Our politics are disintegrating. We are losing our ability to govern ourselves. Today‚ media amplify our differences, our biases, and our intolerances. Instead of labels, we need a common language to bring us together and to help us find common ground. More
A friend of mine was driving with his 9-year old daughter, listening to the news about Osama bin Laden’s death on the radio, when this exceptionally precocious girl said: “What a tragedy that we had to kill someone to fix a problem.” Out of the mouths of babes.
Much has been written about the death of bin Laden and what it means for al Qaeda, about the possibility of retaliation and the sense of closure for the families of those who died on 9/11/2001, and about how the U.S. action was justified and justice was served. But having learned about bin Laden’s death on the 60th anniversary of the day that we learned that Adolf Hitler was dead, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to think about some broader issues, as well.
Like Hitler before him, bin Laden promoted superiority (the superiority of his religion, his ethnicity, and his viewpoint) when, in fact, all he really demonstrated was hatred and bigotry. Bin Laden personified death and destruction, and in a way that wise 9-year old girl was right. It is a tragedy that we had to resort to bin Laden’s tactics to rid the world of his evil presence. But, there is something else that we can do about his ideas. We can reject them, more forcefully and more publicly than ever before.
Civility, respect, and tolerance were bin Laden’s real enemies, not the U.S. or the Western World. Knowledge and freedom for all, men and women alike, were bin Laden’s greatest fears. Dividing and labeling people were his tactics. Ignorance was his kingdom.
What kind of world would bin Laden hate the most? Not just a modern world, but also a world in which his ideas, his values, his beliefs, and his tactics are rejected. A world that lives in peace, harmony, and tolerance. A world in which we put aside our labels and our prejudices, and we respect the views of others, even if we do not always agree with them.
You and I can reject all that bin Laden was and represented. You and I can be all that bin Laden was not. You and I can be friends and colleagues. You and I can be compassionate and caring. You and I can be Devout Citizens of the World.
America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.
Movie Speech from “The American President” (1995)