Speculation about whether Osama bin Laden’s death will provide a lift to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 strikes me as unseemly, and sort of unnecessary—the movie is going to open huge no matter the circumstances. But if folks are going to go there, it’s worth remembering, especially given the emerging meme that the information that lead to bin Laden’s death was initially obtained by enhanced interrogation techniques (a claim former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has debunked), how J.K. Rowling feels about torture. Rowling worked at Amnesty International before she was a globally famous author, and her commencement speech at Harvard in 2008 pulls goes into some depth about the impact that experience had on her. She said:
I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him back to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.….
Many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know. I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
In the Harry Potter universe, characters who torture other people are, without exception, morally crippled. The damage done to the Longbottoms by the Cruciatus Curse, Bellatrix Lestrange’s torture of Hermione Granger in Deathly Hallows, the ongoing stain on wizarding society that is the use of dementors at Azkaban (Rowling is clear that Barty Crouch, Jr. is insane and evil, but also that the threat of the dementors contributed to his insanity), or the tortures house-elves are forced to inflict upon themselves, the Harry Potter books are adamantly anti-torture. Harry’s actually admonished at one point to preferring disarming his opponents to causing them pain, but he sticks to it fairly stubbornly. If we’re going to look for wildly speculative parallels between Rowling’s fictional universe and our own, it’s worth remembering that this is one area where the two struggles against evil don’t match up.