Yesterday, I went to down town DC to watch Americans celebrate the death of Osama bin laden. I interviewed a few people I met (see my video a couple of posts down) and they all seemed positively happy that Osama had died a pretty brutal death. The general mood was one of patriotism with some militaristic overtones - there were several vets present, and many more carrying flags and pro military banners.
I can definitely understand why Americans were so excited by the death of Bin Laden - the man was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in one of the most heinous crimes in recent history. However, I've been trying to figure out why the gathering troubled me, and after a day to think about it, I think I understand why I found the experience unsettling.
When Americans are killed in action and we see Muslims celebrating on the streets we are usually horrified and denounce them as mindless savages. We find it hard to see how the rest of the world could see us as 'bad' and recoil at anyone reveling in our pain. It occurred to me that that is how the Muslim world will perceive Americans celebrating a figure they may not necessarily agree with, but who stood up to American imperialism and fought back. While Bin Laden and his organization committed a monstrous crime against America, America has done far, far worse to the Middle East over the past few decades, andit isn't hard to see why many Muslim countries applaud attacks on America. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in the wake of 9/11, the vast majority Muslim, and the vast majority innocent civilians. We have illegally invaded two countries on the false basis that they were involved with the terrorist attacks on America, and the carnage we have caused will effect the lives of millions for decades to come.
I want to make clear that I am not condoning any attacks on anyone - I'm just saying that it goes both ways and to pretend that their crimes are somehow worse than ours is disingenuous and deeply hypocritical.
There should be no tears shed for a despicable murderer like Bin Laden, but celebrating his death with street parties doesn't do us any favors when it comes to claiming the moral high ground. Americans celebrated the death of an enemy because they are susceptible to the all to human emotions of revenge - and so too are Muslims - something we should keep in mind when they celebrate the deaths of Americans.