Monday, May 2, 2011

Did I Learn Anything Last Week

Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday by a special operations unit of  U.S. Navy SEALs. The killing took place at 1:30 in the morning. Four Chinook helicopters flew into Abbottabad a military town and home to three Pakistani regiments. Abbotabad is not in the rugged border area where bin Laden was thought to be hiding, but a mere 30 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The mansion where Osama bin Laden and his family was hiding out was the largest in town and 10 minutes by foot from a major Pakistani military post.

The Navy SEALs were done with their task in under an hour. A local resident unknowingly tweeted the event as it occurred. The soldiers went from room to room searching for their target. The President and his National Security Team watched the events in real time. The SEALs located their target and uttered the words the President waited to hear, "Geronimo ekia," or Osama bin Ladin enemy killed in action. Three other males were killed in the action including bin Laden's adult son and one woman who was caught in the crossfire. The others in the compound were escorted to safety and released to the Pakistani authorities.

Osama Bin Laden was killed in a hail of bullets. Osama bin Laden, if he were asked, would probably claim to be a martyr, suffering death for his religion. Most Americans simply viewed bin Laden as a coward. For what is holy and right in using innocent men and women in airplanes to kill other innocent men and women in buildings?

America's spontaneous reaction to news of bin Laden's death was to celebrate. First, it began outside the White House as hundreds and then thousands of young college students gathered to hear the news. They came from nearby George Washington and Georgetown Universities. Their collective voices joined in song and prayer. On 9/11 they were but children. They have not known of life without airliners as bombs, suicide bombs, underwear bombers, and constant security checks.Will a post-Osama world be different?

Like an ember this spirit of hope rose into the air. It lit at the site of the World Trade Center in New York the site where two planes crashed into buildings killing almost three thousand innocent souls. By this time, the President had spoken and news reporters were confirming the death of bin Laden. The joyous celebration spread from campus to campus and city to city across the United States.

Earlier in the day, before I heard the good news of Osama's demise, my son asked me if I learned anything this week. He, of course, was talking about something completely different, but the question stuck. Do we learn anything from this?

I learned that the President is one hell of a good speaker. Other politicians came on later and spoke, but none spoke with the authority or demeanor of our President. The ancient Romans would use the term "gravitas" to describe Obama's ability to connect with the public. Obama takes seriously his responsibilities, but handles the criticism he receives with good humor. This is a rare gift.

I learned that terrorists can run from justice, they can even hide for a while, but you can't hide forever. Goodness and justice triumph in the end, for that is the dominant nature of mankind. What has happened in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya, revolutions in which bin Laden shared no part, demonstrate the power of good people everywhere to make a difference. The reality of life is that we seek a better life.

And even then one wonders at the logic of Osama Bin Laden. His religion was one of  intolerance. Moreover, toleration was a crime punishable by death.

I have heard Osama bin laden described by some of his family and friends as a good Muslim. Like many other good Muslims, Christians, and Jew, I struggle with this. For how can a good Muslim believe that God justifies the purposeful death of  innocents in any struggle.Yet, this is the teaching in many, though thankfully not all, of the madrasas in the Muslim world.This I will never understand.

If one truly and rightly dates the war on terror, it began not on September 11, but on September 9, 2001. It was on that date that bin Laden carried out the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Lion of Peshawar and the leader of the Northern Alliance. Bin Laden did this in typical fashion though the use of two suicide bombers posing as reporters.

At the time, Massoud and the Northern Alliance were waging their own struggle against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Massoud was a former engineering student and commander of the struggle against the Soviet intervntion in Afghanistan.  "It is our conviction", he said, that,  "and we believe that both men and women are created by the Almighty. Both have equal rights. Women can pursue an education, women can pursue a career, and women can play a role in society -- just like men." On the contrary the Taliban and bin Laden subjected the women of Afghanistan to virtual house arrest and denied them any opportunity for education and meaningful employment.

I learned that friends will be with you not only in times of difficulty, but also in times of triumph. The people who matter, our friends spoke out and hailed the death of Osama Bin Laden as a triumph for freedom loving people in the world. And as President Obama note our fight against terrorism is not based on religion, race, or ethnicity. Our fight is based on principles, those of justice for all. All of Western Europe celebrated the death of Osama. Israel hailed the death of Osama a a great victory. Turkey, Jordan, and other responsible states congratulated the United States and the President.

I learned that recriminations come quickly. For immediately Pakistan was questioned for its role in "hiding" Osama bin Laden in plain site. How quickly we forget that Pakistan has lost more citizens in the war against terror than have we. In 2007, Benazir Bhutto a former prime-minister was assassinated for her views on human rights.During the war on terror, Pakistan has committed more troops, suffered more casualties, and paid a higher price in terms of its economy than the United States.

I learned that the world changes by a matter of degrees. Al Jazeera, the voice of the Arab world, carries a front page story quoting President Obama as saying the world is safer without Osama. At the same time, Al Jazeera in a banner headline implores the Syrian government to find and release its reporter Dorthy Parvez.America may have its faults, but it remains the best hope for a safer and freer world.

I have learned that Americans, as the President noted, pull together in times of trouble and triumph. I only hope that this national celebration of the end of evil that Osama bin Laden represented will give us some respite. For evil does not die with the death of one man.

Did I learn anything last week? Time will tell. Will there be retaliation by those of Al Queda who believe in continuing an unholy and unjust war on civilization? Will partisan politics bring us back to querulous bickering over public policy? Will this era of good feeling evaporates? Time will tell, but, for now, the President expresses the thoughts of all Americans when he simply says, "We can all agree this is a good day for America." .