The wickedest man

Perhaps the Today programme will create one of their lists by asking people to vote for the most wicked person of our time. I would expect Robert Mugabe and Osama Bin Laden to be hot contestants. Yet I saw a photograph of Mugabe receiving Holy Communion during his recent Vatican visit. I notice that Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith blogged at the Catholic Herald an article arguing that the Vatican had no choice and that singling out one head of state as persona non grata would cause a troublesome precedent. Perhaps he is right, but I am left wondering just what a head of state would have to do in order to be unwelcome at the Vatican. Perhaps Berlusconi accompanied by dancing girls?

Osama Ben Laden was scarcely a head of state, but if he was our enemy how does loving our enemies fit into the question?

I find that when I see him as a truly wicked man that what I really mean is that I would have to have been truly wicked to behave as he did. But let’s imagine how he might have seen it.

“My people, the Muslims, have been hated and persecuted by the West throughout history. In the early Middle Ages we were the most advanced and civilised people in the world, yet the West crushed us by sheer brute force. And they continued to attack and slander us throughout the ages. In modern times attacks have been too many to count. There have been forced imprisonment of people who were not even tried in court. There has been much torture although it has been against the stated principles of the West. And don’t forget that it was the West who righteously allowed the Jews to set up a subsidised state in Arab land, and who have supported it ever since. If they wanted to be generous why didn’t they offer, say, California or Wales, instead of giving away someone else’s country?

You attack terrorism and suicide bombers but this is sheer hypocrisy. We are not, and perhaps never will be, in a position to mount a military machine to protect our cause. So we fight, as minorities have always had to do, through guerilla warfare. Of course civilians have often been harmed and many of the actions of our war have been directed at them. But count the civilian deaths in Berlin and Hamburg and Dresden. One blanket-bombing raid on one night would account for far more civilian deaths than any that Al Qaeda have caused. Why was it right for you and wrong for us?

Suicide bombers, so what? At least they were ready to sacrifice their lives where your gangster aircrews scooted back to wash the blood off their hands in the safety of their home base. Didn’t your philosopher, Pascal, say that he believed witnesses who had their throats cut?”

You may well think that these excuses are biassed self-serving nonsense. You may share my view that Bin Laden was responsible for acts of extreme evil. But just ask yourself whether it is at all possible that Bin Laden really, and sincerely, thought in the way that I have described, or in some way like it. And, even if he didn’t, remember the old verse “Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, is mercy sought and mercy found.” All of which is why I pray for his soul.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The wickedest man

  1. It may be that bin Laden and his followers have sincerely believed themselves morally justified; only God knows their minds. Jesus welcomed all kinds of sinners, the Pope is his representative on earth, and he is obliged to receive anyone who comes even in only the appearance of peace.

  2. Gerry says:

    That is as good a defence of Osama bin Laden as you could get. There is much to be said for it. Certainly the foundation of Israel was a mistake, an understandable mistake; a mistake due to Europe’s treatment of the Jews over many centuries, but a mistake none-the-less. And it was a mistake for the Arabs to react by trying to destroy Israel at birth. But that is how human beings normally do react.
    And we must remember – if we are to go back in history – that it was the Arabs who started it all. They swept through North Africa and into the heart of Europe first from the south and then from the east and were only just prevented from conquering the whole continent. Perhaps it was a mistake for Europe to react as it did after this partial conquest. But that is how human beings normally do react. In this matter we are all much the same.

  3. BRIAN HAMILL says:

    Some ten years ago I wrote an article in our local press about the Millennium and its connection to the Jubilee of the Israelites. Towards the end I suggested that certain people had been demonised in the minds of our young people, and put forward Adolf Hitler and Myra Hindley. Now, by chance, in the week intervening between my submitting the article and its publication date two things happened: first, Pope John Paul II apologised for the role the Church in the Holocaust and secondly, Myra Hindley came up for her parole hearing. You can imagine how the local editor rubbed his hands and started to make hay in this very fair weather. It actually led to a programme on Radio Leeds devoted to the subject of whether Adolf Hitler was forgiveable or not, and they were asking people in the street on live radio that very question. Fortunately Joe and Josephine Public had quite a common sense approach to this and said in effect, ‘He had done nothing to me so I have nothing to forgive. Go and ask those who were harmed by him’. So the affair died down.

    More recently there were the 7/7 bombings in London when the daughter of a Bristol vicar was killed in the attack. The vicar, a woman in this case, decided she had to resign her position since she could not bring herself to preach forgiveness to our enemies when she found herself incapable of forgiving the terrorist who killed himself and her daughter with the same bomb.

    When she came to speak in our local cathedral she was very impressive but I thought – though it did not seem the right occasion to challenge her publicly on this – that she was missing the point about our forgiving our enemies. It is interesting to note that Jesus never forgave anyone their sins directly; he never said, ‘I forgive…’. Even on the cross he said, ‘Father, forgive…’ I think this simple fact has great significance. What it means is that, as the Pharisees pointed out, only God has the power to forgive. So when we are called to forgive, what we are invited to do is to piggy-back on the stream of God’s love for each and all of us at all times and in all places. This love takes on the ‘colour’ of forgiveness when it encounters sin, just as the incarnate Son of God took on the name of Jesus/Saviour when he encountered the Fall. If we had not fallen, his name would have been different.

    In essence then we are faced with the paradox of God’s love: this love is so great that if anyone fails to accept salvation, God would consider the whole of creation a failure; if, on the other hand, one person is saved, then the whole of creation is a success. This paradox is played out in Church doctrine in that one person, Mary, is declared totally saved, while no-one of the human race has ever been declared as damned. The final fate of Satan is not within the history of our salvation. Perhaps just as we had an incarnation, there is to be, from our point of view, an angelisation. I certainly would not put it past the God I have come to know, and love, over the past 7o years!

  4. st.joseph says:

    When George Bush managed to change the law from abortion up to birth If the babies head and shoulders were- out it would be murder. If the babies head only, it would not. Then it was crushed .He managed to change the law,after failing once by the shortage of 1 vote. I was very sad to hear that Barack Obama reversed it! How can they sleep at night!

  5. John Nolan says:

    Surely forgiveness is contingent on repentance?

    • BRIAN HAMILL says:

      The forgiveness of God is absolute and certain. What is relative and anything but certain is our willingness to accept forgiveness. To accept a pardon in law implies admission of guilt. If we admit that we have done wrong, there is an implication in that admission that we wish to do better in the future. Therefore true ‘confession’ implies ‘contrition’ and ‘firm purpose of amendment’. In this circumstance ‘forgiveness’ flows in to heal. That is the promise which Jesus brought and is exemplified in the sacrament of Reconciliation. To use Jesus’s image, ‘the sun shines down on the righteous and the unrighteous’ but if we hide away from it, it cannot bring us warmth and light. The good thief on Calvary is the paradigm: confession, petition, promise.

  6. John Candido says:

    Quentin has raised an important issue on understanding evil. We see what a man or woman has done to deserve the moniker of evil. In Hitler’s and Stalin’s case an unimaginable slaughter of innocents on an ignominiously grand scale. Both cases are the result of political ideology, with Hitler uniquely focused on racism and the scapegoating of minorities.

    As a civilised society we need to ask why people do evil things to others. We need to make sense of evil even if we cannot ultimately get rid of it, in order to prevent as much as possible its recurrence in future. Taking our intelligence to this task is to relate to the perpetrator as one human being to another on the basis of empathy. We do this in full recognition of evil’s existence in the form of acts or omissions by others, that it is a permanent part of human nature, and to satisfy our natural human curiosity.

    All of these thoughts and attitudes are not in any way intended to excuse the evil acts and omissions of others. For example, knowing why Germany entered World War I by invading Belgium and France may help us all to understand why they did this. There have been a number of reasons put forward by students of history and politics that explains their criminal aggression in 1914. The lack of an established culture of diplomacy in Europe and German militarism being two important reasons for the advent of World War I. However much we understand why evil was perpetrated by one person or state on another, it does not excuse their aggressive actions in the least.

    • BRIAN HAMILL says:

      The only way to begin to deal with evil in the world is to recognise it in oneself. There was once a conference for trainee counsellors and the speaker asked the question ‘Stand up any one of you who thinks that he is capable of becoming a concentration camp guard?’ No-one stood up. He then commanded, ‘All stand up!’ And they all stood up. He then said, ‘Now you are right. Every one of you is capable of becoming such an evil person.’ What he was implying is that the only defence we have against evil is to recognise that we are all capable of doing the utmost evil. The words ‘Crucify him!’ are part of our universal vocabulary; only the grace of God can prevent us uttering them. It was the arrogant words of Peter, ‘All these might betray you, but not me’, which invited Satan in and led to his denial. It was only the grace of God in Jesus’s forgiving eyes that brought him back to the reality of his deep love for the man he had denied.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        “All stand up”

        So the point being made was presumably that we all obey orders and we need to recognise that- because of this willingness to suspend our own judgement in the face of authority – we run the risk of becoming adjuncts to evil..This is the point ..right?
        I add the question mark because I need to be certain there’s something I haven’t missed. It seems to me blindingly obvious that given context we en masse and therefore as compliant individuals are liable to commit horrible acts for which we are culpable if charged-I mention ‘if charged’ because we make exceptions for say bayoneting one another en masse if the State deems it neccessary.
        None of us know what we would do ‘if’ whatever ghastly thing was about to happen. Some behave with dignity others do not…many obeyed Hitler some lost their lives trying to kill him. As to Osama-my instinctive reaction is of a neccessary job pretty well carried out…and as I ponder it nothing in my reaction changes; I don’t think one can hold up God as a pacifist somehow.

  7. st.joseph says:

    Jesus cast out devils! How are we to think about that. Are people possessed?
    When Jesus was Crucified, it was the normal punishment in those days.
    We cant call that evil in the sense of a ‘lawful’ executation.(I am not for hanging)
    They did not know He was God!
    Only God knows who is really repentant in their hearts.
    The Good thief was not guilty of murder! He realised on the cross who Jesus was with his words ‘Remember me, when you enter into your Kingdom’. A lot different to apologises which may not mean a lot.
    Jesus knew He was doing His Fathers Will, and went like a Lamb to the Slaughter.
    I often think of the apparition at Knock, where Our Lady is looking up at the Lamb with a sword in its body, St Joseph silent, and St John the Evangelist reading the Book.
    I find that a very Eucharistic Vision. Pertinent to the last Gospel. The Book of Revelations.

  8. Ion Zone says:

    I find the whole thing extremely dubious myself – why not arrest him? America loves to play the tough guy, but their actions betray an inferiority complex. Their catchphrases are quite openly touted – “We must not be seen to be weak”, “Shock and Awe”, etc. They are simply putting on a show against an invisible intangible network of people who think they are fighting a totalitarian monster. Are they right? They certainly *think* they are….

    This is not a religious war, I might add.

    There is also the strange dumping of the body at sea – If you want people to think he is still alive, that is exactly what you should do.

  9. st.joseph says:

    I think if he had been buried, his grave would have been a Monument.

    • Ion Zone says:

      “I think if he had been buried, his grave would have been a Monument.”

      There is that, but dumping him in the sea makes him both a mayrter and a man who may still be alive. Not to mention one who has not been identified by the media as being the correct person.

  10. claret says:

    On the necessity of killing Bin Laden as a political act ( leaving aside the morality of it,) then the Americans had to do so because having located him they could not risk the inevitable hostage taking that would occur in an attempt to obtain his release if he was captured as opposed to being killed.
    We have already seen one awful example of this tactic with Checyn rebels who took a whole school of children hostage to try and secure the release of some of their number held as prisoners.
    Would any of us think the price of a child’s life to be less that Osama Bin Ladens if that hostage child was ours?
    So to talk of taking him prisoner is something that I would suggest was never even considered and the nature of his killing bears this out.
    On the wider issues raised by this question posed by Quentin then of course these issues are far from being clear cut. As yet the Church has not ( as far as I am aware,) totally condemned capital punishment as being contrary to ‘life issues’ and says that in extreme cases the State may have to execute someone. There are other provisos attached but it is recognised as a correct course of action in specific circumstances. Osama Bin Laden might well be considered to be such an extreme case although his killing was not by judicial process, but perhaps in extreme circumstances such a process is just not possible.

    • John Candido says:

      I disagree with Claret. Geoffrey Robinson QC, shortly after the killing of bin Laden, has gone on television via the internet to state that he thought that the United States has possibly committed an extrajudicial killing. It is a well-established and well-known part of international law, which says that any alleged offenders are to be offered the opportunity to surrender. I would have given the United States 100 out of 100 if they had offered Osama bin Laden the opportunity to surrender. If this were to eventuate, he would have been arrested, placed in jail, brought before a court of law and formally charged with specific offences as outlined in statute law. We take such risks because we are and try to be a civilised society.

      Of course it goes without saying that if bin Laden did not fully and promptly cooperate with the elite forces in front of him after giving him an opportunity to fully surrender, it is quite legitimate to kill him in such a context due to the overwhelming danger of the operation to serving personnel. I am not a military person, but there might be missions were the only logical and practical alternative would be to kill individuals on sight due to the overwhelming danger of offering surrender. I believe this was probably the case when the UK’s SAS stormed the Iranian embassy in London in May 1980 when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. There was a Coroner’s Inquest after the operation which cleared the SAS of unlawful conduct by a jury. You can read about this incident here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Embassy_Siege .

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