Late Sunday night, as the blogosphere began to buzz with rumors of bin Laden's death, a friend told me the news just as I got a text message: “Osama = dead.” I was surprised, certainly, and felt a bit of a rush. More than anything, though, I was simply shocked. For as long as I can remember, Osama bin Laden's name has been associated with pure evil, the end of which was hard to grasp. As I returned to my dorm room, the president's announcement was being played loudly from an upper window to a small cluster of listeners below. As the night wore on, I began to hear the sounds of vuvuzelas and a trumpet outside my window, the chants of “USA! USA!” and “Osama, Osama, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
In many ways, as a recent college graduate put it to the New York Times, “this is full circle for our generation.” The man behind the conflicts that have dominated the headlines for a decade, that have taken the friends and parents of innumerable thousands, is dead. The man behind the cold-blooded murder of over 3,000 Americans has been killed, and a terrible chapter in our history has been ended. Certainly, some sort of commemoration would seem appropriate.
But make no mistake—what happened on Sunday night was not.
From Ground Zero in Manhattan to the campus of Yale, thousands of young people were among the crowds that filled the streets. Some sought to dignify the moment; they prayed for murdered loved ones, mourned their fallen comrades, or held vigils for peace. The vast majority, however, came out to revel in bin Laden's death. Some had clearly raised one glass too many; as Egyptian-American blogger Mona Eltahawy noted, the scene at Ground Zero—“a site of mass slaughter”—was like the aftermath of a professional sporting event, with chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” and one young woman saying to MSNBC cameras that it was now “time to party!” For too many of my generation, the evening was not one of reflection, empathy, and commiseration, but one of revelry and jingoism.
What does the death of Osama bin Laden really mean? For some, perhaps, it was some genuine degree of closure, the relief that comes with the feeling that a murderer was brought to justice. To others, it means little: as said by Daniel Arrigo, a worker who is slowly dying from inhaling toxic particles in the aftermath of the attacks, “it doesn't change my life at all.” Truthfully, in the grand scheme of things, little has changed. The War on Terror grinds painfully on. Extremists are bred, soldiers are trained, and young people continue to fall on the battlefield. As powerful a symbol as the passing of Osama bin Laden is, another fanatic will rise to fill the void.
There is time for celebration, as I believe there will be when our troops come home. But there is also time for reflection and sorrow, something I realized on Sunday that too few of my peers understand. It is never too late for a moment of silence—not only for the millions whose lives were ended or forever changed in the wake of 9/11, but also for the end of moments of silence.