This is probably the umpteenth article about how to handle the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, but it comes with my own experiences and perspectives on the matter. My apologies, but I do hope it does bring something new to the discussion.
The rumors about bin Laden’s death came to my attention while I was (perhaps ironically) watching The Killing yesterday. Prior to that, there were some rumbles in the Twittersphere of an impending, and seemingly impromptu address by the President set for later that night. My first instinct was that it was likely about the NATO operation in Libya, the only current event that would likely merit an announcement like that. Yet the bin Laden tweets started to gather steam, and news organizations too began to disseminate details of a recent operation in Pakistan that had ended with the death of bin Laden.
I was floored.
I was still in high school when the towers fell. I believed, perhaps naively at the time, that bin Laden would be captured within months of the mission in Afghanistan. However, the video and audio taunts and proclamations from bin Laden continued unabated for months, then years, as our collective attention began to shift elsewhere. The inability of the Bush administration to capture bin Laden slowly drifted into the realm of comedic fodder, where it comfortably remained. It was something out of a Benny Hill sketch: ludicrous and protracted. Even though we all wanted to see bin Laden brought to justice, the sheer length of time that passed–combined with our collective lack of an attention span–relegated bin Laden to the back burner.
Within minutes of the news breaking on Twitter, crowds swelled in front of the White House and at Ground Zero in New York City, everyone united in celebration and patriotism, cheering the death of another human being. Yes, this human being was, by all accounts, sub-human in his ruthlessness and willingness to take thousands of human lives and indoctrinate so many people into his odious and loathsome school of thought. His ideology was the product of so many life experiences: the mentorship of the Ayman Al-Zawahiri (who ascribes to the Wahhabi sect of Islam), the anger against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and, later, the American presence in the Middle East, and a sense of personal duty to right these supposed wrongs.
In a way, there is now a similar emotional climate to the period just following 9/11. At that time, people were rallying in solidarity and in unity against a common enemy: terrorism. Today, they are rallying in solidarity and in unity in seeming celebration of the death of the man who epitomized terrorism, and was responsible for the massacre of innocent lives on 9/11.
Part of me wanted to give in to the celebratory mood that had been generated in the wake of his death, but part of me recoiled in horror at the idea of celebrating the death of another human being, no matter how evil and deluded he may have been. I remembered how news outlets had streamed coverage of the jubilant reaction in parts of the Middle East at the news of the World Trade Center towers being brought down. I remember the collective rage many had felt at seeing others take joy in our devastation and loss. The unrelenting campaign in Afghanistan followed quickly after. Now the tables have been turned, and surely coverage of our celebration is being beamed abroad. While there are certainly many who will also find relief in bin Laden’s death, there are others who will be enraged.
It is important to remember that bin Laden’s death does not mean the death of Al Qaeda, or of terrorism as a whole. Zawahiri, it would seem, is still very much alive, as are hundreds, if not thousands of militants who fall under the umbrella of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other similar groups. While I applaud the successful efforts of Obama to finally bring down bin Laden, for him to say the world is safer is an absolutely short-sighted conclusion. I’d argue that it’s probably, at best, no more safe than it was before bin Laden was killed. Yet more likely than not, it is probably far less safe, as acts of retribution are of far greater concern. This means the wars will likely continue, and the security measures will continue to be stringent here, and abroad.
“Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down when reasoning is destroyed.” This is a verse from the Bhagavad Gita that rings true in many contexts, no less
in describing the psyche of bin Laden and others who promote terrorism. Islam is still regarded as the enemy by many, but it is delusion that is the true enemy. Bin Laden’s popularity remains strong because he was viewed as a religious man who fought in the name of Islam, in Afghanistan, and in other regions. The truth is that he likely only saw combat once in Afghanistan. The falsehoods and half-truths surrounding bin Laden’s life must be dismantled, to stop the perpetuation of the delusion that continues to fuel terrorist acts globally.
On the flip side, America–now perhaps more than ever–must do more to rid itself of lingering Islamophobia, also the function of misguided anger and delusion. We must do more to embrace Muslims, and frankly all peoples, who seek shelter within our shores. Tensions are very high now, and there must be more effort to truly reach out to the Islamic world, to undo the misconceptions sown by bin Laden and his ilk, and to foster cooperation in achieving common goals.
How can terrorism thrive in an environment where knowledge, friendship, and respect thrive? It can’t.
This should be our ultimate goal.