Monday, May 2, 2011

He falls away into the dustbin of history

It has been a busy spring in the Middle East. Waves of revolution, civil war and regime change have reshaped the region in ways that few would have foreseen even five years ago.

And now there's this: Osama bin Laden is dead. Shot in the head by U.S. Special Forces and, according to some accounts, buried at sea to simultaneously measure up to Islamic traditions and avoid creating a terrorist shrine.


I can't remember exactly how long it took to identify him as the mastermind of the attacks on September 11, 2001. I can remember how that day felt. Awakened by a phone call in the early hours of the day, I listened groggily as a good friend of mine described a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Then I watched in dismay as the second plane hit the other tower.

The rest of the day I spent on my couch, glued to the TV and wondering what would happen next.

I don't think it's fair to say that bin Laden's death has brought me--and perhaps anyone--real closure, to use an overused bit of psycho-jargon. Yes, he has been the face of global terrorism for the last decade-plus, but in the end, he's just a man. And more important, the ideology he represented has already taken a severe beating this year as mostly non-violent, mostly secular protests have toppled regimes against which al Qaeda has railed for years. Corny though it may sound, it has been a collective desire for freedom and fair representation that shoved longtime dictators from their pedestals, not bombs and extremism.

At the same time, though, I have some difficulty understanding the criticism of those celebrating in the streets of Washington and New York on Sunday night. One BBC viewer wrote:

One of my strongest memories from 9/11 is people celebrating around the world. I remember being disgusted. Now I have just seen Americans celebrating the death of Bin Laden outside the White House, I am again disgusted.

One of my strongest memories was the sense of shock and horror and loss as Manhattan was enveloped in a cloud of destruction. So I don't have much problem with people getting emotional at the death of the man who made that happen.

Here in the UAE, the reaction is that there is no reaction. Business, and life, have gone on as usual; my morning walk to work takes me through a muggy beehive of commerce and it was no different today than it is any other day. Furniture vendors and carpenters, most of them Pakistani, seemed unmoved by the news as they toted couches and ran planks through table saws. Even the government has, for the time being, remained silent.

I think Obama's speech this morning (late Sunday, U.S. time) hit a lot of the right notes and adequately summed up what transpired today.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory - hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.


The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who's been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done.

And I think that's about right.

As I walk home today, through a city untroubled by the unrest that has gripped the rest of the region, I think it is safe to say that bin Laden's death has no direct impact on my life.

But it does feel like today's news was, if not justice, at least a just end for an incredibly malicious person, who twisted religion and snuffed out innocent life in its name.

1 comment:

Pietro Devon said...

while i have many thoughts and arguments on obama's speech, i still maintain that violence is nothing to celebrate.