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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

‘Generation 9/11′ Struggles To Make Sense Of Bin Laden’s Death

Here & Now: Youth Radio commentaries on bin Laden’s death

BOSTON, Mass.– Boston-area college students, who came of age in the shadow of 9/11, are debating the meaning of Osama bin Laden’s death and whether it should be celebrated.

On Sunday, thousands of college students spontaneously gathered across the country– from Penn State to the Boston Common– to celebrate bin Laden’s death.

The next day, taking part in a “Coffee and Conversation” meeting at Boston University, students sparred over whether rejoicing was the best choice.

“I think every single person who went down to the Common and chanted ‘USA’ needs to be ashamed of themselves.”
– Jeff Stein, BU Senior

“I think every single person who went down to the Common and chanted ‘USA’ needs to be ashamed of themselves,” BU senior Jeff Stein said.  He argued that bin Laden’s death came with too high a cost: civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan during the U.S. wars there.

BU sophomore Aditya Rudra agreed with Stein’s opinion that the U.S. has taken many missteps in its foreign policy decisions.  But Rudra said he would never feel ashamed for attending celebrations.

“I know that if I was in Libya or if I was in Syria I could not get up out of my dorm and march to the Boston Commons… I would not be able to take the picture with a police officer that I did on the way, I might get shot.  And I would not have the opportunities that I have today.”

Rudra called on his fellow students to use bin Laden’s death as an impetus to find ways to push for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“That’s why I marched, that’s why I went to Boston Common, to say that my country is not perfect.  But I live here and I love it.”

Other stories from Tuesday's show
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  • Anonymous

    I’m very glad he is dead, but cheering like it is sporting event is a bit silly.

  • LW

    Thank you for airing this segment. As a parent, it moved me to tears — because I saw these events from the perspective of a generation who were so young on Sept. 11, 2001. Having two children in their early 20s, I struggled to understand the celebrations on Sunday night of what appeared to be largely young people. My own instinct was not to celebrate, but to soberly reflect on the long-awaited resolution of the 2001 attacks. Maybe I didn’t adequately grasp what it was like for young people to grow up in the shadow of such troubling times. Anyway, you gave us a meaningful and thoughtful story.

  • David Eaton

    I think a lot of people these days are focused on moral perfection than is perhaps possible (or healthy). I agree that cheering on Bin Laden’s death isn’t the moral thing to do, but many people aren’t that morally perfect– they need an outlet.

    Ultimately, it ties back to our basic human behavior. After 9/11, people wanted a target for their anger– but that target wasn’t clear. In Pearl Harbor (for instance), we had a clear target: Japan. But who was responsible for 9/11 that we could be angry at? People directed their anger towards Islam, the Arab world, Al Qaeda, and of course, Bin Laden. The truth, of course, is far more complex and (unfortunately) unknown. We don’t know who “deserves” our anger and at what levels.

    But in a perfect world, we wouldn’t direct our anger at all– we’d be focused on stopping cruelty and injustice without actually feeling that anger. Perhaps similar to the way a parent might pull apart quibbling siblings without hating either one of them, but realizing that the fight has to end. You don’t need to feel anger in order to prevent evil.

    But that’s a lot to expect from humanity. We’re not there yet. And maybe we can’t get there because that healthy dose of anger helps fuel us. I encourage everyone to recognize and aspire to that moral high ground, but I also discourage anyone who’s found that high ground from disparaging those who haven’t. We’re only human.


    • JakeZen

      “people wanted a target for their anger– but that target wasn’t clear” What?!? You obviously don’t know your history. Al-Qaeda took credit for it and Bin Laden was the one who verbally pronounced that Al-Qaeda did it. How much farther do you want to look?

      • David Eaton

        I don’t mean to say that Bin Laden wasn’t responsible, or that Al Qaeda wasn’t responsible. Clearly they were. But a terrorist group was a new sort of enemy for Americans who typically viewed enemies as more organized and tangible. A radical group like Al Qaeda wasn’t an enemy in the typical sense.

        Part of the problem is also the timeline– when Japan attacked the US in WWII, people knew who the enemy was immediately. No futzing around trying to figure out “who dun it?”. But after 9/11, there was all kinds of speculation and uncertainty, along with a STRONG desire to blame SOMEBODY.

        Everyone knew that there was a network of anti-American sentiment that wasn’t directly within Al Qaeda. Were they involved? To what extent? How long did it take for us to unravel the events leading up to 9/11? In the time it took to learn what we learned, how many groups got pointed to? Heck, there were even conspiracy theorists claiming that the US government was to blame!

        Anyway, that wasn’t the point of my post. The point wasn’t whether or not Bin Laden deserved the credit he got for 9/11. The point is that people get angry, and need some place to direct that anger. In a morally perfect world, maybe that anger isn’t necessary– we’d just attempt to prevent future attacks without attaching the moral outrage. But it’s not possible (and perhaps not even healthy) to expect that degree of moral perfection.


  • Nat

    I’m glad this is being discussed- I’m 22, which means that 9/11 was a major coming of age experience for me and my generation. A George Bush has been president for the majority of our lives, people who sat next to me in 7th grade as we heard about the world trade center going down are in Afghanistan now, and its become hard to imagine an airport security line where you don’t have to take your shoes off. My parents talked about Duck and Cover and the Soviet threat when they were growing up- Osama has certainly been our boogey man. Knowing he’s dead is more surreal than anything.

  • Mark

    There is a huge difference between the US cheering the death of an evil man and extremists cheering the death of innocent civilians. Burning flags and waiving them are very different. Nobody is chanting “Death” to anything.

  • Dave

    This is a time for a reflection, not for celebration. We’ve spent more than 3-trillion dollars on the “War on terror”, lost more than five-thousand American soldiers, hundreds or even thousands of coalition soldiers, perhaps a hundred thousand or more innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, abdicated our personal freedoms, and our situation here and abroad aren’t arguably any better than they were ten years ago. We need to remember and think, but definitely not celebrate.

  • GeeGee

    The majority of those celebrating bin Laden’s death are young people. Remember how it was when you were young? They do not have the years of sobering experiences that contribute to a more complex understanding of the world. Their responses and behaviors are spontaneous and unfettered by considerations of how they will be perceived, or if what they do is “right”. Their world is much less ambiguous. How many of them saw the announcement as an opportunity to pour on to the streets and have a party with their friends? Do you really think many of them paused to consider how much their behavior resembled that of those who rejoiced at the destruction of the Twin Towers? We regarded those people as repulsive and barbaric, but really, how different are we under the layers of culture and “civilization”?

  • Deadpool94

    I completely respect everyone’s right to have and voice different views on this topic. My feeling is that everyone also has the right to express their relief, reflection, and in this case support via celebration the way they see fit. I believe the nation today is always poised to apologize and be ashamed for anything we do. I believe we have much to be ashamed for but we learn from it. I do, however think we get a bit overzealous in condeming our fellow countrymen for their relief and celebration for what they feel is a victory in removing a known terrorist. I believe some make more of it than what it is. Not everyone out there cheering for his death thinks the war on terrorism is over nor do they discount the sacrifices made on all sides in this conflict. I understand their hatred of death and destruction but lets not blur the lines here. I do not believe that was the purpose of the celebration and to paint it otherwise is using unfairly broad strokes. Just my 2 cents.

  • WM

    I am 21 and a recent college graduate. Like most my age, the attacks of 9/11 and the threats of terrorism have shaped, in some form, my view of the world. I think the celebrations we witnessed Sunday evening represented hope more than elation over the death of Osama bin Laden. I understand the death of al-Qaeda’s leader is in no way the end of terrorism, but it gave people a feeling that our nation accomplished a goal.

  • Farfar

    Hey. What a wonderful university that gets it students to proclaim their feelings publicly. Stein feels just as strongly as Rudra but they study together at this great university and participate in helping us sortout our own “stuff” about the killing of a killer.
    Stand with Stein and Rudra or choose between them but STAND.
    Duane Bergstrom Maitland FL
    BU Law 1960

  • Hope

    For the Senior Jeff Stein: I am 49 years old. I recall the day of 9/11 and then I recall my childhood in Apartheid South Africa. I know what fear feels like and I also know what it feels life to be offered moments of feeling safe again.
    I reflect on my then 6 year old daughter and 8 year old son on that day of terror. As much as I tried to hide the images of such horror of the towers, my children would realize the hideous nature of what had occured on a level that to this day has taught me much about imagery and measuring parent or community concern by osmosis. I myself was retraumatized.
    For many months my daughter cried because the man across the road had died in one of the aeroplanes. My children were aware that we were trying to locate some friends who worked in the Twin Towers. My children were aware that my sister-in-law had lost her best friend and that a dear friend arrived late to work that day and thus his life was spared. They were not told this in words – they worked it out over time.
    My son drew cartoons that reflected figures with special powers to protect the human species. Two years after that hideous day, we went to NY to visit family. As our car approached the city, my daughter began to crouch. She asked if aeroplanes flew as low as the buildings adjacent to our car. She slept with me during tour stay in the city.
    For a senior to call any cheering shameful, is to not fully comprehend that perhaps many of those kids chanting “USA”, were kids knowing and processing fear’s aftermath and releasing in a manner they felt appropriate. I know had my kids been of college age, they too might have expressed somehow the jubilation that at least a significant part of their angst growing up had been removed from this earth. It is not death that we celebrate but the breath we nourish when a sense of freedom, safety, closure or the revisiting of pain is offered. There should be no guilt in cheering, no guilt for stillness and no guilt for justice.
    Yes, college students today but a decade ago they were just kids and yes indeed they remember something and many if not all, lost something that day.

  • http://GoHagg.WordPress.com Charles

    I was really interested to hear this piece today – I graduated from the University of Michigan on Saturday, and wondered how I might have reacted differently to bin Laden’s killing if I had gone to Boston University, which I very nearly did. As it was, I joked with my roommates and friends sitting in my living room Sunday night about what a fantastic graduation present this was, and popped open a bottle of champagne that was originally meant for commencement morning. Someone asked if we were celebrating graduation or Usama’s death and my roommates offered shrugs or suggestions that it was both, but I responded resolutely, “getting Usama.”

    The next day, I felt odd for having been so excited about my government killing a man. One of the BU students said that he wasn’t celebrating death, he was celebrating the future. That’s a nice way to justify our exuberance, but for me, it’s a lie. I was excited that Usama bin Laden was dead.

    I consider myself very committed to nonviolence and generally think that the US has been too active in the Middle East over the past two decades. Having spent 10 months living in Cairo last year and with one of my majors being Arabic & Islamic Studies, I suffer less from Islamophobia than I do Islamophilia. So my friends and relatives expressed some surprise at my enthusiasm for bin Laden’s assassination as I broadcast it over Facebook and Twitter. But as I meditated on why I immediately felt that the killing was a victory, I realized that it was largely motivated by my feelings for Muslims, Arabs and the Middle East.

    Usama bin Laden has been a blight on the reputation of Muslims since he committed himself, in the early 1990s, to violence against those people and countries the world over whom he believed impious. Since 2001, he and al Qaeda have marred almost every discussion of the Middle East, including most recently the so-called “Arab Spring” (a term also applied to unrest in the region in March 2005). Last week on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart semi-jokingly asked his guest Gigi Ibrahim, an Egyptian activist who I knew in Cairo, how Americans knew that the revolution there wasn’t merely a front for Muslim fundamentalists and bin Laden. Gigi immediately exclaimed, “Why do you have to bring up Uncle Usama?!” I think this encapsulates the feeling of many Muslims that bin Laden has been a major obstacle, perhaps even the single greatest, to their inclusion in the global community and acceptance in the non-Muslim world (especially the West). Even if bin Laden’s death does nothing to weaken al Qaeda, his elimination as a symbol of violent fundamentalism strikes a blow against the global ostracization of the people and nations of the Middle East.

    In many ways, I agree with the student who disapproved so strongly of the people celebrating and chanting, “U-S-A, U-S-A!” on Sunday night. I don’t think of this of an especially American victory, and it doesn’t justify the destruction our military has wrought over the last ten years, particularly in Iraq. His death doesn’t bode nearly so well for us, especially considering the revenge that will likely be sought, as it does for the Muslim and Arab world. But I very much hope that it does allow the West and Middle East to grow closer in the coming years, particularly as better government and quality of life flourish in North Africa (and elsewhere?) in the wake of the Arab Spring – a peaceful, largely secular movement that, it is worth mentioning, Usama bin Laden would have hated.

  • martha delgiudice

    In addition to the thousands that died in the 9/11 attacks, there are the other victims.First responders were not properly taken care of for their selfless service. Proper treatment of these people and our veterans will cause me to celebrate.

  • Ballardsean

    I think that Osama Bin Laden’s death will more or less slow down the progression of terrorism and discourage it but by no means will end terrorism

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Janice-Phelps-Williams/1042087041 Janice Phelps Williams

    This was a wonderful piece. My sons are 28 and 30, a bit older than these students; but I loved hearing the comments in this segment. I want these students to know that their intelligence and thoughtful comments were appreciated by a middle-aged woman working in her art studio in Southern Ohio. I believe in the future of our country and know that the younger generation is up to the task before it. How proud your parents must be of you!
    PS: I was in NYC with one of my sons, and my sister, on 9/11/01. We were to be at the WTC that morning, but slept in. It was one of my few trips to NYC, and to be there at such a time had a profound affect on me.

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