- In Homer’s Iliad Trojan prince Hector is slain in combat by the Greek champion Achilles. But blinded by anger, Achilles desecrates Hector’s body, dragging it behind his chariot, denying it proper funeral rites, and angering the gods with this sacrilege.
Does the first great work of Western literature hold moral lessons for us concerning the disposition of Osama Bin Laden’s body?
But after DNA samples were taken and it was photographed, the body was given Muslim religious rites and buried at sea. Further, the administration refuses to release the photos of Bin Laden’s corpse.
Muslim Moral Midgets?
Obama argued that he wanted to avoid offending Muslim sensitivities or having the photos act as “an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool.” Is this a valid reason for his actions? Hardly!
The obvious assumption here that Obama doesn’t want us to notice is that many Muslims are not as offended, horrified, and disgusted by the life of a vicious killer responsible for the deaths of thousands in the name of their religion as they would be by seeing the photo of that moral monster’s corpse, or imagining it not being treated in accordance with their religion. That is to say, it assumes that many Muslims are moral midgets, their sentiments stunted by their pre-modern world view. And, in fact, there have been protests by Muslims against Bin Laden’s killing, honoring the al Qaeda leader as a martyr.
Islamic culture today is stumbling toward modernity. And we’re told that most Muslims are not terrorists and don’t support terrorism. Fine! Then those Muslims should be opposing mindless religious dogma—the toxic cultural soil from which terrorism grows—by upholding the Enlightenment values of reason, critical thinking, and tolerance. That means facing up to the evil of al Qaeda and Bin Laden.
The disposal of Bin Laden’s body at sea so soon after his death was also a problematic move by Obama. Obviously keeping the body a while longer would have allowed the administration to put to rest any claims that Bin Laden was still alive or questions about the nature of his death.
Justice for All
One might still ask whether the display of Bin Laden’s body or the release of post-mortem photos would somehow be unseemly, similar to Hector’s sacrilege.
One might observe that in the United States a condemned murderer, no matter how heinous his crime, is given a last meal, offered access to clergy, allowed to pronounce last words. Do such criminals—who have taken the lives of others—deserve such humane treatment?
We afford them good treatment in part to make sure we remember that these are human lives—failed ones that deserve to be forfeited, to be sure, but human lives none the less. We do not want to become callous like murderers.
On the other hand, when such criminals have had their last meal, the loved ones of the victims who were murdered usually are afforded the opportunity to observe the criminal’s execution.
Little in life can be worse than the suffering of family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and other survivors of a murder victim. It is a pain that lasts the rest of one’s life and can make it impossible for one to experience the joys of life. How one copes with such a horror is a very personal matter. But some closure can often be accorded by looking upon the body of the murderer, of seeing with one’s own eyes that justice has been done.
Obama is to be congratulated for his efforts to bring Bin Laden to justice. But in the follow-up, he should concern himself not with the sentiments of those Muslins who will hate us no matter what, but rather, with justice for the American victims of Bin Laden.