Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
As reports that Osama Bin Laden had been killed trickled out to the world, I was horrified by the jubilant celebrations that appeared to be taking place on a number of streets throughout the United States. Scenes of elated people boisterously shouting “U.S.A, U.S.A!” made me shudder and I was not alone. As quickly as the news of the death had spread, so too had a quote that was wrongly attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”
It doesn’t matter who originally said it, the sentiment – in my view – is spot on.
Last night, as I logged on to Facebook to see the news of the death of Margaret Thatcher, I was disturbed to see far too many statuses proclaiming “DING DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD”, as well as links to a website that I found nothing short of tacky and childish.
That Thatcher was an uber-conservative politician with policies that were, at times, abhorrent is no secret. She didn’t earn the nickname “the Iron Lady” for being soft, fuzzy and progressive.
But the celebration of death, whether it be that of Thatcher, bin Laden, or anyone else is something that will never sit well with me.
As I find myself living in Timor-Leste, a nation that has been subjected to decades of torture and death at the hands of others, I find that I am surrounded not by hatred or the desire for revenge, but by compassion and forgiveness.
The former Prime Minister, President, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta has been steadfast in his calls for forgiveness and reconciliation with those who perpetrated heinous acts against the Timorese people.
On February 11, 2008, Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao were attacked by rebels in Dili. Ramos-Horta was shot twice in the back and was flown to Australia for life-saving emergency surgery. In 2010, he pardoned 23 of the rebels, including Marcelo Caetano who was sentenced to jail the shooting of Ramos-Horta himself.
He was quoted as saying he was releasing the rebels because they were also victims and continues to urge those who suffered at the hands of Indonesia to forgive and move forward.
I’ve spoken to many Timorese people about the Indonesian invasion and subsequent occupation of Timor-Leste. I’ve heard stories that were nothing short of horrifying in their terror and brutality. Stories that no person should have ever had to tell, let alone live.
Yet, despite the torture, the terror, the rape, despite it all, there is no animosity. There is no celebration of the death of a person who directly caused so much heartache; no celebration of the death of an enemy.
For me, the reaction to the death of Margaret Thatcher has been over the top.
It’s been a reminder that people, regardless of who they are or what their upbringing was, are capable of a strange level of hatred of sorts.
That people can be so joyful that a person has died will never sit well with me. It suggests that humans, for whatever reason, are sometimes incapable of feeling compassion. If you dislike someone so strongly, it shouldn’t matter that they have died. You shouldn’t care.
Actively revelling in a death takes things to a whole new level. It seems to take away a little piece of a person’s humanity.
If people can enthusiastically rejoice that someone has died, what hope does the world have? Where does it end? I can’t help but wonder how humanity can ever evolve beyond our current state of endless wars, aggression and disconnectedness if the reactions to the death of a single death are ones of pleasure.
I once heard it said that people are all the same when they’re sleeping. Dictators, murderers, extreme right-wing politicians, or even just your average Joe on the street. Genuine dislike or hatred of a person, especially one you don’t know on a personal level, doesn’t change the fact that people are people. We all need to eat, to sleep, to breathe. We all have friends and families who care about us.
I’m with Martin Luther King, Jr on this one. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate.