President Obama’s announcement of U.S.forces having killed Osama Bin Laden was met with jubilation in the streets ofWashington,D.C.with revelers singing national anthems outside the White House. The feeling shared by most Americans is one of relief and elation, as the face of 9/11 was finally killed. However, beyond the calm soothing sense of revenge, there should be a realization that this death will do little to stop the global network of terrorists from continuing to target Americans and innocent civilians abroad. If one looks to the outpouring of grief and anger in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the death of the world’s most notorious man, the U.S.must realize the difficult road ahead to continue its war on terrorism against the thousands who supported Bin Laden.
A Roman proverb states that “revenge is a confession of pain,” and this was no more apparent than through the reaction of the American people after hearing of the death of Bin Laden. Each generation seems to be defined by the biggest tragedy of its time, and their ability to overcome the trauma of this event is linked to their capability of pursuing retribution for it. In American history classes, the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese are depicted as calamites in U.S.history, which required U.S. retaliation by joining the Allies in World War 2, and eventually using the atomic bomb against them.
In modern times, the trauma of 9/11 has continually plagued the mentality of most Americans, and this is especially true for the youth. Those who have grown up in the aftermath of 9/11 have seen much of their lives altered due to the War on Terror at home and abroad. However, unlike the World War 2 generation who could easily point to its enemy on a map in order to fight against them, the enemies of the 9/11 generation were far more amorphous. As Bin Laden and his organization represented an ideology rather than a state, they were far more difficult to find and bring to justice.
The inability to either kill Bin Laden never allowed the wound of 9/11 to heal, and perhaps now that his death has been announced, the nation will begin to move forward. However, it would be quite dangerous to hold up the “Mission Accomplished” sign if one realizes the difference between what Bin Laden was, and what he represented. Bin Laden was represented in the media and by certain government officials as a boogey man who was behind every terrorist attack in the world. On the other side, groups like the Taliban and Al-Queda created support amongst the public by creating the narrative of Bin Laden as some super-human jihadi leader who couldn’t possibly be killed.
Just as this immortal theory was proven incorrect through his elimination byU.S.forces, the American perception assigning such high significance to Bin Laden will also be proven incorrect. The ability of terrorist networks to carry out attacks on civilians and U.S.military will continue unaltered for several reasons. First, there has already been a breakdown of leadership structure in Al-Queda and its affiliates, leaving the old guard with little power over the group. The U.S. operations in Afghanistan greatly limited the ability of the leadership to openly control its forces, many being relegated to hiding in underground networks. Groups like Al-Queda began creating splinter cells that function independently of central leadership, making it difficult for the U.S.to rely merely on eliminating the high level leaders of the group in order to demobilize them.
Secondly, the location of Bin Laden’s hideout signals a complication to the War on Terror instead of its resolution. The fact that the world’s more wanted man was hiding in a mansion 2 hours away from Pakistan’s capital, near an Army training base, will certainly bring about questions of whether Pakistan was providing Bin Laden sanctuary. The nation’s top spy agency, the ISI, has been accused of maintaining relationships with high level terrorists but has continually denied the presence of Bin Laden inPakistan. If this operation were done with ISI and Pakistani military support, it could signal a strengthening of relationships between the two nations. However, if the plan to kill Bin Laden came without the help of Pakistani forces, it could mark a change in U.S.-Pak relationship, perhaps leading to more U.S.presence on the ground.
Thirdly, the ability of extremist groups to challenge U.S. interests beyond the death of Osama Bin Laden is guaranteed as evidenced through the vows of retribution against theU.S.by extremists inAfghanistan and Pakistan. These threats should not be overvalued, considering these same groups have been attacking civilians and military personnel for nearly a decade, and have done so without the motivation of revenge for Bin Laden’s death. However, Bin Laden’s death will be utilized to fan the flames of anti-Americanism, which may lead to more attacks against the U.S. in the aftermath of the death.
The residual national trauma of 9/11 helped to color the celebrations of Bin Laden’s death, and it certainly marks a time when Americans feel justice has been done. However, this death does not in any way signal an end to global terrorism or the need for U.S.efforts to stop young people from joining extremist groups under the brainwashing of individuals like Bin Laden. These groups have not lost their lethal potency, and will utilize the symbolic death of Bin Laden to find supporters, even though he had become meaningless in the actual business of international jihad. Thus, the reaction to this event must be limited at most to cautious optimism, as the U.S.attempts to address the thousands in the shadows who stood behind Bin Laden and his hateful and violent ideas.