The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US special forces has dominated the news for almost 24 hours. If you haven’t heard yet, maybe you are just returning from a place with no TVs, internet, or access to the outside world. While I write a food blog, those who know me well know that my politics run deep and are interwoven with my true desire for liberty and justice for all and a commitment to service, be it through volunteering, donations, or just being a considerate citizen.
Where were you when you heard the news of Bin Laden’s death? We were heading to bed after a long drive from NJ when I saw, via my most reliable news source, Twitter, that the President was going to deliver an address at 10:30 Eastern time. Like so many of my tweeps, I started to wonder and feel a little fearful. Clearly, it was important if it couldn’t wait until Monday. Or maybe Obama really did want to interrupt Celebrity Apprentice to show the Donald exactly where his place is?
Once the news was leaked on Twitter, and then officially announced by the major news stations (where the ever “on top of things” Fox news declared the death of “Obama Bin Laden”), my mind went into high gear and stayed that way all night long. The President was cool and composed as always. He needed not stand aboard an aircraft carrier declaring “Mission accomplished”, because he is smart enough to know that, despite this symbolic victory, our mission will be accomplished when US servicemen and women are no longer in harms way.
He did well to remind America that the war on terror is not a war on any religion, and I hope that all of the people who are afraid of a head scarf remember that.
The reaction that followed the news was emotional for everyone. Tweets and Facebook updates, comments on news articles all vowed to remember the victims of September 11, 2001, something that we all of course should do. But as I watched students invade the Boston Common, chanting “USA, USA” (and I would bet that there were some “Yankees Suck” chants because this is Boston, and there always are), visions in my mind flickered back and forth between that scene and scenes of crowds in the Middle East celebrating the deaths of those killed on 9/11.
From where we stand, watching those people carry flags, burn leaders in effigy, and chant, they are terrorists. And last night, from where they stand, so are we.
And as I read more and more, including an observation from this article, where a 22 year old girl celebrated with a Bud Light at Ground Zero, I wondered if much of the excitement and celebration was downright disrespectful. And sadly, exactly what much of the world expects of us.
I was a little shocked to see people so jubilant at the thought of the war on terror being over. I am more fearful now than ever before. Ten years of invasions and war, embargoes, and questionable interrogation in various jails, especially Guantanamo, while perhaps necessary, have also helped to amplify all of the conditions that force many of these people into terrorism in the first place.
Ultimately, trying to kill off all of the terrorists or terrorists-in-training and their families is not, in my opinion, ever going to end the war on terror.
Whether it’s the gang-infested streets of an American city, a marginalized neighborhood in Derry, or an extremist group in Gaza, the root of organizing for violence against others isn’t evil. It doesn’t always require “bad people” – it’s poverty, injustice, lack of education and opportunity, fear of the “other”, faced with the sudden opportunity to be a part of something. In some cases, people who know no better think that they are doing their best.
We can do better than that.
As the news went on and on and occasionally broke to detail the devastation of the storms in the South, I wondered if hatred and celebration of death, the death of anyone, is being our best selves or if, even in the excitement and awe of the moment, we could do better.
After the 9/11 attacks, we all had stories of coming together. Whether it was a shoe store giving free sneakers to women in heels fleeing the tragedy, or in my case, groups of college classmates comforting one another and giving blood, we were all one. Last night, we came together again; as Americans, can’t we come together more often than when something big happens?
I can’t celebrate someone’s death, even someone as awful as Bin Laden. Instead, my response is to think about how we can all be our best selves. We can give up our daily coffee and text the Red Cross to help suffering Americans, sort through our clothes and shoes to see what we can give up to drives for supplies, or box up canned goods and deliver them to our local food banks.
We can be better to each other, to our neighbors, families, and friends, to the man on the street and we can show the rest of the world that THAT’S what Americans do when the going gets tough. Rather than be the biggest or the most armed, hopefully someday it will be good enough for us to just be our human best.