Notes from America – Ron Buford: Reflecting on the death of Osama bin Laden
I will never forget the 10.30pm interruption of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice for an unprecedented presidential telecast. Despite President Obama and Donald Trump’s recent sparring over the president’s birth certificate, this interruption seemed more than a mere political jab at “The Donald”.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, waiting to find out the reason for the unprecedented late evening break in the show, my phone rang: “What do you supposed has happened?” asked my friend Dennis. Just then, the TV presenter announced: “Osama bin Laden has been captured… and killed.”
I did not wish Bin Laden dead. I did wish him stopped; preferably alive, but dead, if necessary.
Bin Laden perfected the art of terrorism, the dispersal of chronic low-level fear among men, women, boys and girls going about daily life, which will not end with his death. Each time I fly into New York and see its skyline stripped of the massive twin towers, forever etched into my memory, their absence remains a painful reminder of the fateful morning we all watched helplessly at home, in offices, and factories, as thousands perished, many leaping to their death amid their destruction.
We Americans don’t do the helpless thing very well. And so it came as no surprise that when baseball crowds at a Mets and Phillies game in Philadelphia learned the news through i-phones and androids across the stadium, all became one team, spontaneously celebrating and chanting “U-S-A!” The same wave moved across the nation.
Some might dismiss such behaviour as crude or distasteful, especially given that five people had just been violently killed. But after 10 years of cold trails and paralysis, the loss of thousands of lives, and billions of dollars – right or wrong, the nation let out an immense sigh of relief.
Bin Laden had successfully shifted the psychological terror of war from trained and armed warriors on battlefields to ordinary people on playgrounds, in office buildings, churches and airports. Waging war from the comfort of his bedroom, everyone in his household became a target along with him.
Difficult choices had to be made. It was the job of the commander and chief of the largest military force in the world to make them. Mr Obama says he did not lose sleep over this decision. Indecision on battlefields costs lives on both sides.
Bin Laden’s killing was by no means a planned certainty. There were two specialist teams on standby: One to bury Bin Laden in the event of his death; the other composed of lawyers, interrogators, and translators should he be taken alive.
Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Amazingly, Republicans are actually trying to claim Bin Laden’s capture as a Bush policy success. Those without amnesia will remember that during the election, Mr Obama charged the Bush administrations with irresponsibly moving into Iraq, taking its attention off Afghanistan and the capture of Bin Laden. He promised to put focus back on Bin Laden and he has kept this promise. The hope now is that the Obama administration will be able to decimate al-Qaida cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan, based on information uncovered as a result of this capture – and then begin to wind down Afghanistan operations.
Will Bin Laden’s death during this Arab Spring further signal the end of old ways and the beginning of a new era? Can the Christian church become more open, similarly making possible the birth of a Christian Spring?
I hope so.
If people of Abrahamic faith traditions learn to work together, I dare say, we may worship together, even in our lifetime.
Jesus said: “There is but one flock and one shepherd.” Imagine what’s possible.
This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Reform.
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