Editorial: An icon of terror is brought down
We don’t get many of those galvanizing, “where-were-you-when-you-heard-it” moments. Rarer still are the times when good news is at the heart of such a moment.
Sunday night (or Monday morning, depending on your bedtime) brought one such occasion, as news of Osama bin Laden’s death placed May 1, 2011, among those dates that forever will connote a historic event.
Death is not something we like to celebrate, but bin Laden’s killing by U.S. Navy SEALs on Sunday afternoon — early Monday in Pakistan — closed a long, frustrating chapter that began with what has become the most famous of those self-referential historic dates: 9/11.
For all the military might, intelligence work and technology the United States poured into the war on terror, the capture of a single individual seemed destined to become the effort’s great unaccomplished goal. Bin Laden’s very survival was a constant taunt to the world’s remaining superpower.
How safe could we ever expect to be, after all, if we couldn’t find someone as well known as Osama bin Laden?
Intelligence experts in the wake of Sunday’s news pointed out that bin Laden in recent years had become more a figurehead for al-Qaida than a hands-on leader. To young, would-be jihadists the world over, however, that distinction was of little import. Bin Laden’s thwarting of Western search efforts made him a powerful symbol of radical Islamic triumph.
“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaida,” President Barack Obama told the nation Sunday night.
That is a strong statement about the death of one man who for nearly a decade has been a spectral figure — all but invisible to the world outside his tiny, trusted circle.
Bin Laden’s death also had another effect few could have anticipated.
As word of Obama’s impending announcement spread on Sunday night, crowds gathered outside the White House and at the former site of the World Trade Center. On Monday, visitors came to the field in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed after passengers overpowered their hijackers. Especially to those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and subsequent military action, the news carried strong, personal meaning.
Gordon Felt, president of the survivors group Families of Flight 93, said loved ones of those who died in the 9/11 attacks could take “a measure of comfort” in bin Laden’s death.
“My greatest fear was that we would never know with certainty that bin Laden was actually dead,” said Felt.
That certainty conjured a strange mix of relief, joy and sadness as the news set in on Monday. Those feelings competed with trepidation as Americans wondered where, when and how the remaining al-Qaida network might reassert itself in a post-Osama bin Laden world.
Increasingly, that is a world symbolized by citizen uprisings against oppressive governments in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, not by burning skyscrapers and hijacked airplanes. It’s a world that is better off without the man whose twisted vision brought us those horrible icons of terror.
Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register