The Death of Bin Laden & the Soul of the USA

It’s been over a week now.  I’ve been wanting to write, but have been on the road, my head spinning with newspa240076_868074799191_21011576_45621412_1578982_o.jpgper headlines and the voices of cable news pundits.  Navdeep posted some thoughtful reflections and questions here, and in the meantime, we’ve had the opportunity to see the response to bin Laden’s death throughout the country and world.  By now, we are all probably well aware of the spontaneous celebrations of thousands at Ground Zero and Time Square in New York City and at the White House, with victorious chants of “USA! USA!”,  the night President Obama made the announcement of bin Laden’s death.

I was traveling in New Orleans when the news hit, and the mood there was similar.  God Bless Americas were being yelled in bars of the touristy French Quarter, people running down the streets (drunkly) yelling “We killed him! We killed him!” with a disturbingly rage-filled glee.

I happened to be exploring the city on my own that night, and was immediately nervous when I heard the news.  Within a few minutes, several strangers made snide and/or aggressive comments about bin Laden’s death directly to me, as if to imply that I was related to him.  Throughout my week of time in New Orleans and Texas thereafter, strangers heckled me with taunts of “Osama” almost every day.  One day, a young kid leaving school (maybe 10 years old) asked me, seemingly earnestly, if I was a terrorist.  And I was even pulled out of a night club in Houston by security because I was carrying a bag (which had an instrument in it).

Indeed, the death of bin Laden does not appear to mean the death of bigotry.  Colorlines reports:

A mosque in Maine was vandalized with the messages “Osama today, Islam tomorrow” and “Go Home.” In Houston, a schoolteacher was disciplined for racially profiling a Muslim ninth-grader by asking if she was grieving her uncle’s death on Monday. Also this week, Mohamed Kotbi, an Arab waiter who is suing his employer, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, for religious and racial discrimination following the 9/11 attacks, has reported more taunts from co-workers following bin Laden’s death.

I am curious if other Sikhs have experienced a similar rise in harassment.  What does it mean that when the US claims victory over Enemy #1, the general public vilifies Muslims and turban-wearing Sikhs even more?  Sometimes it seems we’ve made little progress since the hateful aftermath of 9/11, and perhaps are even moving backwards.

As I was hundreds of miles from my home in NYC, I found myself feeling relieved that I wasn’t there to witness the celebrations taking place.  I was disgusted by what I was seeing on the television (and hearing on the streets), deeply disturbed by what appeared to be celebrations of death (assassination to be specific).  That night I posted on my Facebook page: “Where is this country’s soul?”

I was also shocked that no one (the press, politicians, etc) seemed to be asking the question of why bin Laden wasn’t captured, and why everyone seemed so fine (and in fact happy) about the fact that our government assassinated this man and threw his body in the ocean (no matter how horrible a man he was).

Noam Chomsky states:

It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial…

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region. (full article)

I ask again, where is this country’s soul?

Perhaps it’s not as grim as it might seem.  Yesterday, the Public Religion Research Institute just released the results of a survey it conducted days after bin Laden’s killing, revealing that a majority of Americans say that celebrating bin Laden’s death was wrong. NPR reports that the survey “found that most Americans think it is ‘wrong to celebrate the death of another human being, no matter how bad that person was.'”

A majority of Americans are also opposed to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Afghanistan being the longest war in US history) as well.  Yet both these bloody wars (not to mention drone bombings in Pakistan) seem to have no end in sight, even after the death of bin Laden.

President Obama proudly declared in his speech announcing the killing of bin Laden:

Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.  We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.  That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Yet, the so-called War on Terror (which Obama has dramatically escalated in Afghanistan and Pakistan) has only exacerbated anti-US sentiment, and yes, terrorism.  It has been well-documented that US Wars in the Middle East are not making anyone safer. Quite the opposite is the reality.  Hundreds of thousands of deaths of civilians and troops later, what kind of values are we standing up for?

Kai Wright wrote the day after bin Laden’s death:  “The gap between rhetoric and reality has long been a defining trait of American life. Lies about our values have shielded us from the brutal facts of our nation ever since we built it on the back of genocide and slavery. But it is in times like these that the dissonance becomes unbearable.”

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that the collective soul of the people has the potential to be much stronger than political and economic agendas of our “leaders.”  Our Gurus and our Khalsa ancestors taught us to remain in the chardi kala spirit as we fight for human dignity, for truth, and even, perhaps, for the soul of this country.



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27 Responses to “The Death of Bin Laden & the Soul of the USA”

  1. BoiseRules says:

    I must admit, I was pretty excited when he died, for some odd reason I thought this would actually bring change (or something) to the war. It only took a few minutes before reality settled back in and I realized that I was celebrating the assassination of an unarmed man and that nothing would change. I soon started getting text messages of congrats (served in Afghanistan in the Army) from family and friends, It is a shame what this country is continuously doing to the Afghans and Pakistanis. I am not a Sikh, but you all are a good people. I'm sorry for how our fellow countryman have treated you.

  2. Sxip Shirey says:

    Thank for that Sonny and it heartening to read that most American's DON'T want to celebrate! That was a surprise. Thank you.

  3. hpal says:

    whne it is time to pull out the sword then all above if justified miri/piri

  4. Jasleen says:

    I'm sorry for what you experienced. I too am disappointed by the "celebrations".

    But on a slightly brighter note, my husband and I have instead encountered only extra-friendly greetings and smiles from complete strangers at malls and airports in the last week. My hope persists.

  5. Jiletli Tel says:

    Its amazing how the world can be divided and humans can suffer in the name of "GOD" "ISLAM" and whatever

  6. Danielle Suchdev says:

    Excellent piece. When I saw folks spontaneously congregating and celebrating like it was the Superbowl or Mardi Gras, my first thought was, "It would never occur to me to do that" and I was a bit shocked. No matter what, life was lost. I did read and article the following day that interviewed a few Christian leaders here in the States and the sentiments were "we do not dance on the graves of our enemies" and "the only way to end terrorism is to end poverty" (the latter from Dr. King's former church, Ebenezer Baptist). I was very pleased to see that and consequently I'm actually not surprised by the survey results.

  7. Blighty Singh says:

    The reaction of Amricans to the killing of bin laden has been widely shown in our media across Europe. To be honest, after viewing the images from America, most people in Europe seem to be of the opinion that America is a first world nation full of people with third world intellect. No better than the terrorists themselves. He (bin laden) celebrated the killings of people he saw as his enemy…….Americans celebrate the killings of the people they see as their enemy. Tell me, what makes the Americans celebrating a killing any more 'lovely and beautiful' than if a yemini tribesman did it ?
    So….what are they celebrating anyway ? They think ideologies are organisations. They think everyone that prescribes to that ideology sends off an application form to the head office of that imaginary organisation. They think the ideology has a general manager who reads the applications and then sends out membership cards. And they think by murdering the 'general manager' they will automaticaly stop the ideology. God help us all.

  8. Kristina says:

    The profiling and racism you have experienced is wrong and shameful.
    On Bin Laden's death however I am happy he is dead, I feel it is justice, and am relieved he was not taken into custody. I am not happy a man is dead, I am happy a man waging war against my country, responsible for the death of thousands of innocent civilians is dead. There is a distinction. As for Americans openly celebrating, well as Churchill said "When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite." However what are the odds any of those celebrating have read any Churchill… Celebrating was perhaps inappropriate and/or unnecessary but saying America lacks a soul because of it is an equally extreme response.

  9. harinder says:

    I want to ask few questions for our double standards ?

    When Indira gandhi was killed by her Sikh body guards did not the Sikhs celebrate then albeight for a short while till the Genocide came ?
    Now if Yankees are celebrating the death of there killers why is the moral Flag being hoisted ?

    When Udham Singh killed Gen Dwyers is he not still celebrated as a hero by Sikhs.
    So if Yankees are doing the same why are we moralizing the event ?

    Revenge is a natural human response and can be condoned as per me .

    Though I agree the holy scriptures dont approve of revenge.

  10. Tim says:

    As an American, it pains me to know the rest of the world sees footage of a small portion of our population in the streets and assumes these scenes speak for our majority. Our country is huge and there where more Americans who took in the news solomnly & gracefully in the privacy of their own homes. I remember seeing foreign footage of people celebrating in the days after the 9/11 attacks and I thought it barbaric… This barbaricism fueled our retaliation and I fear our arrogant displays now will do the same… Death is finality, in Bin Laden's case perhaps just and necessary in war, but eerie and grotesque when celebrated.

  11. Tajinder says:

    "Sometimes it seems we’ve made little progress since the hateful aftermath of 9/11, and perhaps are even moving backwards." — this generally happens when one throws a dart hoping to hit the bulls eye with eyes closed.

    For the rest of the article Sikhs please be careful which universities you send your kids to in USA "innocent child in liberal garbage out" not good for the health of the community or America. Please wake up, smell the reality of the world you live in. These ppl have been at it since the time of our Gurus.

  12. Citizen Singh says:

    This is all a bit rich isn't it?

    You ask where is the soul of the country, based on the behaviour of a particular group of simpletons within that population. It is by no means all Americans who are celebrating as surveys have shown.

    Yet when the NY Post make disparaging comments about Sikhs based on the behaviour of a particular group of thugs you denounce this as "unacceptable" and "outrageous" etc…

  13. kristie says:

    I'm sorry that you feel that this America is treating you badly, and is acting immorally. I was under the impression that America had been very good to you and your family, as it has been to mine. This America you criticize as having no soul has made the greatest contribution to freedom and prosperity of any society in history. Of course it is not perfect, of course it makes mistakes, everyone does, but it still defeated fascism and communism, it still created the United Nations and the free trade system that has lifted billions out of poverty, it has still created the technologies that billions use every day to make their lives better. It has still, dare I say it, allowed hundreds of millions of immigrants (my family included) to dream and build a better life. You can express your opinions, but I think you should show more respect for this country of yours.

  14. Big V says:

    Certainly, discrimination and harrassment against Sikhs or any other ethnic group is totally unacceptable under any circumstance, but I fail to understand how Bin Laden's death can be viewed as anything other than a success, even if we consider his demise to be controversial. The fact that there is an increase in discrimination against Sikhs in light of his death is deplorable, but that does not change the fact that the nation has brought to justice the admitted architect of the most ruthless terrorist act in our history. I may not rejoice over Bin Laden's death, but he most certainly got what he deserved.

    It's unfortunate that you're experiencing what you're experiencing, but please don't try to use that as a tool to denigrate the importance of eliminating this man to national security. And I completely DO NOT agree with your assertion that increasing efforts to root out terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan has made out country less safe. I could provide you with multiple links supporting my point, as I'm sure you could do as well, so we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

  15. harinder says:

    In each era evil is produced and they have to be killed .
    It is the law of life.
    1) Hirnakahsayap raksha was killed by prahalad
    2) kans was killed by Lord Krishna
    3) Ravan was killed by Ram
    4) Banda bahadur Killed Nawasb of sirhind

    The day Osama did 9/11 he signed his own on death warrant

  16. hena says:

    thanks for writing and sharing this sonny ji

  17. brooklynwala says:

    more on anti-muslim backlash after bin laden's death:

  18. Inderjag says:

    Americans of all kinds have realized that racism is a powerful tool. Business leaders and politicians have been riding the anti-Islam wave because it works. Racism has been helping promote political and business agendas for the past 10 years. Fear is a great motivator.

    So you won't see too many Americans in any high-profile position of power working to educate their neighbors about the realities of Asian communities in the US. A few will empathize with you but most will stay silent. Instead they will help keep Sikh-American issues in the shadows where they have been.