Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 in Pakistan. It marked the end of a manhunt that lasted many years, against a man who funded and conspired to commit several attacks against many countries. bin Laden was the iconic figurehead of Al Qaeda, a brand which inspires fear worldwide. As time led on, it became increasingly less realistic to assume that he would ever face justice. His actions led to two (arguably three) wars conducted by the United States and allies against nations in the Middle East. The world watched Sunday night as President Obama said that his military action succeeded where two the prior presidents had failed at stopping public enemy #1.
I’ve reflected on this moment a lot over the last couple of days, and have had much difficulty in coming to conclusions on it. Was bin Laden’s death justified? I believe it was, given his actions against humanity. Was it morally justifiable to have him assassinated by a Navy SEAL strike team? Probably. Should he have faced jury trial like Saddam Hussain? Ideally, yes, but if the people in the house were firing back at the SEALs, they’d have to defend themselves. Is it equally justifiable to celebrate and revel in the death of bin Laden? I don’t think so. Celebration of death, especially one conducted by a government without a trial, is inhuman and barbaric; it inspires hatred of others, which perpetuates the cycle of terrorism.
But my moral decisions are based on my own past. I don’t even remember the 1998 US Embassy bombings that bin Laden’s al Qaeda conducted (I was only 11 years old then). My conclusions would certainly be different if I lost someone on 9/11, or if I lost family members in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Many others have provided their own insights, such as the fact that Obama did not attempt to bring him to trial. This is too complex an issue affecting too many people personally for it to have a simple right or wrong answer. Some things are neither right nor wrong.
What is right about all of this is that the symbolic head of the hydra of Al Qaeda (and by extension, of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism) has been cut off. To the United States, a symbol that inspires bigotry, hate, xenophobia, and fear of Muslims in the Middle East no longer exists. The face that has risen over the last two years from the ashes of the Iranian election and the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and others is one of democracy and of youth. While the death of bin Laden will not suddenly cause racists to be less racist, it does have the potential for the US to come to a greater acceptance of those in the Middle East. And that’s morally right, it’s beautiful, and it’s inspiring.
In 2011, with Twitter and Facebook and SMS, we have the ability to blurt out our thoughts with little reflection. This event is not one that has a good or evil label, and one’s position should not be a knee-jerk reaction to how you feel in the moment. It is worthy of reflection by everyone, as everyone has invariably been affected by bin Laden’s actions in some way. This event has changed the course of some small part of history, and the true effects will be felt many years down the road.