I got a migraine Monday morning, and I think I know why. Since the news broke on Sunday night, my mind has been racing with thoughts and emotions on the death of Osama bin Laden. But I was not only wrapped up in thinking about my own reaction, I was also overwhelmed by the reactions of others. Celebratory, somber, defiant, and reflective, these reactions have comforted and disturbed me.
Like all Americans, 9/11 changed my life. Thank god I didn’t lose any loved ones to the terrorist attacks, and I didn’t personally suffer from the xenophobic mentality that gripped the country in the years that followed. But the hatred and violence demonstrated on 9/11, and the subsequent misunderstanding and misguided antagonism toward Muslims, caused me to become committed to learning as much as possible about Islam and the Middle East. I was 17 at the time, ripe for learning, and convinced that there had to be more to the story than the pundits were preaching.
I was also extremely disturbed by the nationalist reaction that our country displayed in the weeks following 9/11. As a student of history, I had always been very suspicious of any jingoistic gestures and any ideology that bases itself on an “us vs. them” platform. Like many Americans, I grew uncomfortable with the gaudiness of the post 9/11 America. I wanted a country that confidently and humbly pursued justice, not one that desperately tried to prove its power. I wanted Americans to pursue partnerships abroad, not tell the world “you’re either with us or against us.” I was even more horrified when our leaders began to use the national tragedy as a pretext for invading Iraq, riding the coat tails of 9/11 to launch a senseless war that wasted American lives and resources (not to mention the unbelievable price paid by Iraqis, who we kindly asked to assume the cost).
It’s been a long ten years, and a lot has changed. But when I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I immediately felt transported back to a time that I didn’t like. I hate that man for what he has done, and for what he has caused us to do. People are saying that his death closes a chapter in American history, but I wonder who wrote that chapter. Bin Laden may have set the ball in motion, but the United States is responsible for its reaction to the events of 9/11. From wire tapping to Abu Ghraib, we are responsible for how we responded to the actions of a madman.
Thanks to the specious conflation of 9/11 with the War in Iraq, it is impossible for me to think of 9/11 without cringing at how it has been abused by cocky politicians with agendas and special interests. Osama’s death, therefore, not only triggers emotions about the horrors of that day, but it also brings back a flood of frustration over the missteps that our country has made in the last 10 years. The killing of Osama bin Laden might bring closure to those acts of terrorism, but it does little to address the damage we inflicted upon ourselves. That’s a task that will require more than an elite force of Navy SEALs.