While most blog posts about this event are already up, I feel it necessary to write my own post to untangle my mixed reactions to this event. Let me preface this by saying: I completely understand (and hope) that this provides a sense of closure to my friends who lost loved ones on 9/11. I just find it unfortunate that it takes more death to feel that we have reached justice.
After reading on Twitter (thank you, social media) that Osama bin Laden was allegedly dead, I rushed downstairs last night to catch President Obama’s speech, which I then waited an hour to see on CNN (which an older Republican in the room remarked as ‘communist’; imagine if I suggested we livestream Al Jazeera). As I informed the people I live with about the rumor, we all expressed skepticism. How did we suddenly find bin Laden after 10 years? What took so long? How was it this hard to find a 6’5” man on dialysis? What does this mean for troops in Afghanistan?
Listening to President Obama’s speech, I appreciated the details about the timeline of the operation but did not feel an overwhelming sense of patriotism. For anyone who knows me, this is not surprising. Remaining critical –not necessarily cynical- of our government, media, military, and global imperialist presence does not typically support patriotism. I listened to our President talk about how in the aftermath of 9/11, Americans came together across racial and religious lines. This not only perpetuates an idea of post-racial America, but is also not completely true. While there were great actions of helping those whose families were affected by 9/11, there were just as many horrific acts of racism, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, hate speech, and hate crimes. This is not pessimism; it is the reality of ethno-centrism and American arrogance.
After President Obama’s speech, images of celebrations outside the White House and at Ground Zero flooded mainstream and social media. It was this celebratory reaction that created the most sense of uneasiness for me. Let us not forget that less than 48 hours ago, we were questioning our President’s American identity.
At first, I could not verbalize why it made me uncomfortable. I wonder if the same people celebrating are those who support the death penalty but oppose abortion. How “pro-life” of a country are we? Is it “unpatriotic” to NOT celebrate the death of a person? I would not define these celebrations as patriotism. It is nationalism, a related but distinct construct. Our country has a long history of violence; similar celebrations occurred surrounding the mass murder of Native Americans, which we now celebrate yearly in November (see: Thanksgiving). But these aspects of our violent history, both within our country’s borders and globally, are often forgotten from our collective consciousness, as Kai Wright eloquently stated on Colorlines:
The gap between rhetoric and reality has long been a defining trait of American life. Lies about our values have shielded us from the brutal facts of our nation ever since we built it on the back of genocide and slavery. But it is in times like these that the dissonance becomes unbearable.
There is a rich and complex history of America’s relationship with the Middle East, far too complicated to disentangle in one blog post. As revolution spreads throughout the Middle East, the death of Osama bin Laden is sure to have large implications for American presence abroad (especially as we continue air strikes in Libya, killing Ghaddafi’s son and 3 grandchildren-which is an issue worthy of its own blog post).
I always find it fascinating, as a nerd/feminist/academic, to watch the new coverage of major events unravel. It provides an opportunity for critical thinking and analysis of media as an institutional state apparatus - the idea that media perpetuates and reproduces dominant ideology (Althusser). One CNN reporter described a loyal follower of bin Laden as “a young 14 year old girl wearing a burqa”. The fact that she was veiled was irrelevant to the story, except to the paint the image of “the veiled Muslim woman” America obsesses over.
Unfortunately, this is by no means the end of the Al Qaeda chapter in America’s history. I think of it like a drug cartel or mob family; we just killed their leader and that is not taken lightly by loyal followers in any group. As I urged my followers on Twitter, PLEASE remain critical about this situation. How is the media framing the story? Who benefits? Who doesn’t? I also hope some take this opportunity to reflect on our nation’s actions on the global stage, international policy, continued imperialism, and our - often ignored - history of violence.