The joy expressed worldwide on the news of Osama bin Laden’s death is simultaneously understandable and disturbing.
Understandable because, like everyone else in the USA on September 11, 2001, it was impossible to pretend otherwise that the morning’s terrorist attacks changed everything. That day I was in Baltimore, MD, which is one hour north of Washington, DC, and two hours south of New York City, working at the offices of The Animals’ Agenda, an animal rights magazine I edited and published. We stayed in publication with the narrowest of balance sheets imaginable. If it wasn’t for the outstanding generosity of the magazine’s readers and grants from like-minded organisations and foundations, we would have ceased publication years earlier. But no one could have predicted that morning the significant impact that the psychological trauma would have, particularly on the country’s economy. The resulting economic slump pushed precarious enterprises like The Animals’ Agenda into severe financial distress. In 2002 we ceased publication, eventually merging with Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to form the Animals and Society Institute.
So, for this reason, and others widely shared by most people, I have no sympathy for bin Laden. Nevertheless, the scenes of celebration over his death disturb me. Taking joy in the death of another, including an animal, shows off our fear and arrogance. These raw emotions are hatred for those who we detest and pleasure in seeing their demise. What difference is there between the celebrations of those who were happy to learn of bin Laden’s death and his followers who found joy in the 2001 terrorist attacks?
The disgust I felt on seeing the recent celebrations forces me to confront how I feel about the forthcoming demise of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For years, I’ve kept a bottle of Champagne in the fridge specifically for toasting on the “glorious day when Maggie dies.” Thatcher stood for everything I thought was wrong. She led a government which, in all but name, declared war on the British poor and working class. Tremors triggered by her premiership reverberate today. In fact, the present Conservative-led coalition government is Thatercherism revived and expanded. This is why the Champagne has been on ice for years, even on two continents. Further, I’ve made it clear to all who would listen that on the “glorious day when Maggie dies” I will be in my local pub celebrating. “Meet me there,” I said.
Now, I’m not so sure. To celebrate Maggie’s death in the way that I thought I would is to behave hypocritically. It is to be guilty of the same acts that I criticise those who celebrate bin Laden’s death and those who took pleasure in terrorism.
And just to be clear before anyone mischievously rushes to do so, I am not making any comparison between Osama bin Laden and Margaret Thatcher. If they do they will be guilty of hypocrisy, taking advantage hypocritically of Maggie’s death in the same callous way that they will no doubt be accusing me off while conveniently ignoring their own poisonous rhetoric.
So, how are we to recognise the death of someone who we hate so much?
It turns out that the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote much used lately is a fabrication. So, I won’t quote what he is to alleged to have said, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”
Another recently used quote is also not true! Mark Twain never said, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” So, I won’t quote him either.
So, how will I recognise the death of Margaret Thatcher?
Most likely, I will stay at home, nurture a glass of bubbly, playing loudly Robert Wyatt, the Clash, the Smiths and Henry Cow. And weep a little.