The Dalai Lama did not actually really say that about Osama bin Laden

Did the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism give us permission to kill an enemy? Only according to a headline

Published May 4, 2011 5:30PM (EDT)

The Dalai Lama and Osama bin Laden
The Dalai Lama and Osama bin Laden

Did you hear? The Dalai Lama says it's totally cool that we shot Osama bin Laden in the head. He is fine with it. The guy who says you should only shoot to wound when you're defending yourself from an immediate mortal threat is making a little "revenge" exception, just this once.

Now that this L.A. Times story on the Lama's comments has been picked up by Drudge, it's everywhere, but few people seem to have read beyond the headline. And the headline -- "Dalai Lama suggests Osama bin Laden's death was justified" -- is problematic!

"Suggests" is a maddeningly vague word -- it's a word a headline writer uses when the subject did not actually outright say something -- and we have no clue what the Dalai Lama actually said:

As a human being, Bin Laden may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness, the Dalai Lama said in answer to a question about the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. But, he said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

Yes, so, newspaperese does not really cut it here. This sort of paraphrasing is better suited to bland statements from government officials than extemporaneous interpretation of doctrine from religious leaders, where the exact wording does tend to matter. All I'm seeing is something very non-specific about "counter-measures." The headline "Dalai Lama says Osama bin Laden deserved forgiveness and compassion" would be equally (more?) accurate! But less "newsy," I guess.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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Media Criticism Osama Bin Laden Religion War Room