Originally published in OtherWords.
The enthusiastic flag-waving. The gaudy red, white, and blue jumpsuits, the booming chants of “USA, USA, USA.” The huge crowd of jubilant young people gathered outside the White House, celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death.
Is it right to celebrate the death of an individual, even one as abhorrent as bin Laden?
His death won’t bring home the thousands of troops fighting and losing their lives in the name of “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The “Global War on Terror” (a never-ending war on a tactic) won’t end with bin Laden’s death. Is it really appropriate to engage in such unrestrained partying?
I feel it’s somewhat jarring to see the images of Americans marking this historic moment by partying outside the White House and across the country. We may be effectively guilty of celebrating death and exhibiting the worst of Western excesses, while we continue to condone drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that kill terrorists and civilians alike.
However, from the perspective of someone who was only 11 years old when the 9-11 attacks happened (as were many of the college-age revelers), there’s a real emotional and mental aspect to this event that is being overlooked. Every young person in my age group vividly remembers where he or she was when the terrorist attacks happened. I remember hearing the news crackle through the radio on my school bus in London and then seeing the horrific images of the attacks once I got home.
While my contemporaries and I may not have had the ability to look at the events through a critical lens, the images from those days will be forever burned into our psyches. There was a definite feeling that the world we knew before the attacks was gone and that things would never be the same again.
For those of us who grew up in the West under the shadow of the attacks in New York, Washington, Madrid, and London, Osama bin Laden is really the embodiment of a world that has become gripped in fear and hatred. A man who was responsible in whole or in part for murdering thousands of people, encouraging a climate where human rights and freedoms are limited, destroying the popular image of Islam as a religion, and radicalizing the debate on identity so that it has become “them vs. us.” Perhaps my generation, he has become a literal bogeyman who changed the world we live in for the worse.
The kind of celebrations that erupted in front of the White House could be seen as a disturbing sign of people who have been whipped up into a jingoistic frenzy. However, I suggest that these celebrations are something else: the collective “exhale” of a group of young men and women who have grown up in a world that lacked confidence, belief, and any semblance of “peace.”
Laurence Hull is a former Foreign Policy In Focus intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. He lives in London, UK and is studying history and international studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. www.ips-dc.org