“He has issues with his wife, and he has issues with his kids, financial issues, you know, the kids aren’t listening, the kids aren’t doing this and that. It comes down to (the fact) he’s a father and he’s a person.”
So said 21-year-old Abdurahman Khadr about Osama Bin Ladin in a Canadian documentary produced 2004 about a family close to the Bin Ladens. Abdurhaman’s own father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an accused al Qaeda financier who was killed in a gun battle with Pakistani police in 2003. (Ahmed wasn’t a model father either: He wanted his sons to follow him into the family business by becoming suicide bombers.)
The Khadrs, who lived in the Bin Laden family compound in the Afghan town of Jalalabad for several years, describe Osama as a man who loved volleyball, sport shooting, and riding horses.
“[Osama] had promised [his children] that he would get them a horse if they memorized the Koran. They were so anxious to finish memorizing it so that they could get a horse, which shows you that they’re normal children too,” said Abdurahman.
Thinking back on such comments reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s Eichman in Jerusalem, a book about the trial of Nazi leader Adolph Eichmann. As she witnessed the trial of one of the key organizers of the Holocaust, Arendt was surprised to find that Eichmann was such an ordinary man. Her imagination had led her to expect a demon. Instead she found a middle-aged bureaucrat who explained genocide in terms of production quotas and efficiency standards. Her observations led her to the concept of “the banality of evil.”
We naturally recoil at such commonplace observations about “monsters” like Eichmann and Bin Laden. There is something discomforting about hearing them described as normal people with wives and children. The more heinous the actions of our enemies, the more likely we are to forget that they are more like us than we care to admit. They are not just enemy but anthropos—a human being.
We have a tendency to want to think of our enemies as sub-human vermin, as being so distant from ourselves that they are almost a different species. But as much as Bin Laden and his ilk may justify their dehumanizing of Americans, we can never fall under the same delusion. It would be a Pyrrhic victory to save civilization only to lose our humanity
We must never hesitate to defend our country, our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us. No one should shed a tear for Bin Laden, for he received the justice due to one who shed innocent blood.
Yet our relief at his death must be tempered by a Christian view of humanity. We must never forget that the evil comes not from the actions of “subhuman vermin” but from the heart of a fallen, sacred yet degraded, human being. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind. Like us, they are human, all too human.