If you haven’t heard, we got him! Thanks to a couple dozen of our well-trained Navy Seals and two strategically placed bullets, Osama bin Laden has gone the way of the Dodo—yippee! I have to admit that I have been caught-up in the popular national response to the news. I can’t seem to help it. It feels right.
While feeding my obsession with every news article about the story, I came across one that struck me. Apparently, Osama bin Laden had a family and they want proof of his death. Reading this I realized something profound: Osama bin Laden was human. Does that seem weird to anyone else? Just say it (“bin Laden was a human being“). Strange, right? I think I know why. We have a case of dehumanization, but not in the most common sense.
Haslam and friends (2007) presented a powerful article outlining the ways in which we dehumanize outgroups and their members. Specifically, the authors state that we dehumanize by attributing either animal-like or machine-like characteristics to those individuals or groups. While I agree with the basic argument, I don’t think that these two types of dehumanizing accurately explain just how “we” feel about Osama bin Laden and others like him. I think we attribute more demon-like qualities to them.
If you think about it, even the families of condemned criminals can be present at their family member’s execution. They are given the right of closure. We, however, have not given bin Laden’s family the same right. The only reason why, that I can think of, is that we have forgotten that his acts, as evil and grotesque as they were, were committed by a human. As much as we would like to think that his were the acts of a family-less, evil creature, they were not. He was simply a man—a terrorist—a criminal—who messed with the wrong country. Perhaps we should set aside the demonizing and throw his family a bone.
(picture above from nndb.com)