One of the biggest bullies in the world is dead. He’s been hunted by the United States for ten years. He’s been on watch-lists longer than that. And there are mixed reactions around the world.
What happened on September 11, 2001 solidified the reality of global terrorism in the United States. It became a rallying point for a previous administration, significantly changed aviation travel procedures, and augmented divisions between political parties, religious groups, and global regions. It’s kept the United States in ten years of wars and erected ideological battle lines.
Previously there were terrorist attacks on United States soil (Oklahoma City bombing, 1995 is one example), but what happened on September 11 galvanized the citizenry nationally. It also elevated the topic of terrorism to dinner table talk and tapped into a collective patriotism. Many people have carried out acts of terrorism, but one elusive person has been the iconic identity of terrorism. Osama bin Laden.
Osama bin Laden is dead, but we’re being warned that nothing is changed. We still must be vigilant against terrorism. There may be a moment of closure on a defining moment in U.S. history, but the over-arching issue will not go away.
So how are we supposed to think about this?
The metaphor that comes to my mind are bullies near the school playgrounds. Some areas are more affected than others, but all schoolyards are very aware of the dangers that lurk outside the playground fences: sexual predators, drug dealers, gangs, guns, and mean kids. School administrators, parents, concerned citizens, and law enforcement agencies have their own methods for dealing with these dangers.
Efforts to “crack down” are implemented and enforced, but the problem is still there. And while I don’t think the problem will ever go away permanently, until we identify and address some of the complex, underlying reasons for why these activities are so prevalent in the first place, we will never make our kids safer against these perpetrators once they leave the schoolyard.
We only need to look at all the global unrest: Mexico and other Central American countries, many South American countries, the Middle East and many African nations, many of the small east European countries. No region is immune. We already know from our own urban communities that issues of poverty, lack of access to excellent education, lack of health care, clean water, affordable housing, and the list goes on.
Our courageous brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa are rising up and saying, “Enough is enough!” They are challenging autocratic, oppressive, decades-old regimes. They’re risking their lives to prove the point that what has been is not working and things must change. They know there are other possibilities for hope and better lives, and they are willing to lay down their lives for it.
September 11, 2001 forced us to face what can happen here. We had became numb to what many across the planet experience routinely. We don’t want to look at what’s happening in our own neighborhoods…until we have to.
Osama bin Laden may no longer be able to orchestrate acts of terrorism, but many of the underlying issues of why there is terrorism in the first place are not going away…yet. We still must listen and learn. We must be willing to have the difficult conversations. We must look within our own hearts.
Tuesday bonus: I recently read a book that gave an excellent, thoughtful, succinct overview of contemporary Islam and its internal struggles: Unholy War Terror in the Name of Islam, by John L. Esposito. Esposito is University Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. I highly recommend it!