American Horcrux


Americans Celebrating on May 1, 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead, his body buried at sea, in a dubious interpretation of Islamic law by an American government at pains to see that his corpse would not become a fetish for his followers. The United States, and most of the rest of the Western world, has spent the past week congratulating itself on the demise of the man who was at once the most hated and admired human on the planet.

Palestinians Celebrating on September 11, 2001

Bin Laden’s death prompted spontaneous celebrations in America’s streets, as a decade of anger, humiliation and war gave way to flag-waving joy. President Obama said “Justice has been done.” But it is a strange sort of justice.

In the past decade, the United States has become an armed fortress, where the torture of suspected enemies has been re-branded as “enhanced interrogation”; a bankrupt shell of an empire, its vaults emptied by endless wars; a divided nation whose elected President is called “a dedicated enemy of the Constitution by his opponents. The world is painted in stark black and white, a Manichean land where good and evil are absolute and ends justify means. Harry must slay Voldemort and Frodo destroy Sauron, for the future of humanity or magic or Middle Earth hangs in the balance.

But the real world is not The Deathly Hallows or Lord of the Rings. And the death of a single individual, no matter how immoral his actions were, will not create New Heavens and New Earth. Humans are an untidy mix of sin and grace, of good motives tainted by evil, of brokenness and redemption. The world is full of gray ambiguity–and even the alabaster cities of America are crusted by its dust.

Though both J.K. Rowling and J.R.R Tolkein’s fantasies warn of the dangers of becoming corrupted by the evil one wishes to end, the Harry Potterization of America skips over the hard words, heading straight for the final scene. We cannot even see the irony of dancing in the streets at the death of our very own Voldemort. Using the dark magic of hatred, Osama Bin Laden became the American Horcrux, stealing our national soul as we sought to kill him.

But in real life, there is no Elder Wand, no magic spell, no miraculous ending. Osama Bin Laden is dead, and there will soon be another to take his place.

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