Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
After a morning of uncertain and contradictory news, Libyan former dictator Moammar Gaddafi was confirmed dead. According to Abdulrahman Busin, the military liaison to Libya’s transitional government, Gaddafi was injured and captured by revolutionaries as he attempted to escape an attack on Sirte, his home town.
Spontaneous celebrations erupted in Sirte and other parts of Libya as the news of Gaddafi’s death spread. The dictator ruled the country for 42 years before protests broke out in Benghazi and spread to other cities. During his reign, he was repeatedly linked to terrorism and accused of human rights abuses. The excitement over his death is, according to journalists, palpable. One anti-Gaddafi fighter told the New York Times, “Oh the relief! I never felt that happy about somebody being dead. We can breathe, we can finally rest. Then we can move forward.”
Gaddafi’s death may, however, revive a debate that began last May, when U.S. forces killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan: is it right to celebrate any death, no matter how bad the person was? A PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey conducted in early May revealed that 6-in-10 (62%) Americans agree that it is wrong to celebrate any person’s death. Sixty percent also believed that the Bible’s admonition not to “rejoice when your enemies fall” applied to how Americans should react to bin Laden’s death.
As they consider their country’s future, Libyans (who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim) may reflect on a famous passage from the Qur’an: “Repel the bad with something better.” Whether “something better” includes celebrating Gaddafi’s death, however, is an open question.