Instead of Rejoicing at Osama bin Laden’s Death, Let’s Vanquish the Real Enemy

Our country is rejoicing at the death of Osama bin Laden. The vanquishing of the enemy is powerful stuff. Most cannot help but be overjoyed when a sworn enemy is killed.

But the actual enemy has not been vanquished. The true enemy is not, and never has been, an individual, but rather a combination of dangerous ideologies, destructive psychological propensities, and unjust, damaging systems. Unfortunately, these did not die on May Day.

Osama bin Laden, as al-Qaeda’s leader, was certainly an enemy of the United States. The 9/11 attacks were an unprecedented horror, and the fact of their carefully premeditated evil makes them stand out among a long list of atrocities, but the rejoicing may actually threaten the real work and the great challenges that lie ahead. 

The sad truth is that we are no closer after the death of Osama bin Laden to a world populated by people who have learned how to live sustainably, peaceably and humanely.

Looking below the surface

Vanquishing the enemy means looking below the surface evil to the ways in which rage, hatred, sociopathy and brainwashing occur, and attempting to find root causes and root solutions.

While it may feel satisfying, and deeply so for those who lost loved ones on September 11, Osama bin Laden’s death represents no solution to hatred and bigotry; minds easily influenced; actions determined more by situations and systems than by careful thought, reflection and analysis. These are the real and powerful roots of evil.

As Dr. Phil Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in 1971, revealed, normal, mentally healthy young men can become perpetrators of evil (or conversely, impotent victims) within 48 hours, acting in ways indistinguishable from what occurred at Abu Ghraib, simply because they are placed in a situation of power over (or under) others (as guards or prisoners) within a dangerously influential system (prison). 

And, as Dr. Stanley Milgram’s 1960s experiments on obedience to authority revealed, normal, mentally healthy men and women will deliver what they think are highly dangerous and even fatal electric shocks to fellow participants in an experiment simply because a man in a white lab coat tells them to.

Reflexively following leaders

Perhaps even more telling, this propensity toward blindly, reflexively following leaders, authorities and influencers is part of who we are, present in children, and not simply the result of what we have learned. Jane Elliott’s brown eye/blue eye exercises, also conducted in the 1960s, demonstrate how quickly and readily third graders accept the irrational notion that eye color dictates intelligence, worthiness, and goodness and become perpetrators of prejudice, hatred, and cruelty, (as well as victims of self-loathing and self-doubt), unable to resist the influence of a teacher who effectively brainwashes them to hate and reject others who are different. Sound familiar? We are all at risk of evil. We are all the potential “enemy.”

What this means is that we have a much greater challenge to rooting out evil than finding Osama bin Laden in a compound and killing him. We all know this, of course, but the rejoicing at Osama’s death could eclipse this understanding of what we are truly up against: ourselves and our ability to be manipulated; led astray from our deepest values of compassion, integrity, honesty, generosity and wisdom; and turned into perpetrators of evil because we have failed to root out the real causes of destruction and harm, and have stopped far short of the great goal of creating a peaceable world in which we can all thrive and survive.

Start with the kids

There is a way to confront our biggest enemy, and it lies with children, just as Jane Elliott knew when she taught her students about prejudice and hatred in her unforgettable and unconventional classroom exercise. That way is through schooling that teaches critical and creative thinking and problem-solving and that fosters reverence, respect and a sense of responsibility. 

It is, in fact, the only way to cultivate healthy roots so that each of us has the capacity to resist the effects of a destructive environment — whether that environment is political, cultural, economic or ecological — and then transform that environment into systems that are more just, sustainable and humane.

All children need to understand humanity’s capacity to blindly follow (a shadow side of our great capacity to cooperate), so that they can defy hatred, myopia, and simplistic either/ors when these threaten to dismantle their ability to think critically, innovatively and deeply to address systemic problems and solve them wisely. 

They need their curricula to meet the complex demands of a complex world. I’ve offered a vision of what such schooling might look like through my TEDx talk and here at Care2,  and I believe that this is where we must turn our wholehearted attention. If we do so, perhaps we will make real progress in vanquishing the real enemy.

For more Care2 coverage on Osama bin Laden’s death, click here.


Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), which offers graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, linking human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection. IHE also offers online programs, workshops, and other resources for teachers, parents, and change agents. Zoe is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner, Claude and Medea, about 7th graders who become clandestine activists in New York City. Zoe has given a TEDx talk on solutionary education and blogs at Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at ZoeWeil.


Image courtesy of L. Marie via Creative Commons.


jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

I do not rejoice at anyone' death. Evil lives on. Iwill rejoice when people learn to live together in peace.

Andrew W.
Andrew W6 years ago

It is really disgusting to find so many people not understanding that courts of justice are made for trials, and that no one else in the CIVILISED world has the right to make justice by their own hands, no matter the case, no matter how much that can hurt. Furthermore, today, in twenty first century, only a few third world dictatorships behave that way and still have death penalty, but the second is another matter not concerning this case. What is really astonishing is that people believing to be democratic do not follow democratic basics. One can tell what one wants, but do not make anyone believe that a government that does not abide by these simple and basic principles has anything to do with democracy. It is just a fake.

Margaret K.
Margaret K6 years ago

I think there is a difference between orchestrating the killing of thousands of people because of a religious or political belief, and the killing of one person who threatens the lives and safety of numerous others. Some people get totally carried away with their own 'rightness'. I have even known people with genuinely good beliefs e.g. Animal rights and environmentalists who are happy to condemn their fellow humans and who use violent words and deeds against them, to support their 'causes'.

Lim Y.
Lim Y6 years ago

not to be ignorant of what is the main essence of the article,but i found jane elliots brown eye blue eye test fascinating from here.

bob m.
bob m6 years ago

Indira Ghandi; that was an assassintion; this was an extraction; dead or alive of a murderous psychpath

Danny W.
Danny Wilson6 years ago

It's a start, 'chop off the head', but the body keeps going. Lots of people are blindly following the far-right in this country too....

Andrew W.
Andrew W6 years ago

Second part of 2

This and USA politics in the middle east defending Nazi Israel are the real source of all troubles and problems for the USA, the disrespect for the nation and source of its bad name almost everywhere except in most European countries. However this new crime did shake the credibility in Europe. It was a heavy blow on USA credibility all over the world, will strengthen its enemiesm and at the end will increase terrorism for sure. As the author correctly puts is «We are all the potential "enemy."» This assassination is the reversr of stopping terrorism. The way the USA armed forces deliberately kill people in Afghanistan will certainly fall back on them. They are the terrorism birth makers.

Comments like those by Gloria W. can come only from stupid people unable to understand this article, people making terrorism rise and making their own problems,

Andrew W.
Andrew W6 years ago

First part of 2

I fully agree with this article. I go even further. Osama’s assassination was lust a part of political way of deceiving people. It does not solve terrorism. It is a further argument for those hating the USA and will fuel terrorism. It places the USA in a position of a terrorist country for not abiding with world rules and overtaking international courts that exist to judge such cases. The latest is confirmed by the simple fact that Osama was not armed, was now a sick person undergoing dialysis, which made him very weak, and living on one kidney. The argument that he resisted capture is only normal, but does not sustain any possible danger from him. CIA and upper authorities knew this perfectly, hence the planed assassination crime. You cannot punish a crime with another crime without a court trial and judgement. Never, even if he had dropped many nuclear bombs across many countries. Never, in any case, that must be left for courts of law.

Fatimah Zainal
Fatimah Zainah6 years ago

How many people that Osama had killed and how many that the American had killed and still killing. Can we just stop the killing.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago

thanks for the post.