Finally, nearly ten years after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, on 9/11 2001, Osama Bin Laden is dead.
While we know this will not end the operations of Al Qaeda, may make them more determined to continue in the name of a now-dead martyr, in our hearts there is relief. The mastermind behind the biggest act of terror perpetrated on American soil is no longer in the game. There is a symmetry, a symbolic closing of the loop.
For the conspiracy theorists who have long claimed Bin Laden is dead, the real truth is finally out there.
For the people behind the scenes, working for eight months on a covert and sensitive operation and for the special forces sent in to complete the mission, the sense of achievement must be palpable. Achieved too, with no loss of life on their part. Bin Laden is dead, no global debate over what should be done with him were he to have been taken alive in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
In many ways nothing will have changed, the global operation against terrorists will continue – there may be reprisals against the west and the world will continue to be vigilant for a long time yet.
This morning America and the west will be celebrating. After a nearly a decade of waging war against an unseen, elusive foe, the head of the snake has been removed. We’ll have to wait to see if an effective head emerges from the body to make it whole again.
While I am not comfortable with the public display of celebration I understand and feel it. Many of the young people whooping and hollering with joy outside the White House last night would have been young when 9/11 happened.
They will have absorbed the horror, fear and sense of a world de-stabilised passed on by the media and in the response to family and community around them. Many have grown up not knowing what life was like before Al Qaeda. When you didn’t have to stand in line for security checks at airports, removing shoes, belts, watches and not being able to board a plane with a bottle of water. A time when the world was not afraid.
Who can deny them a moment of relief that the bogeyman of their childhood is no more.
For those who lost a loved one, or were effected by the hell of that day, the pain has never gone. Scratch the surface and its there in its rawness every day, in shadows, dreams and ‘what if’s’. How they will feel as the media intrudes into their lives once more to get their reaction to the news? We will have to wait and see.
For those who have rebuilt a life from the rubble and pain, today will be tough – the fragile veneer of recovery will shatter for a while until the emotions are reined in and equilibrium restored. They will be living a new normal from today – raw justice has been done, an eye for an eye, there may be a sense of closure. For some at least.
For others there will never be closure. Al Qaeda physically killed nearly 3000 people in the 9/11 attacks, irrespective of colour, creed or nationality. They killed the spirit of hundreds more who had to continue living with a family member missing at the dinner table, as Mr Obama so poignantly put it.
Everyone remembers where they were that day, what they were doing when the news broke.
Driving home from the school run on the I10 in Louisiana, turning on the radio to our local station and hearing the news, I assumed the World Trade Centre in New Orleans had been hit. I called my husband to put the local news on the TV in his office and call me back. When he did it was like cold water running down my body.
Obama used the words ‘seared on our memories’ to describe the events that followed. He has a good speech writer. We were all branded by the images we saw.
In our small town the atmosphere was subdued, the inhabitants in shock, helpless. The land phones were down, cell phone signals intermittent, the fear and uncertainty tangible.
I saw the effects of primal fear first hand – a colleague I’d worked with for several years, someone I regarded as a friend, cornered me in my office demanding to know if I was an American citizen. At that time I wasn’t: the process to naturalisation is tardy and although the process was started, its completion was still a few years away. Not that I had a chance to explain.
With her face inches from mine, a look of rage and loathing in her eyes she hissed, ‘If you people coming to live here aren’t prepared to be American you should get the hell out of our country.’
I understood the emotion, as I do today in the celebrations outside the White House, but it will change nothing in the day-to-day turning of the world – yet.
To the committed men and women who have spent every day of the past 9 years and 8 months quietly devoting their lives to fighting the faceless enemy in the shadows, we salute your courage and determination. To those on the final operation, congratulations and grateful thanks from the nation on a mission accomplished so comprehensively.
As the President said in his address, today should be celebrated ‘by all those who believe in peace and human dignity’ across nationalities and faiths and no-one should argue with that.
For those struggling with wounds re-opened by the news, our thoughts are with you today as they have been over the years.
And for anyone who has forgotten how the events of that day hurt a nation (are there any?) watch U2’s Superbowl performance in January 2002 to remember… those who died and those who pledged to remember always. From a city who would feel a different pain three years later.
U2 Superbowl 2002, Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana USA