Image via Wikipedia
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.....
..... any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
On April 2, 1947, the man who murdered the entire Polish branch of my Jewish family was sentenced to death.
Although my great-grandmother's siblings, along with three and a half million others, suffered unspeakable cruelty and genocide at his hands, Rudolf Hoss, their murderer, was subjected to a due process of law. This due process granted a measure of closure to survivors and relatives, who saw justice unfold. It gave Hoss himself time to gain a glimpse of clarity and awareness of the enormity of his crimes, coming to grips with his own conscience and seeking Divine forgiveness. In his last days he wrote,
"My conscience compels me to make the following declaration. In the solitude of my prison cell I have come to the bitter recognition that I have sinned gravely against humanity. As Commandant of Auschwitz I was responsible for carrying out part of the cruel plans of the 'Third Reich' for human destruction. In so doing I have inflicted terrible wounds on humanity. I caused unspeakable suffering for the Polish people in particular. I am to pay for this with my life. May the Lord God forgive one day what I have done."
Above all, the due process which Hoss received in Poland, along with the Nuremberg trials in which he served as a witness against several of his partners in crimes against humanity, allowed the potential of a world order based on justice, human rights and the rule of law. Extra-judicial killings of the Nazi war criminals would simply have perpetuated their ethic of sadistic cruelty and arbitrary murder.
Today, the United States government has carried out an extra-judicial killing of an unarmed elderly man. Doubtless, by his own admission, Osama Bin Laden has inspired and directed horrific crimes against innocent civilians around the world. Doubtless, he has been responsible for the creation of a distorted form of extremist Islam, which runs counter to the nobility and beauty of the Quran. Doubtless, he has been the author of the hideous strategy of suicide attacks.
His heinous actions may make it difficult for us to see the basic goodness, the image of God, which he shares with all humans. In Rudolf Hoss too, it was extremely difficult to perceive the basic goodness. Yet, and for all the same reasons, Bin Laden, like Hoss, should have been subjected to the due process of law. In carrying out the extra-judicial killing of an unarmed man, by definition a war crime, it is we, not Bin Laden, who close the door to a brighter future of justice for all. When we dance in the street because someone we hate has been killed, it is we, not Bin Laden, who sow the seeds of hatred. When a we rejoice and are gleeful because someone who has wronged us has not received a proper burial according to his faith, it is we, not Bin Laden, who dehumanize our fellow human beings. Osama Bin Laden is dead, but his legacy lives on--and not just in a few hundred Al Qai'da operatives. His legacy lives on in us, who have chosen hate over love. His legacy lives on in us, who have chosen revenge over justice. His legacy lives on in us, who have chosen division over unity. In our hatred, in our revenge, we have become the very thing we hate.
A few hours before Bin Laden was killed, I was sitting with my teacher, Dr Vasant Lad. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Dr Lad said, "When Jesus was on the cross, he said, 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.' This is the voice of enlightenment. Can we love Hitler, as Jesus did? Can we love Osama Bin Laden, as Jesus did?"
Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe. Amen.
-Universal Peace Prayer