FYI: This Blog is Not About bin Laden

When the news broke on Sunday about the death of Osama bin Laden (after pulling myself out of the black hole that is Twitter in the midst of major world news), I knew it had to be the topic of my blog this week. This event was more than historical, and there was so much to be said. Yet, as morning came, and the videos continued to roll on the television of the Team America-esque partying going on across the country, I wanted to run as far away from this topic as possible. I didn't want to be associated with those who were so gleefully dancing on the grave of the dead, no matter how evil the man might have been. There was just no way those people and I could possibly be from the same country. I wanted to hide out, write a post about something simple and happy, and go on with my week. I convinced myself that the media was already too saturated with stories about bin Laden, and thus there was just no need for me to add to the noise. On this site alone, Michael J. Jordan, Ed Hancox, and Caty Gordon all wrote insightful pieces on the events of the week. I had to be off the hook.

Yet, as I sat down to write a post about something light-hearted and unrelated to terrorism, I was unable to move past it. This triumph, military action, unlawful assassination, whatever you choose to call it and however you feel about it, will undeniably become a defining moment in America's history. This is the moment in which we finally found the man who brought fear to an entire nation for over a decade. While we have surely not brought an end to terrorism, we have eliminated its spokesperson.

Such a powerful event has evoked powerful and varied emotions among Americans; some we can all relate to and others many of us struggle to understand. In the aftermath, we find a country that doesn't seem to recognize itself. Are we a country that celebrates the death of our enemy, or are we a country that humbly acknowledges his potentially necessary demise? Are we Team America, or are we a country that rises above such celebration? It was in the thundering dissonance of our American character this week that I came to realize... 

…we’ve changed…

It’s as if on that day, on September 11, 2001, we all collectively left the known and familiar America. The carefree, safe home we had come to know and love was gone. In its place emerged a sense of fear, and honestly, a big spoonful of reality. America was no longer the safe haven away from the violence known to the rest of the world. All of a sudden, we understood our vulnerability in a very real and painful way. The term “national security” became something that mattered to those outside of Washington and the military. In one moment, Americans went from blissful ignorance to a firsthand understanding of the frightening nature of terrorism.

On Sunday, as President Obama announced the death of bin Laden, it’s as if we all collectively returned to September 10, 2001. Some of us were exuberant to be home, partying in the streets; others arrived with a sense of confusion, unable to recognize this place which had once been so familiar. What has emerged this week, among the dissonance, is a sense that we are being launched into a new era. As we move toward this new era, there exists a definite need to reflect on just how much this last decade has changed us as a country.

It has long been a joke within my group of friends when someone does something out of character to simply look at them and state: “You’ve changed.” It is, of course, said in a mocking tone and is generally just our way of poking fun at each other. Yet, it also allows us to acknowledge that we as people change and evolve. We can do things which seem out of character to those who know us best, but are merely illustrations of the reality of the human condition. Humans and societies are never stagnant. They are always changing, whether we realize it or not.

Nelson Mandela famously said: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

While America (the country) is not exactly the same as it was in 2001, America (the people) is, for some, unrecognizable. We have come back home to find that this decade with its "war on terror" has created a new and arguably different America. There are hints of our past self, but they are hidden in the confusion of change. The task before us now is to rediscover who exactly America is, and who it is we want to become. 

My hope is that this will be a discussion that comes to the forefront among our communities and in the media. There is so much talk in our society of the importance of discovering who you are as an individual. Yet, I think this week makes a strong argument for the need to place the same focus on discovering who we are collectively.  

So, the question remains: who is America?

American, Osama bin Laden, Terrorism