Sunday, May 08, 2011

One Event - Multiple Narratives

The death of Osama bin Laden is as close to a"fact" as we can assert. As a historian, I am fascinated by the context and significance of the event for different groups of people. OBL's death is confirmed by his followers, but there are multiple meanings we need to understand.

For most Americans, this is a brief moment of payback for the awful attack of 9/11/01 and the taunting messages of a leader in hiding, a coward who directed his minions to destroy our nation.

For most Muslims, this is a moment of relief, tempered with the hope that cooler heads will allow further rapprochement between "normal" Islam and the West. For the Islamic radicals, OBL is a new martyr who will inspire others to carry out his nefarious agenda.

For the Obama presidency, this is a welcome moment in the midst of economic sluggishness, legislative gridlock and the beginning of an interminable campaign for re-election. For Republicans, this is a moment that vindicates some of Bush's policies (is anyone talking about Gitmo any more?) and a chance to press the President on other issues.

For Pakistan, this event is an enormous embarrassment. OBL's presence at the compound had to be an open secret in several circles. For Al-Queda, this is a serious blow in spite of all the bluster. For other Muslim nations, this is a reminder of their own internal challenges as they balance realpolitik with accommodation of multiple radical factions.

For thoughtful people of every background, this is a moment to reflect. How are we going to protect our citizens while trying to win the hearts and minds of millions who are not yet radicalized but leaning in that direction? What military policies will be successful in rooting out terrorists while not creating a neo-colonial occupation by American and NATO forces? For all Americans, how can we create a hospitable and safe place for people from all lands to find a home here?

Chanting "USA, USA!" must give way to humility, prayer and service that will not allow hatred to find a home in many hearts. While we rejoice, let's reflect. While we praise our troops, let's purge ourselves of anger. While we debate meaning, let's find meaning in the good we do every day.