For countless Americans, May 1, 2011, will be a day etched on the collective memory of our country: the day President Barack Obama announced that public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden, was dead! It will be known as the day that America struck a decisive blow against terrorism.
I, like so many others, was fixated on the various media outlets to hear all of the details of the mission that led to the demise of the al-Qaeda leader, and also to get proof that he was truly dead.
There were those who believed that the death of bin Laden was the delivery of justice that had been longed for by many; especially persons who have had to live with a lingering sense of loss since Sept. 11, 2001. Several political pundits and cultural critics declared that this moment was a victory for America, that the world is a better place because of his death. Immediately I felt conflicted.
Now be clear, I truly felt and feel the celebratory nature of many Americans, especially in light of the impact that bin Laden and his brand of terror have had on all of us. In fact, that impact is almost incomprehensible when one thinks of the scores of people who have been traumatized by the collective fear and anxiety that was birthed on that fateful day in September nearly 10 years ago. But I had to wonder, was the world truly a better place?
Did the death of bin Laden truly make the world better? On May 2, 2011, there were still those in this world without access to clean drinking water. Famine and drought were still ravaging parts of the globe, leaving land and life hopeless and helpless. Poverty was still a terrorizing force with global consequences. The earth was still crying out for faithful stewards who do not forsake their ecological responsibility. Worst of all, war was still the preferred choice of those who refuse to acknowledge the sanctity and dignity of humanity. Is the world really a better place because of the death of bin Laden?
Is our country better because of bin Laden’s death? I know there are those who may feel safer, even if the feeling of safety is temporary, but is our country better? Have we made the eradication of poverty a political and social priority? Have we truly sought to leave no child behind? Have we begun to measure people by the content of their character? Since the death of bin Laden, have we confronted the senseless violence that is destroying so many of our communities? I wonder…
My inner conflict also existed because of the glaring irony of May 1, 2011. There were many who believed that the death of bin Laden was a decisive moment in the presidency of Barack Obama. He was able to do what other presidents before him had failed to do: He killed the man who had been the face of terror for almost two decades. Even the president’s greatest critics had to acknowledge this was a monumental moment.
After the president announced the death of bin Laden, many around the country erupted in spontaneous celebration. Outside the White House, crowds gathered, chanting, “USA, USA, USA.” It was a patriotic moment for many, including myself, but my conflict existed because while there was jubilation outside the White House, I remembered that there are many in this country who, just a few days before, questioned whether the president was even an American citizen.
It appeared that the president, like many African-Americans, had to prove he was part of this country. Apparently, his title did not even make him immune from a painful reality of African-American existence: the longing to belong.
May 1 came and went, and today Osama bin Laden is dead. Nevertheless, terrorists are still plotting, the earth is still yearning to breathe free and America is still trying to overcome her contradictions. I pray for the day when life, not death, can be seen as that which makes the world better.
Now is the time to choose life, because our cultural fixation on death will be the death of us all. Oh, and for those who have constantly confused Obama with Osama, the confusion can be eliminated if the former is simply called, “Mr. President!”