Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Osama bin Laden, 9/11, and the tweets of Rashard Mendenhall

I really like Rashard Mendenhall. How could I not. He's the starting running back for my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. And a really good one.

What I didn't know was that he's also on Twitter (I'm on Twitter but generally don't follow athletes because I generally don't care what they have to say -- though I will now be following Mendenhall), and that he's a rather provocative tweeter, unlike so many sports figures who traffic in the utterly banal.

And, tweeting about the killing of Osama bin Laden, he's made news for himself, and not necessarily in a good way:

Rashard Mendenhall has created a stir with comments made on his official Twitter page regarding Osama bin Laden's death.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back on Monday tweeted: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."

Mendenhall didn't hold back, even making a reference to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."


Among his other bin Laden tweets:

"I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge."

"Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves."

"For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn [in hell and piss on his ashes], I ask how would God feel about your heart?"

"There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to think."

The Steelers, an organization I admire immensely, and the Rooneys who own them, a family I admire as well, were not amused:

On Tuesday, team president Art Rooney II released a statement.

"I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon."

Let me just say this: I understand why the Steelers responded, but I admire Mendenhall greatly for tweeting so thoughtfully.

He lost me with his 9/11 conspiracy tweet, with which I entirely disagree, and there was no need for him to go there. He also lost me with his tweet about hearing only one side, as if Osama was somehow innocent, as if he did nothing wrong. What exactly is the other side? It's not like Osama ever denied the charges against him. He was the leader of al Qaeda. Is there really any dispute? I agree that a lot of people know nothing of not just of Osama but of his brand of jihadism other than that he and it are pure evil, that is, what they are told they must think, and I do wish people were better educated and understood not just what jihadist terrorism is but why it is, but I'm not sure you have to hear the other side to be anti-Osama, or to hate him. The 9/11 attacks were his. That's enough.

So, not good.

Other than that, though, is what he wrote really so controversial? Yes, perhaps, though only by the standards of American jingoistic patriotism that allows for neither dissent nor nuance of any kind.

He tweeted about celebrating death, and I agree that there's something troubling about that. (I said as much in my post on Osama's death Sunday night.)

He tweeted that God (his God) is the only true judge. I don't agree with that, as I'm not a believer, but that's all Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe. And it what it says to me is that Mendenhall is a man of humility, contrary to the egotism of most of the rest of us who judge all the time.

He tweeted about the lust for violent retribution, for wishing suffering and death on another. That, too, I think, is troubling -- not what Mendenhall wrote but that lust for vengeance that pollutes our souls.

And he tweeted about countering ignorance with thoughtfulness. What's wrong with that?

Now, it's not clear what Mendenhall thinks of what happened on Sunday, nor of 9/11, nor of the so-called "war on terror." I hope he's not really a conspiracy theorist and that, allowing for an appreciation of the other side, he understands what Osama was really all about and why action had to be taken.

While I applauded the news of Osama's death, I did so in a muted way. Here's what I wrote: "Many will applaud this, and, in my own way, I will too. But I won't do so with glee. Because I just don't think the situation warrants it. Not after all that has happened, after all the death, after all the suffering. The gravity of the situation is simply too immense... I feel great joy. I'm just not in such a celebratory mood. Because as big as this is, I remain filled with sadness that the world is as it is. And war, even in victory, such that this is a victory, is always sad. Given the gravity of it all, I cannot quite let myself go."

I still feel that way, more or less. I don't think it's right to celebrate death. I understand why people let loose and allowed themselves to celebrate the news, and I understand that Osama's killing amounted to a sense of closure for many who lost loved ones on 9/11. But I think Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper put it well when he said that "Canada receives the news of the death of Osama bin Laden with sober satisfaction." That's how I received it. Satisfied, but not in some fist-pumping, flag-waving way, relieved that some sense of justice had finally been done.

I suspect that Mendenhall will clarify his remarks soon. He cannot simply let them stand as they are. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt. He would appear to be a thoughtful man, a peaceful man. He should have been more careful, perhaps, given that Twitter is hardly the best place to communicate such thoughts, but he wrote a lot that is good and positive alongside the tweets that raise concerns. And, yes, I admire him for that.

If he really is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and Osama bin Laden apologist, I'll be disappointed and critical. But let's not be too quick to judge. Humility, after all, is preferable to its opposite.

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