Osama Bin Laden: the name conjures up different things for different people. To me, he was a man who started and ended a decade and a generation. The new decade began not on 1 January 2001, but on 11 September 2001 when the World Trade Center was destroyed and he and his Al-Qaeda network took responsibility for it. Ironically, this new decade began exactly one week ago on 2 May 2011 with his death at the hands of U.S. special forces.
Like a ritual sacrifice, the lives of the 3000 in New York were offered in order to make the change that one man and his distorted ideals sought. And in response: the Americans made their own sacrifices throughout the past ten years, for the death toll of the 3000 in New York was not the cost of killing Bin Laden, but a far greater number.
In human lives alone, the civilians who were killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, during the great manhunt where bombs were dropped and lives, families, and dreams were destroyed in a bang, then a whimper. These numbers add up when you look at the death tolls in those countries.
Let us also not forget the tortures and atrocities committed in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, by American soldiers, or the indignities against suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What was this all in the name of? Taking revenge against those who would kill Americans, and using any means necessary to extract all the information to lead them to the man they were after.
Who can also forget the way civilian life changed when Homeland Security, airport screenings, and the Patriot Act were all welcomed by a society finally gripped in fear upon realizing that they were neither infallible or invulnerable? Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Now that the hunt is over, do we go back to the way we used to be? Or do we continue allowing more sacrifices to be made, whether it is people, liberties, rights, privileges, morals, or values?
“We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day,” said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden. Some may argue that it is a realistic perspective, and it is wrong to be fair and idealistic. This is akin to the same rhetoric that has been echoed through many leaders and regimes that justified their decision to put human rights off in favor of security and stability, which was the primary focus on a recent conference on the state of East Timor I covered. Human rights should never be compromised or negotiated behind stability and security, because who is to say that more rights will not be taken away in the next event, or that we can believe if our rights we had temporarily compromised will ever be returned to us?
On a personal note, growing up in the Philippines, I had already experienced loss, violence, and fear: I had grown up having my classmates kidnapped and stabbed multiple times, been in a mall the moment it was bombed, lost friends to church bombings, and experienced the humiliating body screenings and car checks not just in airports, but in malls, hotels, churches, and restaurants. Though my friends will say it’s a half-hearted effort in Manila, it’s because we’ve all grown numb to it when the mall security guard at the entrance does nothing but pat his hand on my hip instead of a thorough body search, but he’ll grope the breasts of my friends upon being given the opportunity.
So the fear and the reaction to it that I grew up with may be new to America, but the consequences are the same: we will constantly be looking out for “enemies” and the allegorical “other” who is different, whether it is the token Asian in Kansas who is viewed as the forever foreigner, the group of black friends who intimidate others simply because they are black and are mis-perceived to be gang members, or the Mexicans who will be assumed to be illegal immigrants. Eventually, the walls we build to protect ourselves from the “others” do not guard us, but insulate us: the walls become a cage.
An old M. Night Shyamalan film, The Village built its premise around a 19th century community living in the forest, who made a pact with the monsters of the forest, with the basic agreement that the villages to never go into the forest, and the monsters would never go into the village. As per Shyamalan’s usual plot twist, the year is actually 2004 and the village is comprised of elders who wanted to seclude themselves from the outside world that they were fearful of. In an attempt to hide from the monsters they so feared, they created their own monsters to justify themselves.
As long as the light exists, there is no use chasing shadows. The only way to destroy the shadows we fear is to extinguish the light, for it does not pierce through the darkness as its bearers would hope us to believe, but blinds us from opening the inner eyes to see the truth beyond their fabricated reality. Fear and hatred will never be conquered by violence, and if to love more is to be branded a dreamer, an idealist, then so be it. I conclude with one freethinker’s words: “The progress of mankind has been one bitter struggle against the forces of reaction; a battle of herculean effort against invisible and deadly enemies.”
POST ADDENDUM: I would like to clarify that I am not focused on the conspiracies of whether or not Bin Laden is dead and/or when people feel he died, but rather on the effects Bin Laden–or the idea of whom he is, and his legacy of fear imparted upon the world. Please do not comment anymore regarding conspiracy theories.