Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden dead after ten years of searching

Peace fingers clip artAmericans 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.


  1. The prospect of 72 virgins REALLY isn't that attractive:

  2. And I immediately went and hung up our flag! Thanks for the reminder :) It's the first time I'm hanging it up that I feel truly proud instead of a little silly.

  3. From Marissa: "Did you ever hear that some muslim scholars now believe the translation is actually "grapes", not "virgins"? So, you could blow up a school and go to paradise, or go to Harris Teeter, with pretty much the same effect."

  4. You could also ask: what will happen to the USA now?

    And: When you leave the US, you may be exposed to some more balanced reporting, including how UBL's role had actually decreased over the years and his death now may not really mean all that much; and that maybe AQ will be quite alright without him. Maybe to those hunting him it was more the symbolism of revenge for 9/11 and the eye-for-an-eye lovers out there or some other moral or political obligation as opposed to anything more meaningful in the 'war on terror' - discuss! ;)

  5. Thanks for the comment, AJ! There's since been a lot of reporting in the US and the UK about OBL being shot unarmed and the 'misreporting' in the early stages about a firefight. I cynically said to Hank that the Navy Seal who shot OBL will be a national hero and perhaps there was almost a competition to see who could scalp him on that mission. On the other hand, I personally would not stand around in a compound in a foreign country with the world's most notorious terrorist, hoping I would not get taken out by him or his cronies. I might just pop him, especially if the President said it was ok. It does leave a bitter taste in the mouth as everyone has the right to a fair trial, still I found I could not be angry with whoever killed him.

    Thanks also to another reader who pointed out that OBL has been on the FBI's most wanted since 1998- some 13 yrs indeed.


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