The killing of Osama bin Laden marks a turning point in a foreign-policy nightmare that has lasted more than a decade. This nightmare has included massive civilian casualties, the deaths of thousands of soldiers, an illegal invasion of one country and the occupation of another. But what gets to me more than anything, as a former New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks and has traveled to Afghanistan, is the continued display of bravado and hate by my countrymen and women.
Have we learned nothing from 9/11 and its aftermath?
I certainly remember what it was like to wake up in a war zone, to watch helplessly from my roof in Brooklyn as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center, to see the pain and anguish on the faces of the people of New York City, to feel the pain of attending memorial services for firefighters from my neighborhood. I also remember the anguish on the faces of people I met in Afghanistan who had lost family members in U.S. airstrikes. I remember the legless children orphaned by war, pulling themselves around the streets of Kabul with flip-flops taped to their knees. I remember the bombed out buildings of Afghanistan just as I remember watching the first tower of the World Trade Center crumble. The smell of both places burning is seared into my psyche with the dust.
As I watch U.S. citizens celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden with fist pumps and flag waving, I wonder how these same citizens felt when images of some Middle Eastern people celebrating 9/11 flashed across our television screens days after the attacks. I wonder why we are unable to make the correlation that when we celebrate killing, we are no different from those we abhor for doing the same.
It stupefies me when God is dragged into the process as a justifying afterthought. Both sides of the conflict have done this. Both are guilty of fundamentalism without thought or compassion. The true teachings of Islam and of Christ are peaceful. When Christ hung dying on the cross he did not call for retaliation. He did not call for revenge. He did not become hateful. He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and that statement still rings true today. How many deaths will it take? It has already taken hundreds of thousands on the way to finding and killing one man — an act that his supporters say martyred him, thereby infusing his ideology with more strength. Bin Laden may be dead, but his way of viewing the Western world lives on in others who grow more and more disillusioned with the way we handle ourselves.
As long as we remain blind to our common humanity and hate one another, the cycle of violence will continue. As long as we deny our responsibility as a global superpower and continue to perpetuate violence, violence is what will come back to us.
When will it stop? What will it take for us to find forgiveness in our hearts and say to each other that enough is enough?
Hilary Buckwalter, of Knife River, is a yoga instructor and graduate student in the Masters of Political Advocacy and Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She traveled to Afghanistan in 2007 with Global Exchange and is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.
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