Fueling Hate With Hate: a Feminist Perspective on the Celebration of Bin Laden’s Death

“As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.” –President Barack Obama, 1 May 2011

These are the two most important sentences in President Obama’s speech last night.

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, we must remember—hate kills. Hatred of a group of people, any group of people, people at all, turns us down a path of violence and death. This is Holocaust Remembrance week, and the lessons of the Holocaust are more relevant than ever.

Who can say when the hatred began, or who hated whom first? It’s a cycle, we go around and around, and the hatred never abates, and the violence never ends. Does Bin Laden’s death mean the end of the war on terror? No. Does it stop the cycle of hatred or violence? No. There will be more violence in the days to come.

What we must do is weed the hatred out of our hearts. What we must NOT do is taunt, disrespect, attack, or discriminate against anyone of Muslim faith, or Middle Eastern descent, or those who may disagree with us politically.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance is poignant in the face of yesterday’s announcement: Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?

In the immediate aftermath of the massive death and destruction of World War II, revenge might have satisfied the shock and anger of the moment. But many believed that justice under the rule of law rather than vengeance would better serve humanity. In support of this principle, the Museum is marking the 65th anniversary of the verdicts at the first Nuremberg trial, a watershed moment in international justice, and the 50th anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the most high-profile postwar recountings of the Nazi genocide and a landmark in public awareness of the Holocaust.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945 held 22 top Nazi leaders accountable for atrocities they commanded and perpetrated. Subsequent proceedings between 1946 and 1949 prosecuted another 183 persons. This total represented only a tiny fraction of those responsible for the Holocaust, but established important precedents. Who was prosecuted was more telling than how many stood trial. No one, regardless of official position, was above the law. The argument that someone had just been following orders was no longer considered a valid defense. Not only were the shooters at mass executions and the guards at gas chambers tried, but physicians and business leaders, government officials and civil servants also were required to take responsibility for their actions—for as noted historian Raul Hilberg wrote, “The annihilation of Jewry required the implementation of systematic administrative measures in successive steps.”

After Nuremberg, a new understanding of international responsibility for human rights emerged, as the world began to fully understand the events we now call the Holocaust, spurring on a process to create a new legal vehicle that criminalized attempts to destroy any entire group of people—the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

…These anniversaries come at a time when some of the last living Nazis are on trial and perpetrators of recent genocides and crimes against humanity are being prosecuted. Precedents set in trials against Holocaust perpetrators have guided a new understanding of justice as a tool for seeking accountability, providing affirmation to victims, warning perpetrators, and reflecting society’s highest ideals about truth and justice. These trials are also a harsh reminder that while accountability is necessary in the aftermath of genocide, early intervention is vital to saving lives. Whether it is prevention, response, or accountability, the Holocaust teaches us that inaction can be deadly; actions, even small ones, can make all the difference for those whose lives are at risk, now and in the future.”

Osama bin Laden could have been captured and put on trial, but instead, he was killed. He was killed for a desire for vengeance, and for hate. This will only perpetuate the cycle of hatred, vengeance, violence, and murder.

We must intervene here. We must quell the desire for revenge. In the wake of this news, we must pause and breathe. We must not strike out against those of Muslim faith and/or Middle Eastern descent.

Remember the Holocaust. Remember the Nuremburg trials.

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