The first I knew of Osama bin Laden’s death was when I saw the coverage of the crowds at Ground Zero. While I agree with a Muslim friend in Yemen–overall this is probably a good thing–it still feels wrong to watch people being so gleeful over a death–any death.
For one thing, while I deplore terrorism and violence, I can’t escape the idea that neither arises in a vacuum, and that this death does nothing to restore the many lives lost. There is a sort of justice, I suppose–but I suspect that others might say bombing the world trade center was also a sort of rough justice. U.S. involvement in the matter of Israel and Palestine was one of the reasons cited for the bombing. The uncomfortable fact is that we have indeed been involved there for decades–sometimes nobly, sometimes not. In much the same way that punitive peace measures thrust Germany into poverty following World War I–and gave rise to Hitler–I believe that U.S. actions in the Middle East played a crucial role in providing Osama Bin Laden with many of his followers. Would-be dictators and terrorists will always exist, but as a species we tend toward inertia. Unless there’s a powerful reason–or pretext–provided, those advocating violent action tend not to garner widespread active support.
The laws of cause and effect are very much with us. I fear that in celebrating what thousands might see as an act of terrorism we are setting another round of the cycle in action. Osama bin Laden might be dead–but the circumstances that provided fertile soil for the growth of al Quaeda are still very much with us. Killing him has done nothing to change that. Nor has it done anything to change the fact that al Quaeda still is alive and well. I suspect that it will not be long before we hear who has replaced bin Laden.
And yet, the laws of cause and effect apply equally to the celebration at Ground Zero. That isn’t happening in a vacuum, either–millions of New Yorkers’ lives were changed by that morning. Thousands lost friends and loved ones. Are they wrong to celebrate the death of the architect of the bombing? Can we begrudge them that?
That’s not a question I can answer. I have friends in New York, and my life changed, too, on that day, right along with the rest of the world. But I didn’t see the piles of rubble. I didn’t see the bodies. I was afraid, but I didn’t see my fears realized before my eyes. That celebration didn’t take place in a vacuum, either.
And that’s precisely the point–like it or not, we live in a global society. Actions that once were local are now seen and interpreted around the world. How might the sight of thousands of New Yorkers celebrating the death of a Muslim leader play in Baghdad? In Cairo? In Jerusalem? In Yemen, where my friend lives? Make no mistake; there will be those who see that celebration as yet another proof that America seeks to destroy all ways of life other than her own.
So how do we mark such an event? I’m not sure I have a good answer myself, but it seems to me that a moment of silence marking the far too many lives that were lost both at home and abroad in the bombing, and in the war that followed, would be more appropriate. Silence, and national soul-searching not to lay blame, but to determine how we might, as a nation, act to deprive future terrorists of ready followers.
And that’s not a question that can be answered with guns.