Dr. King's words provoke comfort and make us uncomfortable.
'Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.'
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
They are comforting because they call us to an higher expression of humanity; an expression to which most of us aspire - a world in which we resolve our differences with one another in love and respect. That is certainly a worthy aspiration in individual relationships, but what about conflict between nations? King's words make us uncomfortable because he didn't limit such exhortations to individual relationships. King believed it was possible to resolve even international conflicts this way.
Most everyone was reluctant to endorse what appeared to be cheerful celebration at the news of Bin Laden's death. At the same time, I don't there anyone of us didn't understand it. The pent up frustrations of a nation - a nation as great as ours - that had been traumatized by the great tragedy of 9/11, were released on Sunday night. More than young people, but mostly young people, who have only known war as our predominant foreign policy for almost 10 years, with the specter of Osama Bin Laden as the backdrop to not only our warfare, but our politics, our culture and our national life were now free from that ghostly figure.
Or are we?
We call it justice - and there is a sense in which it really is. Bin Laden had evaded capture for 10 years and finally he can evade justice no more. But are we really free?
We now deal with the fear - or at least the apprehension of retaliation. Although we speak in terms of 'closure' for the families of the victims of 9/11. But one by one, they tell us there can really be no closure for them. There loved one's are still gone. Children who grew up without a father and mother cannot have those days restored.
We have seen a gross intolerance of Islam, although we say we are not at war with this faith, we seem barely willing to make the distinction and some people don't make the distinction at all.
King's words make us uncomfortable - just like the comfort us. King was a Gospel preacher. He was also a pacifist. For King, non-violence was not a tactic, it was a way of life, a principle by which our individual and collective lives should be ordered.
But this was war. And in war there are casualties. There are sides to be taken and winners and losers in war. And there is death.
King's words make us uncomfortable and they should. I cannot say President Obama was wrong in having Osama Bin Laden hunted down relentlessly and 'brought to justice'. I couldn't have said President Bush would have been wrong if the same thing happened on his watch.
And I'm uncomfortable not being able to say that they are wrong.
Because it's not that America should be better than this. It's that we all should be better than this.
The extremists in Islam will never be 'won over' by killing their leadership and we can't kill all the leaders of Islamic extremism.
The international coalition that went to war against 'radical Islam' must now find a way to become a coalition for international peace. We cannot continue to be a world at war with itself. Every soldier who loses his or her life is a reminder that the rest of us cannot make ourselves comfortable enjoying security at their expense. Even when we are the aggrieved nation.
I, too am a Gospel preacher. Like King, I have the luxury of exhorting mankind to achieve the ideal. Like King didn't face the incredible challenges of Lyndon Johnson. I, nor the others feeling as conflicted as I, don't have the pressures that Bush or Obama had in this circumstance. After the horror of 9/11 we all called for 'justice'. And by justice we essentially meant an 'eye for an eye'. That's when we're confronted with something else Martin Luther King, Jr. said, quoting Mohandas K. Ghandi (who wasn't a pacifist, by the way):
'An eye for an eye, makes the whole world blind'.
If you struggle with your emotions in the face of Bin Laden's execution, let's keep struggling. Maybe at some point we can find a better way...