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On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama reported that al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was officially dead. Rumors suggest that SEAL Team Six was the end of the line for the man who planned and orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the defeated attack on Washington, DC. The President suggests that this is a turning point in the nearly decade long global war on terror that is no longer called the Global War on Terror, and that this event is long-awaited justice for those innocents killed in what has become known as this generation’s Pearl Harbor moment.

So why don’t I feel like celebrating?

Primarily, because I don’t consider war to be a cheering matter.   When the news broke, there was celebration in the streets, overwhelming chants of “USA, USA, USA” at the White House between rounds of The Star-Spangled Banner, and wave after wave of patriotic and religious praise channeled through networks like Facebook and Twitter. The death of public enemy number one became a reason to frolic and rejoice in the streets because it was justice. But what is justice, and has it been served?

On September 11, 2001, approximately 3,000 people died from all walks of life and spiritual beliefs at the hand of nineteen terrorists. Since then, the highest estimate of casualties has been 1.2 million dead in the fight against terrorism. That number may be conservative – the lowest estimate is just over one million – but will continue to rise as hostilities continue and the delayed health effects of responders to the World Trade Center site start being factored in. On the concept of justice, Wikipedia offers the crowd-sourced definition of a “concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.” It also states that there are five variations of justice, but I believe the one that President Obama suggested would be that of retributive justice: The proportionate response to crime proven by lawful evidence so that the punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally correct and fully deserved. Go a step further to lex talionis, the law of retaliation, which is a military theory centered on reciprocity being equal to the wrong suffered. Are we expected to believe that the life of one man, Osama bin Laden, is equated to 3,000 innocents at a minimum? How about 1.2 million, including innocent women and children who have euphemistically become known as “collateral damage”? Do the scales balance because a Navy SEAL ended one man’s existence in the names of thousands or millions?

It is well documented that President George W. Bush took to this war based on what he determined was a calling from God. Inherent to the concept of lex talionis is the principle “an eye for an eye”, which appears numerous times in the Bible and other religious texts, and it seems that many of the social celebrations to yesterday’s event focus on one deity or another bestowing blessings upon the American people for exacting lex talionis.

 

Now I lay me down to sleep, one less terrorist this world does keep.
With all my heart I give my thanks, to those in uniform regardless of ranks.
You serve our country and serve it well, with humble hearts your stories tell.
So as I rest my weary eyes, while freedom rings our flag still flies.
You give your all, do what you must; with God we live and God we trust.

–various sources on Facebook

 

Martin Luther King, Jr – paraphrasing Mahatma Ghandi – once said, "Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.  It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.  The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.  It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding." While this war is not about racial justice, is about justice based on matters of faith. Al-Qaeda did not declare war on the United States because they hate our blue jeans, fast cars, tall towers, or apple pie. Al-Qaeda is based on an extremist interpretation is Islam, and that faith is what drove them to attack us because our diversity of faiths makes us inferior to them. Despite protests to the contrary, this fight is one of religion and whose god has a bigger piece of the pie. It’s not a new battle – the Crusades and the Inquisition show us that – and it has no easy solutions, but I feel that the word racial in Reverend King’s quote can be substituted by religious along with any other form of justice. I’m not so sure that justice has been served in this case, and I certainly do not feel that it is a moment of celebration or victory.

What people don’t seem to understand about this conflict is that we don’t have a distinct enemy to fight against. When Adolf Hitler was declared dead – interestingly, on May 1, 1945 – the Nazi armies surrendered the very next day. This demoralization isn’t the case with al-Qaeda. We’ve taken out significant chunks of their command structure before, and like the mythological hydra, two new heads would grow back in the form of a person to take the place of the fallen and new tactics to avoid making the same mistake again. The fall of Osama bin Laden doesn’t mean that the war is over, nor does it mean that our troops are coming home. In fact, I would venture that al-Qaeda will only become stronger or, at the very least, more cunning in its methods. I agree that we should be happy that one powerful avenue of hatred and violence has been eliminated, but I greatly fear for what darkness lies at the bottom of that Pandora’s Box. What has bin Laden’s death unleashed upon us in retaliation for what the enemy will likely see as another murder perpetrated by the western terror?

Another source of contention has been the disposition of the body. While Muslim death rites are somewhat shrouded in secrecy, it has come to light that the body must be buried within 24 hours to hold with religious tradition. While morbid and disgusting jokes of stuffing the corpse so every American can take a whack at it like some macabre piñata have surfaced, some have taken this as an offense to those killed since 2001. I firmly believe that, no matter the evil perpetrated in life, any person’s death should be respected. If they took our corpses and burned them in effigy or fed them to a pack of wild dogs, we would be livid. People, including those of deep religious and spiritual faith should consider that before calling for desecration of a corpse in the name of revenge.

 

“The rabbis say that, as the Israelites celebrated the death of the Egyptians, so did the angels. But God stilled them and ordered them to stop their rejoicing. ‘But why?’ the angels ask. ‘Look what they did to Your children.’ And God answered, ‘These too are My children!’”
Harry Danziger

 

What I don’t doubt about the death of Osama bin Laden is that it will be a source of morale for a country weary of war. After a decade of gains and losses that effectively cancel each other out, this marks a moment where something substantial has been accomplished. If maintained, this momentum can be harnessed to usher in a new era of support for both politicians and fighting forces. Having been in the uniform, I understand the need for morale boosts in providing purpose for your efforts. But, remember that war is sterile only from the safety of the armchair. War is a bloody, disgusting, destructive mess, and I have yet to meet a veteran who was proud of what he or she had done in theater. They are usually proud of having contributed to peace, but I don’t recall any pride or joy stemming from pulling a trigger, sending a round downrange, and becoming the messenger of death for another human being.

If I have to be proud of killing a terrorist, I have to be proud of every time one of our enemies has died in the name of stopping terrorism. That means I have to be proud of the terrorists who die in allied bombing runs that kill innocents, and that is something I cannot support. War is necessary because politics and diplomacy cannot solve every social or cultural difference in the world, but that doesn’t mean I have to celebrate it or be proud of it. I don’t see anything to celebrate in killing another human being, and I certainly don’t see justice even if you look beyond the "eye for an eye" version Americans seem to crave. I think we need to remember that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, and this doesn’t make me un-American or unpatriotic or even an enemy sympathizer. Killing Osama bin Laden has not restored the 3,000 lives taken ten years ago, and it certainly has not restored the 1.2 million lost since then. The scales cannot be balanced exclusively by steps such as these, but this is one more step toward a possible peace.

Peace is something I can celebrate.


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This post covers both sides of the issue after a day of critical thought about this issue.  If you disagree with me, leave me a note in the comments and I'll be glad to discuss it with you.


Oh, Amazon, you are quite the hotbed of controversy, aren’t you? You had my brain wrestling over some fairly important issues yesterday with your little fracas, and it took a little while to figure out where I stood on this. I’ll get back to you at the end of this musing.
 


If you haven’t seen the news yet, take some time to read about it. I know several smaller outlets have picked it up, along with CNN and MSNBC. Amazon recently started selling a Kindle-based e-book entitled The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct, which has been taken down as of late Wednesday. The outrage was furious, up to and including folks boycotting Amazon until the offending book was removed.

This is where I jumped off the train. I think we can reach a near unanimous agreement that pedophilia is not acceptable by any means. A how-to guide on the subject is equally unacceptable to me. However, at my core, I do not support censorship on any level. I do not believe that the information or entertainment I choose to enjoy should be filtered by any government organization or corporation. Such activity creates public animosity and backdoor trading sessions, and only serves to increase interest in the subject matter. Governments have tried in the past with religion, homosexuality, philosophy, pornography, alcohol, and even political ideologies themselves. We’re even doing it now every time someone refers to someone else as a “commie”.

Reading this guide would not directly make one a pedophile or even force them to conduct the illegal acts. Last I checked, human beings still have free agency to choose their own paths and actions. Do you seriously believe that reading the Bible instantly makes you Christian? Does watching Saw make you a torture aficionado and force you to kill? Does reading Harry Potter make you a witch or a fan of the occult? Does reading Mein Kampf make you a Nazi or a fan of genocide?  No, they do not.

Similarly, owning a gun does not make you a murderer or bank robber, nor does it enable you to be one.  Amazon is not responsible for acts conducted after purchasing this book any more than a car dealer is responsible for paying your speeding fines.

While the mob mentality can accomplish a great many things, some of those things are bad. I consider banning books and censorship to be one of those things. Remember that this same mob mentality has lead to very horrific acts in our past, including lynching of minorities, burning of witches, destruction of property, and outright warfare.

Information should be free within the confines of the creative rights of the artists. Only through careful interpretation and discussion do we find the true power of that information, the message it tries to convey, and how it will affect our lives.

Don’t censor. Don’t ban. Analyze, interpret, and discuss with an open mind, and then decide if the material is useful or utter dreck.

 

Hang on, Amazon!  I’m not done yet.

To you, I urge caution and mindful consideration of your future projects. After the homosexual censorship debacle last April, you’re under watch and on notice with me.  While you and I share the philosophy against censorship, you also need to consider good taste in your publishing and sales choices.  You can only make so many bad choices before your faithful walk out the door.  Good luck getting them back.

Your choice with marketing that book is disgusting and disappointing. You had to know that this uproar would occur, and you know what the mob is capable of when fueled by anger, rage, and pain.  If you didn't know that your choice would go this far, you need to change out your marketing department.

I refuse to boycott you because your customer service has been nothing but exemplary in my book.  I want you remember that just because someone submits something to you for publishing doesn’t mean it deserves to be published in your store.  That's a marketing decision more than it is a call to censorship, and it should be common sense.


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Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside. 

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.


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