The influence and leadership of Osama bin Laden were truly terrible and he unleashed upon the world a form of terrorist conflict that will go on for decades and inflict cruelty on generations yet unborn.
But if it was necessary to destroy that influence – even unto his death – for reasons of self-defence, some of the attitudes to his passing were extremely disconcerting. One cannot feel “triumphant” or “happy” or “delighted” over any man’s death or, in this case, execution.
For many centuries Christian societies agreed with, and carried out, the death penalty as a retribution for – and perhaps deterrent against – heinous crimes. Capital punishment was carried out in this country until the early 1960s.
But wherever it was administered judicially it was done with the greatest sense of awesomeness, even gloom. There was no hoopla and absolutely no rejoicing, even when a person who had committed the most repulsive crimes went to the gallows.
It was fully understood that it was a terrible thing to take human life, and in some cases only a terrible penalty could illuminate that fact.
One of the most atrocious cases in the history books was the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Eichmann had been responsible for the torment and death of millions – part of the Nazi system that regarded some human beings as “under-men”. This was truly evil.
And yet no rejoicing or celebration or “happiness” accompanied his execution. It was done as a sombre duty to justice, and to history.
That is one difference between a judicial execution and a summary liquidation. When the state carries out a judicial execution it knows full well what it is doing and surrounds the event with a funereal and gloomy ritual. While summary execution too often seems swashbuckling and gung-ho.
It may be, as the President of the United States has said, that the world is better off without Osama bin Laden. But we should say that with a doleful sense of tragedy, not with any outpouring of gladness or glee. We are at the beginning, not at the end, of a conflict, in which many Christians will continue to lose their lives, and our faith persecuted, too. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of young Muslims have become suicide bombers because of Bin Laden. But even if it falls into the category of the morality of necessary defence, Bin Laden’s death should be regarded with regretful sombreness, not triumph.
When the Prime Minister joshed Opposition MP Angela Eagle, addressing her as “dear”, as in “calm down, dear”, it was said afterwards that this was only a House of Commons drollery and that any feminist who objected to it had no sense of humour.
The commentator Mary Ann Sieghart dismissed it as an irrel evant 1950s anachronism which no one would take seriously nowadays.
I beg to differ. Addressing women as “dear” and “my dear”, far from being a 1950s anachronism, is a common, everyday practice which belies a deeply patronising attitude.
I’ve railed against this before, because it indicates a basic lack of respect, which human persons are entitled to receive.
Every single day of my life I am addressed as “dear”, “dearie”, “darlin’”, “sweetheart” and “my love” by complete strangers. I dislike it greatly, but I have to summon up my convent training and “offer it up” as an exercise in humiliation.
There are times I feel a deep empathy with those young gang members who go around demanding: “Respect, man!” David Cameron was only mimicking the well-known advert featuring Michael Winner, with the catchphrase “calm down, dear”. He no doubt didn’t mean any offence; but I think this may be because Prime Ministers don’t get much contact with ordinary life. It is a fact of everyday life that men sometimes patronise women – as in, “don’t worry your pretty little head about it”. People in general patronise older women, by using inappropriate terms of endearment and familiarity. A term of endearment is rather like the French tu: it is affectionate when you are genuinely close to someone. Otherwise, it expresses contempt.
There is, of course, a class element to all this. Posh people are more likely to use respectful terms. That’s why it was a joke to David Cameron – because he probably doesn’t normally speak like this. But it’s no joke to those of us who have to endure this lingo constantly.
Bring back the age of deference, say I!
Iwonder if Carole Middleton gave her daughter any wedding eve advice. My mother’s counsel on the eve of my marriage was just this: “Never let the sun go down on your anger. And never give a man bad news on an empty stomach!” Visit Mary-kenny.com