May 2011


Where was I when I found out…

I was in bed, asleep, when I heard an SMS arrive. 5 AM.

Holy shit Osama .bin laden is dead.

I sort of fell back asleep – waking an hour later at my usual time, heading off to work, passively reading bits and pieces of news on the Internets during pauses in work.

Truthfully, while I am pleased that Osama bin Laden is off the map, I am disturbed by the celebrations of his death. I’d prefer to take a moment to reflect and remember his victims.

The dancing in the streets and constant flag waving was repulsive to me – yes, Osama was a horrid man, but celebrating his death, or anybody’s death seems undignified.

Maybe I am becoming more and more European—it seems that this response, that of being pleased Osama bin Laden is out of the way but unhappy with the dancing in the streets, is pretty common on this side of the pond.

6 comments to Where was I when I found out…

  • For myself I would think I’d celebrate that justice is served. I think what many are missing is that this is a celebration of justice, not death. There is a difference.

    I think all this arm chair quarterbacking (as we in the US might call it) by people in countries from Europe to Australia is frustrating. For years the US had all these places complaining that it’s pursing the wrong goals in Iraq (I agree) and Afghanistan (I disagree), and should instead be pursing Osama bin Laden. Then when the US finally gets it right and gets OBL, suddenly these same people are complaining about how the US went about it.

    What the F was the US supposed to do? Capture him and let him talk to a psychiatrist about his mother?

    I really find a rather bizarre juxtaposition in the world view of this.

    I don’t think the US could have done anything to make those people happy.

    Back to the original point, if I celebrate it is because justice has been done, not because I’m happy about death.

  • I also had a similar reaction – happy to finally have some closure on both a horrible day in September 2001 and all that followed (right, wrong or misguided) in the last 10 years but for me the moment was more somber and reflective, rather than a jumping in the streets for joy moment. I guess I can’t help think, above all, does his death mean anything will really get better in the future with respect to these terrorists or might it even get worse?

  • I read somewhere online (forgive me…I can’t place it) that the “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” chanting and other jubilance displayed at the news of the success of the mission to kill/capture him reminded the commenter strongly of the Islamic Fundamentalist death threats in news clips. I’ve always felt skeevy about (being in) crowds chanting like that, and now I know why.

  • Cynical Queer – I think you are missing the nuance here – I don’t think many people outside the United States are upset that Osama bin Laden is dead, rather what is disquieting is the celebratory aspect of the American response. Americans didn’t, as far as I can recall, dance in the street the day that Timothy McVeigh was put to death, and Timothy McVeigh was also a terrorist — he killed 168 and injured a lot more. Justice was served in my opinion — but there hasn’t been any reflection about the deeper meaning.

    Michelle – I think we can expect more terrorism in the future, but probably not a significantly higher rate, rather it will continue to plod along. I think it’s fascinating how much the media talks about al-Qaeda like it is a highly structured military organization, much like the Nazis or the US Army — I get the feeling it’s not so highly structured and regimented and that the long term fight against it is going to be challenging and require changing hearts and souls at a fundamental level–and much of that will require the United States to do a lot of introspection and ask itself, does al-Qaeda have any legitimate complaints about the United States? I doubt that question will ever be honestly answered, at least in public, and surely never by a Republican or the overly religious.

    cliff1976 – excessive patriotism is a bit creepy. I like the fact that Germans are very skittish about flag waving.

    • Timothy McVeigh didn’t cause erosion of our civil liberties, didn’t have billions of dollars spent on his being brought to justice, nor was he on the news radar as often. OBL made it so that I had to go through security THREE times on my way home from South Africa. I can no longer make it from one side of the US to the other in a reasonable amount of time unless I want to subject my genitals to being groped or have a virtual strip search conducted with an x-ray machine, things which I’m convinced are fourth amendment violations.

      bin Laden had a significant impact on US society that I’m not sure any other country has felt, at least not those with significant civil liberties. In one day in 2001, OBL caused the US to create a system whereby all of us are terrorists until we prove otherwise.

      As far as I’m concerned bin Laden won, he caused fundamental change to US society. I think that’s the main difference.

      • I”m not really sure OBL has really changed US society. I honestly cannot put my finger on any fundamental change he’s caused–other than airport security theater/paranoia. Further, it’s really strange that there wasn’t a greater response to the threat of Timothy McVeigh: he was a homegrown, red/white/blue terrorist — I think most Americans put him out of their head as a nutcase, too afraid to admit that it can, and does, come from within.

        That said, I might note that even before OBL, you would have had to go through security three times between South Africa and home, on the route you took: Security 1, in South Africa, as the initial airport must screen you. Security 2, in Amsterdam, would have occurred no matter what because of how Schiphol is designed (and it occurs today because the EU mandates that all passengers in the EU must be screened in the EU). Security 3, in Detroit/wherever, after immigration and customs would have occurred no matter what because as you are in a baggage claim area and claim checked luggage in order to go through customs, you are no longer considered sterile (checked luggage can contain items that hand luggage cannot). The US approach of having customs at the initial landing airport makes a certain amount of sense — in Europe customs is always done at the final airport of arrival for checked luggage and the initial arrival airport into the EU for hand luggage (although, technically, customs is a country-by-county issue, whilst immigration is a, for many country, Schengen issue–it gets very complicated).

        These number of checks on that trip have not changed–what has changed is the nature of the theater. It’s not effective: 9/11 was a singularly unique event. It will never happen again. The TSA is designed to search for and prevent the attacks that already happened from happening again. They do not think innovatively, only reactively.