The crowds roaring as people continue to stream outdoors, streaks of red, white, and blue swirling through the night air. Men and women high-fiving, as they leave their flickering television sets to celebrate the recent news. But there was no game winning basket, no footprints on the moon, instead a man has died. “USA, USA!”
I remember this scene-- the passion of an overzealous mob, celebrating a perceived victory for their country. It happened 10 years ago. Except they weren’t Americans and it wasn’t one death but hundreds. As many towns across the Arab world flooded into the streets waving their country’s emblems while burning American flags, I felt sickened and confused by their insensitivity, by their pure barbarism. And I feel just as confused today when I see my fellow countrymen jumping for joy, burning effigies, and cheering as if they just won the World Series (according to one Bostonian, there were even calls of “Yankees Suck” mixed in).
President Obama announced that “Justice has been done,” and maybe so. But the reaction of my fellow Americans isn’t in the name of justice but of vengeance. 10 years ago America was punched in the nose. The most powerful country in the world, powerless to do anything but watch as burning bodies hopelessly pitched themselves from windows. We wept, we screamed, and now we finally punched back. An eye for an eye.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called bin Laden’s death, a “step forward,” which may also be true, at least militaristically, but what about culturally? Will bin Laden’s death serve to ease tensions between the Western and Arab worlds or further inflame them? While I know bin Laden was a despicable, evil man, whose death I will not mourn, I cannot help but feel that the sudden surge of nationalism brought on by his assassination is merely a manifestation of the depth of the hatred we feel. Just 10 years ago, a day I will never forget, we were victims of misplaced hate. I remember waking up that morning and sleepily shaking the mouse on my computer until my monitor clicked on. These were the pre-Facebook days, the ‘dark ages’, but I had my Instant Messanger open, and filling my screen were text boxes that contained the most venomous and vile language possible: “Sand Niggers,” “Towel heads,” “Nuke them all!” All of these messages left by sensible people. Good people. It wasn’t until I turned on my television that I understood what they were even talking about. As I watched the planes fly into the towers over and over again, I felt the waves of grief and anger wash over me until I was emotionally spent. It took weeks, maybe even months to find some sense of normalcy, although I knew that the world I lived in was irrevocably changed. Muslim extremists had wounded us, taking the lives of innocent civilians, and in the process planting within us, the seeds of hate.
During their coverage of bin Laden’s death, CNN interviewed a New Yorker for his reaction to the breaking story. The man stated that he will forever remember where he was on 9/11 and will always remember where he was when bin Laden died. I have no doubt that this statement will prove to be true, but I hope when I look back on yesterday’s events I remember it as the day where humanity was able to reflect on the evils of the world and put our relationship with them into perspective and not the day where an irreparable chasm divided two peoples. Today, I feel no more American than yesterday, I am equally proud of the men and women who give their lives to defend our country and equally proud to be from a country that espouses the virtues of freedom and justice for all—a sentiment I hope we put into practice more consistently in the future.
In closing, I turn not to my President but to my Pope:
“In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”