On September 11, 2001, I was in the Language Resource Center of my alma mater during work study when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were impaled by 767 jets. We watched in horror, as terror unfolded that day.
On May 1, 2011, I was walking into my home in Washington, D.C. when I received a call from one of my best friends at 10:30 p.m. telling me to turn to CNN because the president was about to make an announcement about national security. By 11:35 p.m., I was glued to the television in my bedroom as talking heads speculated about what so many had deemed impossible for so long. And then, President Obama confirmed the speculation as he confidently strode into the East Room “to report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”
The profundity of this moment was not lost on me. Just like that, a nearly ten-year struggle to capture and conquer Osama bin Laden had come to a close.
To my thinking, bin Laden’s impact on this nation far extended beyond the atrocities of 9/11 in which thousands of Americans lost their lives, and thousands more lost friends, family and loved ones. His true significance lay in the fact that his reign of terror on this nation engendered in us a new kind of fear the likes of which Americans of my generation and my parents generation had never experienced before.
After 9/11 we systematically began to change our way of life. No longer feeling safe and secure in the ‘land of the free, and the home of the brave,’ we put up new barriers around us for protection — in our airports, along our national borders, around ourselves — and America had not been the same since.
After nearly ten years, the War on Terror that we were fighting abroad began to permeate and manipulate our lives here at home. The divisions rent along political lines between former friends and allies was amplified by changing social, political and economic tides. And yet, the 9/11 attack on America was the defining moment in our national history in which we began leading our lives and making decisions based on ideologies of fear, rather than on purposed belief and faith that we could work together as Americans to overcome all adversity.
But last night changed that. Last night, was different. Driving along Pennsylvania avenue at 12:30 a.m. as throngs of people descended upon the White House in celebration, solidarity and support of their president, and their nation, the energy shifted. A palpable electricity filled the air as people in the streets, as at home, breathed a collective sigh of relief that this campaign against the most grievous terrorist many of us have known over the past 25 years had finally come to a close. And at the helm of it all, President Barack Obama was standing tall as Commander in Chief.
“It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory,” said the president during his late night address. And as he described the operation that brought Osama bin Laden to his knees, and reassured us that the symbol of fear behind which he had come to cower was dead, he reminded us of the power of the great invention of America, and the strength that can be found when we come together and work as one. It was, in my eyes, his most presidential moment to date.
“On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”
Last night, when President Obama said that he “determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” I felt a new surge of hope for this country.
For far too long, we have allowed fear to rule the day; and that very fear has been tearing this nation apart at the seams. Perhaps now that the man who epitomized American fear is gone, we can begin the mending process. Though the war against global terrorism is not over, and the economy did not rebound over night, maybe, just maybe, we can remember “who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”