After the death of Osama Bin Laden, America celebrated in euphoric victory. President Obama’s approval ratings went up and the Navy, not usually in the headlines, got some good public relations points for killing “Public Enemy No.1.”
Americans took the news as an opportunity to party. In Washington D.C. college students gathered in front of the White House holding up American flags, cheering “U.S.A! U.S.A!” with some guys in their underwear and other girls in outfits fit to be worn on a Spice Girl. Obviously drunk, a few students waved their middle fingers at a camera and cheered “America! America!” probably hoping they would get on television.
In one broadcast, a Georgetown University student exclaimed he wasn’t going to study for his final exams because Bin Laden had been executed.
But all this celebration simplifies the tenuous circumstances of our complicated world. Who is really playing the hero and the villain? By killing Bin Laden, did we destroy the face of terrorism or did we simply take back a mask we lent him? Did we need him as a threat to our empire as much as he needed us to be a threat to his?
Is it finally time to say, “Mission Accomplished”? And if it is, what did we truly accomplish but maybe lay the ground work for more people like him?
Most of these students were barely teenagers when Bin Laden was revealed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. They would have had no clue as to who the bearded terrorist was or what terrorism meant or what its roots were. For the better part of their lives, Bin Laden was just a name to be hated and mocked in popular American culture; his face was both a symbol of Islamic extremism feared in our part of the world and an icon of holy righteousness to others.
The online New York Times obituary for Osama Bin Laden recounted his controversial life in six pages. He was born into a rich family and played alongside Saudi princes but refused to live in extravagant wealth, especially if that wealth was somehow funded by America. In the 1980’s Bin Laden became preoccupied with getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan with the help of the United States.
After combating communism, young Bin Laden became a grass-roots organizer for resisting western oppression in Muslim nations. He propelled with an angry, but inspiring voice his call for retribution and used bureaucracy to control his web of violence.
He despised America’s colonial-capitalism. In a 1997 CNN interview, Bin Laden expressed his disdain for the West.
“It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to all this…if we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists,” he said. “When Palestinian children throw stones against the Israeli occupation, the U.S. says they are terrorists. Whereas when Israel bombed the United Nations building in Lebanon while it was full of children and women, the U.S. stopped any plan to condemn Israel… wherever we look, we find the U.S. as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world.”
Americans who celebrate the death of Bin Laden are celebrating the death of not just one man, but the deaths of thousands of soldiers and civilians. They are celebrating the illusion of progress and safety in a constantly changing, interconnected world.
I suggest that you study for your finals instead.