Dr.King, Misrepresented Quotes, & the Celebration of Death
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
Perhaps you’ve seen the above quote. If not, perhaps you’re familiar with the second half of it. I know I was. Like many of us who understand the complicated sequence of racial oppression within the historical narrative of the United States, you have been graced by the powerful messages evoked by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, the above quote is not the words of MLK. Well, not all of them. The latter half of the quote (starting with ‘Returning’) actually finds its roots within Dr. King’s book, Strength to Love. The first half, though eloquent, was written by a woman named Jessica Dovey, who made her statement in a Facebook status to chastise those who were celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. She then followed her statement with the latter quote from Dr. King, and the quote quickly became a new sensation, quickly being posted on Twitter and on numerous individuals Facebook pages.
I too added this quote to my Facebook status upon reading it. It was the perfect way of expressing my disdain with the insensitive celebrations following Osama Bin Laden’s death. I could not celebrate his death when there are still millions of marginalized people in the streets of the city that I live in. I could not rally around his death if it would quickly degenerate merely into political points for this nation. I could not cheer, or chant, or praise.
No, instead, I thought about the individuals who experienced the lives of their loved ones taken so abruptly on September 11, 2001, and how his death could perhaps be an epitaph of closure. Instead of celebrating the loss of a human life, I thought about the countless terrorist organizations that are still mobilizing against the land of the “free” (we can discuss the limits of freedom in this country on a different day). These organizations are now more emboldened to martyr their symbol for radical anti-American sentiments. No, I did not celebrate, I reflected on human lives and human dignity.
I understand the magnitude of the situation; therefore I do not wish to deride those who choose to take pride in Osama Bin Laden’s death. But I stand by the aforementioned quote. I stand by Jessica Dovey, who thought to make her voice of compassion heard against the surge of insensitivity. I stand by the sentiments of a great leader who preached that love was the greatest weapon any one could ever hold. And I stand by the thousands of tweeters and Facebookers, who were so eager to share their compassion with the world, that they posted an inaccurate quote.