Osama Bin Laden is dead. In a matter in minutes from the news being released, crowds of people poured out to the streets in New York and across the US, waving their star-spangled flags, cheering and singing, celebrating.
In many ways, it was a remarkable moment. Ten years of uncertainty, fear, agony and rumours about Bin Laden’s whereabouts came to an end. At that moment, for probably a majority of Americans, all the sacrifices made to bring one man to justice were worth it – the extended war, the extra troops, the money spent, the huge deficit, lost lives of soldiers. Ten years ago the US waged a war on terrorism, equating terrorism with one individual – and now, as that individual has been killed, the war has been won.
Or has it?
It is naïve to think that the death of Bin Laden marks a significant weakening of Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. Killing bin Laden will not kill terrorism – it might put a dent to it, it might shake up the groups, but it won’t end extremism, and most importantly, it does not fix the past. I am a firm believer in the saying, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – and fully against state led executions, whether they take place in prison compounds or in the outskirts of Pakistan. It is of course impossible to say with any kind of certainty whether or not killing Osama was the only possible option in the situation – there is a great possibility it actually was – but the reactions spiked by his death, while understandable, are also saddening and scary, and in many ways not that different from the mentality behind the actions of terrorists. Osama was, in all fairness, the polar opposite of an “innocent civilian” – and I guess it could be argued that killing him was more than justified. However, retaliation rarely marks the end of any conflict – it only adds fuel to the fire. It further strengthens the arguments of the enemies, and offers more justification to their actions and their messages. I want to believe that violence cannot be fixed by violence, and that a civilized state should never approve of torture or extrajudicial killings as a method of restoring peace, gaining information, or getting justice. Revenge is not justice. It is always harder to rise above the humane need to retaliate after you have been wronged, especially when a nation has been wronged in such a devastating, horrific way as the United States was almost ten years ago – but retaliation is what leads to more horrific acts and more devastation. For the past ten years the world, especially America, has had to watch their soldiers and their troops killed and then paraded around streets of Afghanistan in the name of justice and triumph, and these types of actions have been condemned by all of the civilized world as barbaric, as cruel, as inhuman – and now, after the death of Bin Laden, young Americans have taken over the streets in celebration, calling for Bin Laden’s body to be brought back to New York so that it could be “Pulled behind a Humvee across the streets of New York until nothing was left”, as I read on one site. The acts that we all so eagerly condemn as inhumane and cruel have suddenly become justifiable – and that, if anything, is a scary, scary thing.
I can never know what that day felt like for Americans, for New Yorkers, for all those people who waited to hear news about their loved ones and family members, for the people who were traumatised for life, for the people who left New York and will never come back because of the memories of that one day. I don’t know what it feels like, to have your country be the main target of terrorism, to live in fear and wait for something bad to happen again, to see your sons and daughters bravely give up their youth, their health, their life, to fight to restore peace and security and to bring justice to Americans. I do not know – and I will never claim to know. This, in more ways than one, was America’s battle – and in the eyes of many, many people, America has now won.
I do not believe that a death of a person can ever bring peace or justice for anyone. However, I do not think I am in a position to claim that Bin Laden’s death was not a relief to the people who lost family members and loved ones on 9/11 – I do believe it is a relief, and I do believe that for many, this is justice. And, in all honesty, those people and this country have deserved any relief and all the justice they possibly can get.
However, this is not a triumph for humanity. It is not the end of terrorism. I do not want to condemn the celebrations and the joy felt by many in this moment, because in this case, I think that even for the strongest opponent of state led execution, maybe it is time to be silent for now. I personally, though, am still scared and saddened – because to me, there is nothing more frightening than to be reminded of how easy it is to distort the notion of justice and equate it with revenge – and how easy it is to forget that peace can never be restored through more violence.