Reactions to bin Laden's dath
Within the small cocoon of my world on the island, last week’s news that Navy Seals had killed Osama bin Laden set off in me a series of contradictory reverberations. First hearing of bin Laden’s death on National Public Radio, I was riveted by the variations of responses to what has admittedly been the long-awaited goal of “taking down” the mastermind of September eleventh.
Within hours of the first announcement, there were spontaneous outpourings of people into the streets of cities around the country—especially in New York—celebrating the death of the man depicted as our arch-enemy—a man who posed the greatest threat to the American people and our way of life.
Almost as quickly there were interviews with others who claimed that it was unseemly for us to celebrate death, some who said it made us no better than those who were shown in Arab countries dancing in the streets immediately after 9/11. The latter voices added that rather than celebration, the death of bin Laden should bring us to quiet reflection—to remembering those many victims of the attack and their families, for whom the pain of loss is ongoing these many years later.
Here in my rather remote corner, I realized I was caught puzzling about which of these was the correct response or even if there were one. In fact, I empathized with the latter group, because I too have difficulty cheering the death of anyone. However, I admit to feeling no emotion about bin Laden’s death and though I am against capital punishment, I find myself comprehending the necessity—even a sense of the appropriateness—behind our government’s action.
I was grateful, e.g., that we performed the appropriate Muslim rites before burial and thought the choice to bury bin Laden at sea a good one, not providing his followers a place to go to build a shrine to a man so willing to devalue and sacrifice human life in the pursuit of his political agenda.
In listening to the responses of young people—those who were either infants or nine or ten a decade ago—I began to understand their need for celebration. One young college woman said, “Osama bin Laden took away my childhood. Throughout my life, I have known only a world at war.”
She and several of her contemporaries added that they knew that killing bin Laden would not really put an end to their anxieties about future attacks, but they did feel it offered a kind of symbolic closure—a marker in the struggle to defeat the terrorists.
In a memory closer to home, I recall my oldest grandson, who was eight at the time channeling his anxiety into a kind of touching if humorous concern: “Grandma, I’m worried about the pandas along the Great Wall of China—will they be bombed?” This week at seventeen, he said, “USA! USA! USA! I feel relieved because it was important to get him and better late than never!”
His brother, who was only four during the attacks and now 13, had a vague memory: “I think his people crashed planes into the World Trade Center.” He added, “It’s good that we found him because he was bad and he could have planned future attacks.”
For most of us, no matter what our personal reactions, the death of bin Laden awakens the memory of the attacks in 2001 on two significant symbolic centers of American power—of our economy and our defense—the Trade Center and the Pentagon. On a more human level, however, it was a direct attack on our people and those of many national origins who worked alongside and identified with us and with our values.
Since that terrible day a decade ago, there have been hopeful signs generated essentially by the youth of the world. We have seen the cyber revolution through which young people reach out to each other driving a kind of universal message of kinship between them—linking them in their shared desire for liberty and opportunity, as well as for the natural joys of being young.
It has been generally conceded that it is these connections—extended through the social networks of Facebook and Twitter, etc.—that have inspired what is being called the Arab Spring, uprisings of young people in many countries of the Middle East. These spontaneous “revolutions” are being interpreted as genuine alternatives to the bloody, terrorist uprisings advocated by bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
I seems to me we must do our utmost to encourage and support these youthful movements toward freedom and to offer our children and grandchildren the possibilities of a world at peace once again.