Justice and Revenge in the Epic of Osama

I woke up this morning to the headline “Osama Bin Laden is dead”. President Obama declares “Justice has been done”. Has it? It sounds like the kind of justice Holywood loves, the kind of redemptive violence that makes good action move. It’s the type of justice that has been doing the rounds since ancient Babylon. And it’s decidedly not the type of justice that the Bible speaks of – in fact it shows us to be just the same as the revenge motivated Muslims our media have demonised. Here’s how the story of Osama might sound like if it was a Babylonian-style epic.

There was once a land that was fought over by giants – one after another they rose up and stamped their way around, puffing themselves up. Once, two giants arose so massive that they could not fight. It seemed that if they did they very sky would fall and the earth be ripped apart. They danced around each other, feinting and jabbing, looking for heroes who would do the dangerous job of taking down the other giant. One day, in a small corned of the land, a hero was found. He was in love with a legendary woman called Khalifa. He could only meet her when the sleeping giant of his homeland awoke. He would do anything to bring his dream to life, even follow the greatest quest. The hero travelled to the mountains, where the giant Rus was terrifying the people. The giant Americ helped him to tease and harry the enemy giant all around the mountains. After months, years even, the warrior Osama cut off the hand of Rus, who slunk back to the frozen wastes to the north. It seemed Rus would never be the same again – like a bear with a sore paw, she hid in her den and watched the land change. Osama was loved like the greatest of heros in the mountains. Just as during his joust with the first giant, Osama recruited fighters to learn with him. They shared his dream of waking the giant Salam, they went all over the land to do what they could to wake him. There was just one giant towering over the land in these days. Other, smaller ones looked for footholds, but they could see that Americ could not be challenged. But Osama and his army knew no fear – they had driven one giant out of the mountains, now he would challenge another in its own lair. His soldiers fired three darts that put out the eye of the great giant Americ. Enraged, Americ swore to get revenge. Osama was once the hero of Americ, now he was the sworn enemy. The giant stomped over to the mountains to find Osama and get revenge for the pain of the darts. Where Rus could not defeat the hero, Americ put all his might into finding and crushing him. Osama slipped around the land of the mountains nimbly, just escaping the crushing stamps of the giant’s feet several times. He hid in caves, he hid in houses, he did not know who would tell the giant where he was. He could only speak in whispers, the giant was always listening with giant ears and chasing after any hint. For years he evaded the enraged giant, every stamped foot and pounded fist. He hid in the hills nearby, doing anything to be sure the giant would not harm him, while sending his warriors to keep irritating and harassing the giant. His army grew more, with new soldiers attacking the giant in the desert and in other places too. Osama’s fame grew so that many who waited for giant Salam to wake and longed for the beautiful Khalifa flocked to help him, new soldiers to advance his cause. They were sure that they were waking a new giant who would balance the land, even chase Americ away. No more would they be terrorised by the great giant, their hero and their giant would protect them. One night, Osama could hide no more. The giant found his hiding place and crushed him, grinding him into the ground like a bug. His dream of the beautiful Khalifa was never realised, the giant Salam had not done more than stir. What would his army do now – would they revenge his death, would new heroes arise, could they escape the same fate as Osama?

Note: Osama is not a hero to me, but he fulfils the ‘hero’ prototype of the epic genre. The hero of the epic violently resists forces much bigger than him, in a comedy he would triumph, in a tragedy, be defeated. However, the great hero of the Bible triumphs by seeming to be defeated and never resists violently. His kind of justice does not come by killing the enemy, the other. So how do we feel, how do we respond?