In a recent issue of The New Yorker,
I write a lot about the problem of stripping humanity, of "othering," and of making monsters of men. My favorite book on al-Qaeda is
And yet now, in the wake of
There's been a lively debate going on across the Internet about the legality of killing bin Laden, in terms of both American and international law. The weight of the debate comes not simply from bin Laden's death, but from the broader context of post-9/11 America. In a time when we are willing to countenance the legal limbo of
And I do not care.
I came to
And he would have sent his own son to certain death to kill more innocent people. Reading Coll's story, all I could think was, "What kind of human would tell his own son to give his life for the murder of innocents?" The fact is that bin Laden is not the first man who's hated "his enemies more than he loved his sons." But that quote put it all in stark relief for me.
One of my motivating beliefs is that people are people, and that tags like "madman," "evil" and even "terrorist" are, very often, escape hatches which allow us to avoid the hard work of understanding the evil encoded in all of us. Often I argue that Civil War-era slaveholders and Confederates must be seen as humans. And yet when I think about bin Laden's killing, I feel no need to relate. I feel no need to qualify.
I think this is dangerous. I think it is scary when your principles become alleged and incidental, when you lose interest in the debate. It is so very dangerous to make exceptions. It is so very dangerous to go cold.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer and senior editor for The Atlantic and its website.
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