I am a fan of patriotism, but never at the expense of basic human decency.
Today, I witnessed many responses to the death of Osama bin Laden by friends and fellow Aggies that frankly disgust me. When I arrived at my apartment this evening, I was promptly informed by my roommate of this breaking news. Unfortunately, the standard 21st century response to such a watershed event in history is to immediately post the news as your Facebook status. I expected a wave of bin Laden related updates, but what I did not expect was to be met with such decidedly joyous responses which were astutely described by a fellow UC Davis graduate as “bloodthirsty.” The kicker came when I walked out to La Rue Road and witnessed a car taking laps up and down the street, with its passengers cheering and flying a large American flag out of the moon roof.
That is not the response of a true American patriot, and especially not what I expected of my peers. I love UC Davis and have had the time of my life in this town, but never have I been so ashamed of my fellow Aggies as I was in that moment.
Apparently, America collectively feels that since bin Laden “hit us first,” we have the right to celebrate his demise in any way we choose. A UC Davis student and friend of mine expressed the opinion that bin Laden and al-Qaeda felt that “all Americans are evil” and that they “do not see us as humans.” My friend asserts that bin Laden fought to kill us and our families based on this belief.
I wonder if he ever stopped to consider that millions in the Middle East likely have a similar perception of George W. Bush and the United States. Many people apparently believe that the Middle East is populated by hate mongers and religious zealots hell-bent on destroying all that is dear to us. What the hell do you think some kid in Iraq who watched U.S. troops invade his country, occupy his hometown and kill his neighbors, friends and family thinks about the United States? The rank and file of al-Qaeda are people who have been driven to radicalism by a combination of manipulation, patriotism and desperation. They aren’t so different from the average Americans. They have made a human reaction to the dire straits in which they were placed. Was this the correct response? Probably not, but who are we to judge without walking a mile in their shoes?
I have also seen the argument that proposes this is the only way to truly redeem the deaths of the victims of 9/11. There is no bringing those people back and no way to undo the pain suffered by the ones that loved them. This does not finish the saga of the post-9/11 era, – not by a long shot. There is nothing “victorious” about killing Osama bin Laden, because the extra violence has not brought the world any more good. The death of one person could hardly put an end to terrorism and unrest in the Middle East. All that has happened is that an old man has died after managing to elude the CIA and the world’s most powerful military for almost an entire decade after they should have captured him.
Thus Bush’s dogmatic pro-American rhetoric may have been ridiculed for its grammatical errors and mispronunciations, but it clearly still shapes the opinions of many, including liberals like my friends. These opinions work from an inherent belief that the United States is just in all of its actions, paying no mind to the perception of those in other parts of the world.
This is why I have met my fair share of Americans who pretend to be Canadians when they go abroad. Many have called Americans arrogant, ignorant and insensitive. Unfortunately, these criticisms are often true. How are we any better than the radicals who celebrated the toppling of the World Trade Center when millions of us are already lining up to spit on bin Laden’s grave?
For the record, I feel that Osama bin Laden was an irrefutably hate-filled man. His actions were responsible for the deaths of thousands and the sorrow of millions. But he was still a man. He was a human being with people who loved him in spite of the terrible atrocities carried out per his orders. Osama bin Laden was an enemy of the United States and may have deserved his eventual fate, but these disgusting reactions to his passing only perpetuate the cycle of hatred which lead to 9/11 in the first place.
The only way to end that cycle is to promote understanding and acceptance. We must truly let go and move on from the tragedy of Sept. 11, never forgetting, but also never letting its memory color our good judgment. I felt that the United States had made great progress toward that goal, but what I witnessed today from the students of a great school with a progressive reputation leaves me significantly less optimistic.
It does not matter to me whether or not this is published, but I sincerely hope that there are some like-minded people in Davis who take issue with the shortsightedness displayed by students today and write to you. I hope you address this in an upcoming issue of The Aggie, because I feel that this is something that the UC Davis community in general needs to give some honest thought to.