Monday, 2 May 2011
Bin Laden dead after ten years of searching
Americans awoke this morning to the unexpected news of Osama Bin Laden's death. I've never, ever triumphed at another person's demise but the notorious Al Qaeda leader's death could be nothing but celebrated by this country, and, I find to my surprise, by me personally. The man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans in the USA and countless combatants and civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan is finally gone.
I look back on September 11th 2001 and recall distinctly the shock and disbelief in the eyes of my American co-workers, watching on a Japanese TV set the horrendous events which had played out overnight, which was the morning back home, miles away.
The news was broken to me at 5am on Sep 12th when my mother, returning from work, had seen the footage on the 9 o'clock news and immediately called from the UK to check I was ok. I, interrupted from the youthful, deep sleep of a single 23-year old overseas, sarcastically pointed out that I was in Japan, nowhere near New York and could she just leave me alone and stop fussing over nothing and refrain from telephoning me in the middle of the night, many thanks.
Meanwhile my grief-stricken American co-workers, fellow teachers of English in Japan, had contacted each other overnight and arranged to watch the news coverage together in one place. This happened to be in my apartment building, so I tagged along, not really understanding the magnitude of what had happened. Only as I saw the footage of the Twin Towers did I understand why my mother had reached out to me in the middle of the night. Oh boy, did I understand.
Many of my colleagues were Californian, but most had strong ties to the East Coast. Irrespective of these ties, what American could not be affected by the shocking images of that day? A couple of our distant colleagues were from New York; some would later learn that they had lost neighbours or friends. One co-worker's Uncle would become a hero on United Airlines Flight 93, a twist which, to this day, is probably why I have such a burning hatred for Bin Laden and such respect for the American spirit of independence. But at this point, early in the morning of Sep 12th we knew none of this. Phones lines out of Japan, still analogue in those days, were becoming jammed by frantic callers. Email was not yet used by everyone. Few could contact their friends, family, partners. Flights to the entire US East Coast were being cancelled. It was agony for my American friends trapped so far away from their loved ones.
We sat in silence and watched Fox News until the rhetoric got too much for us, and then switched to CNN and, finally, the BBC. We were glued to the TV as President Bush pledged to pursue those responsible for the attacks. The death toll was, at this point, still being estimated in the news as 30 - 40,000 fatalities. Body bags were running out. But it was the first time I saw how much Americans truly loved their country, in a way that transcended the aggressive foreign policy for which the nation was becoming famous. A US flag was being drawn over the Pentagon. Emergency responders were going into areas where they would face mortal danger, to rescue their compatriots. Insurance companies, wriggling to avoid life insurance pay-outs would be forced to support the bereaved, thanks to the sheer weight of American public pressure.
The international War on Terror, regardless of whether you agree with it, was a reflection of how deeply America was scarred by the events of Sep 11th 2001. Bin Laden's death at the hands of US Navy Seals marks the end of a chapter. But what will happen to Al Qaeda now?
I find myself wondering if Pakistan knew about the planned American operation. And if not, how will they respond to a foreign assault in the heart of their territory? What does the death of Bin Laden mean for the future of the US campaign in Afghanistan? And, of course, I wonder if Bin Laden was buried at sea PURELY to fuel future conspiracy theories that he was never captured? ;-)
If Hank and I had an American Flag, we would have flown it today. Instead a Stars & Stripes cushion, a wedding gift, is propped up in our window. It's a great day for this nation and for secular, liberal democracy around the world.
Good night, Bin Laden. May the 72 virgins supposedly waiting for you in heaven nag you incessantly and max out your credit card whenever your back is turned.
And for America: well done, chaps. I hope that, for all those who survived September 11th, finally the haunting spectre of that morning can be laid to rest.
Posted by Georgia at 08:52