Read Time:3 Minute, 3 Second
I was barely sixteen years old when they hit. Two jet-fuelled passenger missiles had suddenly collided with humanity on a trajectory I’m sure the Wright brothers could never have imagined. If it weren’t for more astute centres of journalism, I could have sworn that there was only one.
I’m surprised by how little I remember of the event itself, since it took over every hour of that television day: all I can visualise is clouds of smoke on a small TV set and the world crumbling to a standstill. You’d think for a teenager it would be a momentous event in my recollection, but it seemed so surreal, so clearly documented, that it couldn’t possible have been happening right then.
A man we had no knowledge of, from a country we had barely heard of beyond our entrenched Western fears, had somehow brought the United States to its knees. As our jaws gaped at the movie cinema televisions, the sentiment grew: the fish rots from the head, they said, and we hung our shock on this foreigner, possessing grand physical stature and brazen religious sensibility. The fish rots from the head, they said, and we found ourselves with a target for our grief.
And today, after almost ten years of war in two countries, Osama bin Laden is dead. As masses in Times Square chant “USA! USA” in public support for the state-ordered assassination, I’m led to wonder about the sentiment once more. Will Al Qaeda rot without their leader, a man who has been quiet enough to avoid capture for a decade?
To rejoice in bin Laden’s death as a symbol for the death of terrorism is as ignorant as praising George Bush’s war effort for his capture. One is a brutal, ham-fisted technique with possible ulterior motives, and the other is an intelligence operation for the sake of justice or, at the very least, retribution. Though Mark Twain might have said “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure,” I find more solace in the intellectual response of author Marianne Williamson who tweeted this afternoon, “Tonight is a night for sober and mature reflection, not glee. Mindless celebration is both spiritually inappropriate and politically naive.”
I feared in 2001, as I do now, that we would find ourselves misplacing our patriotism. If we let the Southern Cross wrap itself in American garments, marching forward into war (and for some, certain death), are we led to ignore more peaceful responses to international conflict? Surely, there is more to be said for diplomacy than its employment as a tool for the interim.
Barack Obama has already claimed the military effort as “a testament to the greatness of our country.” We have, in a matter of hours, proclaimed the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Surely we cannot be so misguided as to cheer in the streets when we so recently admonished the Middle East for doing the same. Where is the breaking point in human suffering where one can be excused for such putrid revelry at an operation which risked the lives of many for the death of one?
It’s all well and good to bask in the triumph of bringing a murderer to justice, but are we at risk of getting caught up in the glory of cold-hearted revenge? Even if the fish rots from the head, what atrocities have we still to experience from Bin Laden’s active supporters? What will we do if the fish simply grows a more monstrous head?