On Sunday night I was very conflicted about hearing the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Conflicted because his death in many ways was the only option.....he wouldn't have been taken alive....and he wouldn't have survived very long anyway if he was ever brought back for trial. I was also conflicted because I have mixed feelings on capital punishment, let alone state-sponsored assassination....but that is due to my background in human rights advocacy.
What I am most conflicted on is what does his death really symbolize/mean?
I don't feel that his death is that much of a blow to al-Qaeda as his end-goal of martyrdom would be fulfilled. And even with our very subjective justice system, Americans still like the idea of a clear enemy and that that person would be brought to a swift and decisive justice.
For a brief, very brief moment I thought that there might be a chance that Muslims could be openly accepted in the US again.
Let's travel back to a beautiful sunny morning on June 22, 2001. It was around 6am, I was jet-lagged and alone in a hotel room in Istanbul, Turkey. The morning call to prayer was ringing out across the city and the moment felt right to do something that I had been considering for months.... I took the Shahadah, the oath that marks your conversion to Islam. I instantly felt this overwhelming sense of peace and I knew that I had made the right decision for myself. I proudly told others that I was Muslim and explained to everyone that I could that I was a Sufi student waiting for a teacher. Then September 11th happened. I had Middle Eastern friends who were threatened (one of them by a man wielding a machete near Dupont Circle in DC). People would look at me in pity when I told them about my faith (I even wrote a poem about that which was published in a MEC Outreach Newsletter). All of my work concerning the Middle East was looked upon with a touch of suspicion. Of course, I would joke a bit, lamenting that the chadors (the all-black ninja-like outfits that some Muslim women wear which shows only their eyes) I had bought for Halloween costumes were no longer acceptable to wear for fun on a holiday.
Like most in my field, I switched from telling others about the culture of the Middle East to affirming that not all Middle Easterners are terrorists. There is a big difference between sharing a culture and convincing someone that a person isn't your enemy....or that by being Muslim myself that I was not an enemy...that first and foremost I was a white American woman who had exercised my right of freedom of religion.
Time progresses, and I spent alot of it NOT telling people about my religious beliefs. In fact, I never told my Grandfather about my conversion because I know that he would have been disappointed in me that I had allied myself with a group of people that he saw as akin to the Japanese during World War II. He probably suspected though. Over the past few years I've felt that the pressure on American Muslims had lightened a bit and I've been more open about it. Even just last week I was talking to people about how I was about to celebrate my ten year anniversary of being Muslim. Ten years is a long time for anything.....and it is even a longer time to feel like you need to hide something about yourself.
So when they announced Bin Laden's death, I thought that it might be possible that American Muslims could hope to NOT be equated with terrorists anymore.
Doesn't really look like it yet.
How do I come to this decision? In items such as a news story that I read today about how a Texas middle school teacher was suspended because he told a 9th grade Muslim student that he had "heard about your uncle, I bet that you're grieving". And by the fact that I received a joke text from a family friend stating the following: "News Flash! All 7/11's and mini-marts will be closed today, there was a death in the family".
Not only are these unnecessarily mean and racist jokes, but there is not a good time for them to be told. This isn't a case where the joke is "too soon" after the event- it is a case where it is just wrong.
I'm done with it. I replied back to that text, and had a phone conversation with the person who sent it. And I'm writing about this here because people need to SERIOUSLY get a grip. Osama Bin Laden was an evil misguided man that I am VERY glad is no longer around to spew his own personal brand of hate.
One man does not get to make an entire group of people guilty by religious association.
One man does not make it acceptable to be racist or classist or any other sort of -ist out there.
One man shouldn't make me feel that I have to hide what I am or how I feel.
And the death of one man doesn't make all the problems of the world go away.