A mix of emotions after the death of Osama Bin Laden
Monday morning was really weird.
I was on a bus ride back from Misiones to Buenos Aires. This was probably hour fifteen or so out of a twenty hour bus ride. It was finally morning, and the sun was coming in strong through the windows. I didn’t really want to be awake though. My iPod, phone, and camera had all ran out of batteries. We had gone through all the movies on the bus, and reading in a vehicle makes me feel sick most of the time. I wanted to go back to sleep to in a sense skip ahead to when we would be arriving.
I was half awake, listening to a radio that had been coming in and out, playing different stations the entire bus ride. American pop, Spanish talk, now it sounded like a morning news report. Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed by US forces in Pakistan. At least that’s what I thought it said. I questioned if I understood all the Spanish correctly, but it was pretty unmistakeable. Plus, it would be unusual under any other circumstance for Argentine radio to be talking about bin Laden.
By the time I got to school, directly off the bus ride, it had been confirmed. My teacher mentioned it, I read an article in La Nacion, the Argentine daily paper, and by the time I got on to Facebook and Twitter, I could track the sequence of people’s awareness, their immediate instincts, and their eventual feelings.
By now, there’s undoubtedly a bit of Osama fatigue going around. Different friends of mine had all expressed their opinions. I wonder what my reaction would’ve been like if I hadn’t heard about it through such a trickle, in my second language. My immediate reactions were non-existent. I spent all that time wondering if I was hearing it correctly.
It shouldn’t have been too surprising how big of a story his death was. From age 11-20, this was the super villain of the world. He gave my Harry Potter generation a Voldemort, and embodiment of intolerant, hatred, malice, and wrong thought. The biggest news story of my lifetime had clearly been September 11, and ever since then, this was a moment so many people had been waiting for.
With his death, Osama brought upon both unity and division among groups, in a weird way. Right off the bat, you could feel the reactions in your nerves. At the Phillies-Mets game, USA chants broke out in the ninth as Phillies fans (with a few Mets supporters in the mix) discovered the news and it spread word of mouth through Citizens Bank Park. It seems pretty trivial, but the fact that it happened at CBP just made me realize, this is happening in my home country. As much as I’ve spent large amounts of time living in other places, interacting with different cultures, and studying the global perspective, home is home.
Right away, it felt good to see unity and optimism. Some of the immediate reactions of those around me when the news was going around were people saying things like “They’re going to think the wars are over, but they’re not!” which shifted somehow to complaints about Bush. I fully agreed with the sentiment that things are not over. I knew it was true, and I knew things are never really truly “over.” But for that moment, I thought about the atmosphere at the ballpark. Couldn’t we just pocket the cynicism for once? It’s really played out.
Suddenly, this conversation topic turned more into my ever-present dynamic between idealism and realism. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an idealistic person. And that’s because people who believe things can be done are the only ones who get things done, while naysayers just produce a bunch of noise. And that’s real. But realism does have it’s place in the world, and it’s important to implement ideas in ways that actually work. Realism helps us figure out what those are.
A quick scan of Facebook, Twitter, and 80% of the blogs I subscribe to all had their two cents about bin Laden. In the end, though, there seemed to be two, or three, general sentiments towards bin Laden’s death.
The first attitude was one of relief, because as the president said, justice had been done. The United States had brought down an enemy of peace, and the military, and the soldiers whom I support had done their jobs and made their sacrifices not in vain. Nearly the entire international community had publicly expressed satisfaction and belief that they had woken up in a more secure world.
Then came the second wave. One made up of idealists, much like myself, who, in spite of bin Laden’s obvious evils, couldn’t bring themselves to celebrate the death of a human being. There were rallies around a Martin Luther King quote, echoing that “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Now there’s something I agree with most definitely. But when you run into a guy like Osama, it’s a reminder that acting that out isn’t always going to be easy.
Still, as many rushed to hush the USA chants and celebrations, others fired back saying that this was indeed a bad guy and his capture was a celebratory cause- to downplay it would be a shame.
I don’t really have much new to add to the discussion that’s been had from just about every angle. I personally don’t want to celebrate anyone’s death. I don’t want to want to. No matter who that person is. While I don’t have anything new to add, I’ve got to add in something old and true:
“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.”
However, while there are many who are quick to jump on to this train of thought as well, I do think it’s important to point out a few things. There are many around the world who will in fact sleep easier with Osama gone. This isn’t to say that terrorism is gone, but his actions have destroyed the lives of many. There are survivors of the 9/11 victims. There are also many in Africa who have been waiting for this a long time. Before 2001, he had planned attacks on Ugandan cafes and Kenyan embassies.
As someone who has never survived a victim of a crime, I am in no position to speak for them. I can only say what I think I would do with a lot of humility. This is why I can’t be so quick to put a blanket over all the sudden patriotism. I respect and love the troops who do what I would be terrible at, so that I don’t have to do it. I have the families of victims in mind. In fact, it’s a shame they take a backseat to the guilty in this situation.
While I don’t celebrate death, I do celebrate justice. Is death ever a part of justice? What happens when the two are mixed? Well, those questions are bigger ones that I can answer at the moment.
I’m partial to this Jon Stewart quote:
I am way too close to this whole episode to be rational about this in any way, shape or form. Last night was a good night for me. And not just for New York, or D.C., or America, but for human people. The face of the Arab world in America’s eyes, for too long, has been bin Laden. And now, it is not. Now, the face is only the young people in Egypt, and Tunisia, and all the Middle Eastern countries… (where) freedom rises up, al Qaeda’s opportunity is gone. Al Qaeda’s opportunity is gone.
Is this a sort of victory? Maybe. But if it is, it’s one that took ten years, hundreds of innocent lives, and trillions of dollars that could’ve undoubtedly been better spent. It’s been a decade where the U.S.’s mentality has matched their opponents at times. A time when it’s been enough for a lot of people my age watching to want to give up on it. I saw one post justifying celebrating on the streets because the writer was sure there weren’t many movements in September 2001 to keep celebrating to a minimum in Kabul. I don’t know about that. Even if true, I don’t feel comfortable using that as the basis of my actions. Maybe even though it’s a false notion, those with a us vs. them mentality will take it down a notch by assuming there’s no more them.
Instead, I think this is a somber occasion. And I don’t think this is a brilliant opportunity to look at those who wish to celebrate or at those who don’t feel any joy at all and to start pointing out their patriotism, racism, bloodthirst, zeal, anger, whishywashy thinking or anything other reasons why they are less moral, less progressive, or less open minded as you are. It’s time to get over the us vs. them mentality. It’s the same kind of thinking bin Laded lived and died by.
Personally, rather than celebrate anyone’s death, I prefer to lament the fact that someone’s life got so off course that there wasn’t much of a choice other than to hunt them down and take it. We’ve also got to remember that while Osama may have been my generation’s Hitler, there will be more to come. There are Konys and Khadaffis and Gbagbos and Mugabes. There are names we don’t even know about yet, which is the most chilling. Hopefully, we’ve learned from this and can do better. I hope.
This may not be a time for euphoria, but it’s not a bad time for hope and prayer. Hope and prayer that, while we’re not totally out of the woods, maybe things can simmer down. I hope and pray, that, as Jon Stewart suggested, the face of the Arab Nations becomes those of the youth of Syria, Bahrain, and Libya etc. over the next decade. I hope for justice. I want to Love. And I pray for the wisdom to be able to see how they interact.