Opinion: Two Reactions to Bin Laden Death

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Death of a Symbol
By Hafsa Ahmad

Early this morning in Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden was killed. Finally.

My heart is being tugged in multiple directions. Worry not, none of these emotions are pity for the vile terrorist. However, there is fear, of backlash. Anxiety, for the future. Uncertainty, of the consequences. Thus, partially to clear my own head, here are my thoughts as an American-Muslim.

September 11, 2001 is hardly a blur. I remember clearly the confusion and the chaos that ensued. The subsequent days were the most trying of our lives. The pain of losing a dear friend of our family, our “Uncle” Tariq Amanullah (Allah Yarhamhu), in the World Trade Center attacks was trying for the community. Little did we know the following years would only mount the pressure even higher. 10 years old, I didn’t comprehend why my private Islamic school shut down for days. I didn’t understand why people were attacking my neighborhood mosque. I didn’t know why people slandered my hijab-clad mother on the street, why a gang of teenage boys egged me or why a strange girl tried to tear my headscarf off. The smiling neighbor that once waved at us from her driveway now peeked through her curtains, wondering if our house party was really an underground Taliban operation.

All I could glean was that because of this man, this furry Osama bin Laden fellow, nothing was the same.

I have not forgiven him. I cannot forgive him. He killed a beloved and respected member of our family. He condoned the murder of thousands. He maligned the name of Islam. He damned every Muslim in America to a life of suspicion… a routine of ‘random’ checks at the airport, wire-tapping in our phones, sneers in the mall, bigotry in the workplace, violence in schools, crimes against our mosques, FBI interrogations in our homes, and regular slurs of raghead, terrorist and ninja.

In his death, there is closure for many. I am glad for them. I wish I could attain that closure. I wish that this one man’s death could provide that for me. Just as it did for many Americans who had been wanting to hear these words for 9 and a half years. However, as an American-Muslim, Osama bin Laden’s legacy will haunt me forever. I will forever be labelled an outcast by my own people, I will eternally be perceived as a suspect by my own government.

If only what Osama bin Laden started could also end with his life. It has, however, only begun. Islamophobia is on the rise and hate speech at its peak; anti-Muslim prejudice has not diminished. Forget not that we, American-Muslims, have to deal daily with the vilification. We have not been vindicated. Osama bin Laden’s death is not the conclusion of this chapter of our lives. Nay, it is but a reminder that although the man is dead, Islamophobia is still very much alive.

Islamophobia is as much a product of Osama bin Laden as is anti-Western terrorism. The only difference is that American-Muslims are the victims of both. All Americans, including American-Muslims, hung flags on their doors and sang the national anthem after 9/11, not just the families of victims. All other identities were abandoned amidst the stampede towards patriotism. We were united in this War on Terror.

But what about the War on Islamophobia? No. Rather, hordes of people thronged to clamber upon the Islamophobia bandwagon. Where was our unity then? We were American, too. We are American, too. So I beg of you, once more… While the hot blood of American nationalism may be coursing through our veins, let not your guard slip. To champion Islamophobia would only be a victory for Osama bin Laden. And let us not, in his death, award him that conquest.

Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead
by Carl Conradi

I would like to be clear at the outset: it is a good thing that Osama Bin Laden is dead.  A trial would have been preferable, but we all knew that wasn’t going happen.  So the next best thing is his death.

Second, I would like to state that I am not normally a cynical man.  In fact, I pride myself upon being relatively idealistic, and certainly very sympathetic.  When events of global import occur – whether celebrations like the recent royal wedding in London or tragedies like the earthquake in Japan – I am easily swept up in the communal emotion.

But not this time.

When I woke up in Sana’a this morning to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, I immediately logged on to Facebook and Twitter, expecting some vigorous and interesting debate.  Instead, all I found was ridiculous tribalism and triumphalist rhetoric.  It was frankly somewhat sickening.

The way I see it, Osama Bin Laden’s death (hopefully) brings to a close the darkest period of politics that I have experienced in my short life.  It is perhaps analogous to how my parents must have felt when the Berlin Wall fell.  This closure, however, is not something worth celebrating.  Indeed, it is a moment in which we should be giving disgraced thanks to life circumstance for having delivered us from such a lethal period of bigotry and idiocy.

Osama Bin Laden was evil and his actions speak for themselves:

-3,060 innocent civilians were killed in his three most high-profile attacks (i.e. 224 in the African embassy bombings in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi; 17in the USS Cole bombing in Yemen; and 2,819 in the 9/11 attacks)

US $105 billion was lost to the New York City economy in the month after 9/11

-An estimated 3,051 children lost a parents in the 9/11 attacks

US $970 million was spent by FEMA on the 9/11 emergency

Of far greater evil, however, has been the rest of humanity’s disproportionate and breathtakingly ignorant response to the depraved crimes of a single sociopathic man.  Once again, our actions speak for themselves:

-We launched two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively

-We asked 4,421 Americans – both soldiers and civil servants – to sacrifice their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 1,550 in Operation Enduring Freedom (fatalities as of 29 April 2011)

-We have watched 31,931 Americans become walking wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 11,110 in Operation Enduring Freedom (injuries as of 29 April 2011)

-We have killed between 100,598 and 864,531 innocent Iraqi civilians, either directly or by creating the requisite instability for such violence to take place; this estimate may rise by 15,000 once WikiLeaks’ “Iraq War Logs” are fully analyzed

-We have borne witness to over 9,000 civilian war-related deaths in Afghanistan

-American taxpayers have spent approximately US $1,188,706,000,000 on the decade-long “War on Terror”

-We have watched the incidence of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe increase dramatically in the past decade

-We have yet to win the so-called “War on Terror” and Western paranoia is as intense as ever

Is this really what Osama Bin Laden’s life was worth?  Is this really how we chose to memorialize the victims of 9/11, 3/11 and 7/7?  Is this how the most powerful coalition in history has chosen to protect itself?  Could we not have striven to do better?  Could we not have striven to be more human?

It has also surprised me to see the jubilant reaction of Americans in front of the White House and at Times Square (courtesy of CNN’s live feed).  It’s a scene that is depressingly familiar: men and women from Islamabad or Kabul or Mogadishu, stomping on American portraits and burning American effigies in the streets.  Those of us in the West have watched such mobs in a state of utter incomprehension; how could they behave like such animals, taking pleasure in something that has caused so much pain?

As we have learned today, however, Westerners can be animals too.  When a threat appears to have been eliminated, they dance on the graves of those who have come before them, not heeding in the slightest important lessons for the future.  Is this sufficient commemoration for the lives lost confronting evil?

It is crucial that we remember – while toasting with champagne and patting each other on the back – that the specter of inequality and xenophobia that caused this whole mess continues to haunt us today.  Bin Laden’s cohorts will be disappointed to realize that their beloved “martyr’s” death has not resulted in an objectively more humane standard of living for the ummah.  Likewise, many Westerners will be perplexed as to why Bin Laden’s death hasn’t solved the question of why the developing world hates them so much.

We can do better and some of us are doing better.  Across the Middle East, young revolutionaries are rising up in peaceful protest against the regimes of incorrigible dictators, many of whom have been artificially propped up by the West for years, so as to strengthen the “War on Terror”.  They are setting a vital example that will no doubt have Bin Laden turning in his watery grave; namely, that Muslims can seize the rights that are theirs by birth without making recourse to violence.

It’s about time, too: it’s terrible that so many Arabs had allowed their politics and their faith to be hijacked for a full decade by a megalomaniacal sadist (plural, if one were to count their imperious presidents).  May such defiance throughout the Arab world – in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria – be the silver bullet in Salafi Islam’s desiccated heart.  This alone would be worthy of pride.

Where, however, is the corresponding silver bullet for Western narcissism and hypocrisy?  Where are the American men and women calling – en masse – for the dismantling of their brutal military-industrial complex?  Who in the West is actually striving to prove Osama Bin Laden wrong?

The death of Bin Laden will only bring closure to this thoroughly embarrassing period in human history if all parties to the conflict take a moment to be self-reflective – to ask the questions: “How did this happen and how can I make sure that it will never happen again?”

But this is why I feel so uncommonly cynical.  As I watch people around the world revel in the death of an increasingly marginalized psychopath, I wonder whether such self-reflection will ever take place.  Will we continue to fetishize conflict?  Will we continue – like the dumbest of animals – to stubbornly ignore the mistakes of our past?

Or are we prepared to commemorate our lost loved ones by forging a genuinely new moral order?  Will we stare across the dismantled wall of our own violent ignorance and admit to ourselves that the Other is so remarkably familiar?

Osama Bin Laden is dead and this is good.  But for me, this is not a day of pride.  It’s a day of deep, deep shame.

Hafsa Ahmad is a student at Middlebury College. Reposted with permission from her blog Chalte Chalte.

Carl Conradi is a Canadian citizen who is the co-founder and CEO of Detente Consultancy International. He currently resides in Sana’a, Yemen. Reposted with permission from his blog.

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One Response to Opinion: Two Reactions to Bin Laden Death

  1. hafsahmad says:

    The Conradi piece was quite refreshing to read, I had a similar reaction to the overreaction on the streets of DC and NYC. It is a somber moment, not a celebratory one. I can only hope that more people will take to heart your suggestion to seize this moment for self-reflection- only then will we be “superior” to the Other.

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