The death of America’s number one enemy has given US President Barack Obama a significant boost, but it is not likely to bring an end to fear and conspiracy theories, writes 19-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent Alisha Lewis from New Zealand.
First there was his winning speech at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, in which he poked fun at American TV star and businessman Donald Trump who had been spreading rumours the president was not born in America. Trump demanded to see Obama’s (long-form) birth certificate, and it was finally released last week.
In his speech, Obama depicted what the White House would look like if Trump was president (gold columns instead of white and half-naked girls frolicking in the fountain) and made fun of Trump’s trivial concerns, such as whether or not to ‘fire’ Meatloaf fromThe Celebrity Apprentice. “Those are the decisions that would keep me up at night”, the president quipped.
But that speech was nothing compared to the one Obama made on Sunday night (Monday afternoon Australia-time). Facebook and Twitter exploded with messages and tweets saying the president was about to make an announcement regarding ‘national security’. “It’s all very dramatic”, tweeted CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
It’s rare for the president to interrupt normal programming in order to make an announcement, so everyone knew this was going to be something big. And it was. The world watched as Obama announced that US forces had killed al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, almost a decade after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
The announcement, streamed live over the internet and carried by nine US television networks, saw thousands of Americans celebrating outside the White House, at Ground Zero – the site of the former World Trade Centre – and into Times Square.
It was another one of those iconic moments in history that we seem to be experiencing so many of this year. One of those events that sends you rushing home to turn on the television, to log on to your Facebook and Twitter, or simply to let yourself be moved by the magnitude of the moment.
While we may not have been as strongly affected by the news as the people of America, Osama’s death still bears great meaning for us and the rest of the world.
We’ve all been affected by the hugely jacked up security since the 9/11 attacks, especially whilst travelling. The words ‘terrorist’, ‘al Qaeda’ and ‘suicide bombers’ have become a larger part of our vocabulary. Mainly though, we all remember exactly where and when we heard the news and saw those images: Two towers on fire, crumbling. People jumping out of windows; people screaming.
The world became a scarier place for everyone the moment that first plane flew into the tower.
Terror became a fixture in our lives and in our news – as did war. Former President George W Bush launched the ‘war against terror’ directly after September 11. The war has seen countless US and ally soldiers, as well as innocent Afghan and Iraqi civilians, die each year. It has been hugely controversial and people have questioned the motives behind the US presence in the Middle East, often citing Middle Eastern oil reserves to be a driving factor.
In light of this controversy, when Obama was elected president in 2008 he vowed to begin the momentous process of bringing their troops home. Another promise he made was to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. A promise which, on May 1 2011, he fulfilled.
But while people have been rejoicing in the streets, it’s important to note the fight is not over – nor is the war. Yet in a moment of blind joy and relief, people seeking closure after the terrifying attacks of 2001 clung to the news of Osama’s death as a sign that it was all over.
“It’s over. It’s finished. We can bring our troops home now,” said one man during the BBC’s live coverage from Ground Zero.
But as the parties faded and the sun rose the next morning, a different atmosphere took hold of the United States and in particular, New York City.
Security has been hiked up and everyone is on alert for a retaliatory attack from al Qaeda or, as most people are putting it, revenge. The news of his death will have been met by much fury and disbelief by Osama’s followers, who had watched him evade capture for almost a decade.
Notorious for planning anti-Western terrorist acts such as the 9/11 attacks, London bombings and various US embassy bombings around the world, it’s scary to think what the already anti-American extremists will do now.
Kiwi expat Natasha Lewis, who is currently living in New York, describes the atmosphere there as “cathartic on one hand, fearful of what might happen next on the other”.
Many people believe that Osama bin Laden’s death will make little to no difference when it comes to the safety of the western world. Foreign Correspondent for the Independent newspaper, Robert Fisk, who has interviewed bin Laden three times, told Al Jazeera his death will have little impact.
“I don’t really think Al Qaeda needs a leadership and I don’t doubt very much bin Laden was still the leader. He was certainly the founder…but to suggest he was in control of Al Qaeda…is complete rubbish. I think he spent most of his time in hiding.”
Whether Fisk’s opinion is true or not, the fact remains that Osama bin Laden’s death has been a huge boost to the morale of a country living in a season of fear and economic instability. It will also undoubtedly be a big boost to the popularity of a president whose ratings were slipping as a result of this. Many are already speculating that this victory will lead to a political victory for President Obama, who may have just secured another term of office.
Signing off on the operation to “capture or kill” Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, a city of over one million on the outskirts of Pakistan’s largest city Islamabad, was probably the biggest decision – and gamble – of Obama’s presidential career so far.
And yet after giving his permission for the operation to go ahead, the president had to pull a poker face and perform his duties as though nothing was going on. He visited different cities with his family, met with tornado victims, made an impressive speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner and played a round of golf. And all the while, one of the most pivotal decisions of his career was playing out on the other side of the world.
There are so many things that could have gone wrong, so many different ways the story could have ended. FOX News, famous for its blatantly right wing slant and constant criticism of the U.S Democratic Party, was quick to pounce on this fact. Yet a guest on the channel was also quick to point out another important fact – yes, it could have gone wrong. But it didn’t.
In fact not only did it not go wrong, it seemed to go seamlessly. Osama was killed quickly with two shots to the head, no US soldiers were killed and no civilians were harmed. His body was identified and disposed of within 24 hours, all in accordance with Muslim funeral traditions.
It almost seems too perfect. And this is exactly what the conspiracists and Republican red-necks seem to be jumping on. A number of conspiracy theories began popping up in the hours following the announcement. ‘Is Osama really dead?’ ‘Why was his body disposed off so quickly?’ ‘Show us proof’. Blogs and forums discussing the ‘faked raid’ and ‘death hoax’ have been buzzing online.
The US government decided against releasing a photo of bin Laden’s corpse to quell the theories, but even if they had, it is unlikely that it would have put the hardcore conspiracists or the anti-Obama camp to rest. How long till Trump starts demanding to see Osama’s (long-form) death certificate?
Despite all the theories floating around, most of the world believes he’s gone. Most of the world is relieved he’s gone. And rightly so – his face and his name alone incited terror in a world already overflowing with the stuff. But is it right for everyone to be so happy? To be rejoicing and celebrating in the streets the death of another human – however evil he may have been? Revenge may have been served but it also fuels the fight.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
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