I admit it. I wanted to go the White House last night. But it wasn’t for the reasons you’re thinking; it wasn’t to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. Really, I was curious and wanted to observe the crowd.
No, I didn’t interview anyone (although I thought about it) but there is something to be said for simply watching a celebration that draws thousands to the streets.
First, nearly everyone appeared to be college aged. There were people in trees, people with face paint, people with boom boxes, people riding on the roofs and hoods of cars, people hanging out of sun roofs waving the American flag. And of course many a creative sign. Finally, lest we forget those who were still selling flags at 2 a.m. to color the crowd more patriotic.
Then there was the chanting along the lines of, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” only to be complimented by the incessant honking of cars as they drove past Pennsylvania Avenue. My friend and I tried to get a different chant to catch on, namely: “Pak-i-stan! Pak-i-stan! Pak-i-stan!” We were greeted with nothing but odd and confused looks. I stress the adjective confused.
Who is This Really About?
I hate to break this news to all of you joyful protest goers but this isn’t just about the “U.S.A.” It’s about people and peace across the globe and it’s time we shift the focus from strictly on the west and place it properly to include the east.
To be sure, this is an incredible success for our military and the Obama Administration. In fact, this may very well guarantee his re-election. I am the first to seek justice for those who lost their lives and loved ones on September 11, 2001. So before you think I am being un-American for criticizing the celebration, know that my view of the historical significance of this day is, simply put, much broader.
I will say first, ask yourself this: while we were exercising our right to peaceably assemble at 2:00 a.m., who took time to think about the men, women, and children in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan who are also victims of Osama bin Laden’s violence and extremism? Were you also celebrating this “justice” for them?
The reality is that bin Laden’s ideals are still thriving in many corners of the world and the death of a leader often only incites more violence and anger. What will this really mean for the Middle East? What will it mean for the United States? These are unanswerable questions but ones that should be within the framework as we choose to “celebrate” the death of a ruthless extremist.
Second, this. Yes, the might of the American military succeeded in killing bin Laden but we would not have accomplished this without intelligence and cooperation from Pakistan.
A Glance Beyond This Moment
Most importantly, the bigger issue. Bin Laden was the poster boy for the anger that followed the September 11th attacks. He was considered the mastermind – and he needed to be brought to justice. But he was also the leader of a faction of extremism that is not going to vanish from this earth simply because bin Laden is dead.
I certainly hope that many feel a sense of closure for those who were lost on that fateful day but the reality is that others will continue to foster the beliefs that are embodied in this extremism. Only if these views are countered and exterminated from the earth will there be true cause to celebrate. Until then, I will honor the men and women in uniform; I will honor those we lost that fateful day; and I will envision a bigger triumph that will end this extremism and violence once and for all.