Did anyone else think it was odd that within minutes of hearing of Osama bin Laden’s death, there was an impromptu celebratory rally outside the White House? This reaction struck me as strange, but it was in keeping with the way I heard the news. Last night, (because I had finally bought a TV this weekend) I was watching a really bad movie when my friend Darrell sent me this cryptic message via Facebook chat: “Obama is back in business!” What did he mean? I asked. His response: “Bin Laden is dead son. They have his body. Obama is back on top of the world.” I turned to NBC to find Brian Williams reporting the death of Osama bin Laden and that President Obama would be making an official statement soon. There was a cut-away to local news showing a crowd gathering in front of the White House shouting “USA! USA!” and some people were even draped in the American flag. Within minutes, several of my Facebook friends had posted pictures of the rally (thanks to Facebook mobile uploads) and status updates that read, “Massive crowd still growing at the White House! This is awesome! Patriotic songs being sung – chants of four more years.”
I feel like I’m missing something. I can appreciate that this is most likely good news for the world — that the leader of Al-Qaida is dead — but I don’t know if holding celebratory rallies is the correct response. I didn’t feel the same excitement that Darrell did when he wrote “Obama is back on top of the world,” which suggests that the president’s dominance is important and that he has been struggling with his popularity in recent days (especially as he conceded last week to producing his Certificate of Live Birth). And I didn’t quite understand Darrell’s other statement: “Suck it Republicans! Republicans are gonna be mad as shit.” That Republicans would be upset over the news suggests the best thing going for them in an anti-Obama agenda is a living bin Laden who could make the president’s last two year’s problematic. What I do understand is my friend Darrell is one of millions of Americans who celebrated last night’s news without any questions about why bin Laden wasn’t brought in for trial (too just?) or why his death makes Americans utterly happy to the point of public rejoicing.
This morning, Yang, one of my students who served in Afghanistan, said of course he was happy because “it was like the end of a nightmare.” He added, “It would mean the things I witnessed and what I went through wasn’t in vain.” I can understand his personal reaction and the need to feel like the fight he and other soldiers were/are engaged in has some purpose. (Also while I understand that Muslims believe the body of the deceased should be buried immediately after death so that the spirit can quickly enter paradise, I did wonder why bin Laden was buried at sea.) What I don’t understand is the sheer joy many Americans had at the shooting death of Osama bin Laden. It was as if his death alone means victory over terrorism, but it doesn’t. The man that became the centralized image of evil and terror may be gone, but his death may mean something worse. We have already been put on alert for possible Al-Qaida retaliation, which means the war on (the idea of) terror is not over. This is no cause to celebrate. The nation has merely stoked an already angry fire. What would make me utterly happy and what would be worth celebrating is the end of the war and the return of American troops. As Yang said, “Maybe some of my friends can start coming home now.” I don’t know about that, but for all our sakes, let’s hope so.