I didn’t want to talk about Osama bin Laden yesterday. I was all set up to talk about Doctor Who, and this news dropped in all of a sudden. I debated about what to do, and then decided to just go ahead as planned, for a few reasons: 1) I didn’t really know what I wanted to say about OBL, and 2) it’s my blog, dammit!
I’m glad I made that choice, because waiting a day on this story was enlightening. It was a strange day, and I saw two main types of reactions: those who didn’t know what to say and those who knew exactly what to say.
I was in that former group. I certainly remember September 11, 2001, quite well. I was as horrified as any other person was by what happened. But Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have not been an overwhelming fear for me. Sure, I hoped he could be put out of commission, but I’ve never had anything nagging at me, demanding righteous justice for those attacks. So in hearing the news, I didn’t feel any kind of sense of relief or closure. How could I? It’s not like now we’ll do away with the TSA and wiretapping and Gitmo and whatever. We’re not going to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Killing the man doesn’t change any of the events or consequences.
The latter group was hell of weird. I saw conservatives complaining about it. They complained that Obama took too much credit. They complained that the body was disposed of at sea. They complained that it took too long for Obama to do it. They complained that Osama was living in a mansion (because I guess that’s the Democrats’ fault?) I saw liberals who were upset that he wasn’t made to suffer more before being killed. I saw people cheering, waving flags, hugging, rejoicing over this. And I’m not saying we should stop and shed a tear for the life lost, but holy cow, this country sure does like it some revenge blood, doesn’t it?
(And of course there are the conspiracy theorists, who took special delight in going through every single shred of evidence and explaining why it proved exactly the opposite.)
I imagine part of the confusion is due to the changing role of OBL in our political society. When 9/11 happened, he was terror personified. When Bush decided to start a proxy war in Iraq, he was pushed to the sidelines in favor of Saddam Hussein. When we captured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, he became the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, pushing OBL further out of the role. For ten years he’s been simultaneously Public Enemy Number One and no big deal.
I guess if him being dead gives you a sense of comfort, go for it. I’m not mourning him or anything, and I’m glad the world has one less theocratic terrorist on the loose, but now I have an emotional conundrum of my own: recognizing that there are more like him out there and that I’m still not paralyzingly afraid of them.
Related: He won.