Colonel Gaddafi was finally captured two days ago, and amidst the chaos when he was dragged out of his hideout, someone shot him to death. There were reports suggesting that he had been executed by people among his captors.
Last night, I asked my son whether people were justified in killing him, since he had killed thousands of his citizens. Jeffrey said: “Yes, he has killed many people, but that doesn’t mean we can kill him in return.”
How much crime has Gaddafi committed? How many people has he slaughtered? Now that we’ve finally got him, should we kill him in revenge?
This is the toughest test of our humaneness. If my family had been killed by him, I might feel more than justified to execute him. What’s wrong with killing this monster of the 21st Century, we would think!
But the question is: If we kill a murderer because we think he is evil, aren’t we in a way also behaving in an evil way?
The major religions all teach us to love and to forgive. Hatred will not bring us a better world; it will only burn us to death.
It’s easy to talk about compassion and forgiveness, when we are only watching from the sidelines. But when we ourselves have been hurt, when it is our own family members that have been killed, can we still forgive? Can we still practise compassion?
This is why I admire Aung San Suu Kyi. When she was released from prison and house arrest after 15 years, she said: I don’t hate those who have imprisoned me. I truly believe her because she sees the weakness and frailties of human beings: her captors are victims to their flawed mindset: her captors are, deep down, full of fears, and hatred. They have not yet learned to love themselves, and others.
The execution of Gaddafi also reminds me of a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which he says: Man is not our enemy. …Hatred will never let you face the beast in man.” During the sixties, many Buddhist monks in Vietnam were burned to death by the Vietnamnese communist government. Yet, no matter how many of them died, Thich Nhat Hanh cautioned his followers against hatred and retaliation.
Call me by my real names
– Thich Nhat Hanh
promise me this day,
promise me now, while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they
dismember and disembowel you,
man is not our enemy.
The only thing worthy of you is compassion —
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face the beast in man.
One day, when you face this beast alone,
with your courage intact, your eyes kind, untroubled
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road, the sun and the moon
will continue to shine.
To listen to my readaloud of “Call me by my true names”, go to: