The capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden, the American government’s most wanted terrorist, came as a surprise last night as I was turning in for bed. Like many Americans, the news brought about a flux of emotions, from relief to something more along the lines of morose. I say morose because as a person of faith, it’s an odd mix to feel elation at someone’s demise, even if there were someone as nefarious as Bin Laden. Muslims were not alone in these feelings. Vox Nova, a Catholic blog, wrote a piece, The Death of Bin Laden, where Henry Karlson asked the question in relation to the rejoicing we see on the evening news: “But should there be?” Karlson continues with, “Taking the life from someone else will never be an act of justice – it does not restore what has been lost, but rather, brings further loss onto the world.” While I personally do not agree that taking a life can never be an act of justice, nonetheless, Karlson’s words resonate with what I observed from a broad stripe of Muslims. The moral quandary had less to do with Bin Laden’s death being just but more with the celebratory spirit with which it is being observed. However, in the current climate it is unlikely that many Muslims will feel free to express this sentiment out of fear of their commitment to America will appear to be weak or suspect. In this manner, we Muslims owe our Catholic neighbors a debt of gratitude for speaking out on this topic, helping to add a much needed nuance to an ever shrinking dialog.
Beyond all of the speculation of right, just, or wrong, lies another set of questions that many American Muslims have and that is: Even with a proponent’s stance on Bin Laden’s death, what dividends will this pay for brokering a more fair and equitable viewpoint on Muslims in the American public sphere? Many Muslims that I spoke with and observed harbor a cynical attitude towards the significance of Bin Laden’s death. Many fear that instead of smoothing over the perception of Muslims in the broader public dialog, it may even induce further backlashes. Evidence of these fears was seen in the vandalizing of a mosque in Maine as well as a hit-and-run accident in Florida which looks to be the result of a hate crime. The perpetrator, Gerald Prebe, of Clearwater, Florida, said, “he intended to kill” his target because he “looked Middle Eastern”. However, the victim, Terry Butler, was found out to be African-American.
It remains to be seen if the death of Bin Laden can make life for American Muslims any easier to live [this was the gist of my interview on Philadelphia’s CBS3 below via Oren Liebermann – click here for a direct link to the video in case it doesn’t load below]. But as a person of faith, I am committed to an optimistic outlook, even if I have to work on it day by day. For now, we will all have to sit back and see what further facts can unfold from this bizarre and emotional story.
Muslims in Phila. have three reasons to rejoice
By Alfred Lubrano, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Amidst the din of a meat-cutting machine quartering a lamb carcass at Al Aqsa Halal Meats in the Northeast on Monday afternoon, store manager Ray Hamidah shared a thought about his adopted country:
“A bullet in Osama bin Laden’s head was something the American people needed. Revenge relaxes people.”
A Jordanian-born U.S. citizen, Hamidah, 42, is a pragmatist who saw bin Laden as a “perverter of Islam” who brought pain and prejudice to Muslims in America.
“This will be better,” Hamidah concluded, the fresh lamb being sliced at his butcher counter an apt symbol of springtime renewal. “We’re not celebrating. But this is better.”
Arabs and Muslims in the Northeast as well as in mosques and professional organizations around the city are expressing a sense of relief that U.S. Navy Seals in Pakistan killed the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks during the early morning hours Monday.
Still, the killing has not alleviated the fear that Muslims will long be linked with terrorism, forever viewed with suspicion.
“My main worry is that anybody in the world can do something bad now and people will blame Muslims avenging bin Laden,” said Aeman Ali Mohamad, 26, owner of Safe Side Services, an insurance firm on Wyoming Avenue across from Al Aqsa.
Weary of being associated with terrorism, Mohamad, a North Jersey native, explained his distance from bin Laden.
“Al Qaeda has nothing to do with me, with most Muslims, and I hope they die with Osama bin Laden,” he said. “I feel relief that he’s gone.”
Down the street, it was more of the same at Pizza Point, where manager Mohammed Jubran, 27, bristled that bin Laden “wasn’t good for the Muslims, killing innocent people.”
The Jerusalem-born Palestinian, now an American, spoke as though the constant heat of his pizza ovens scorched his words as he spoke them: “The man deserved to die.”
Along with the businessmen of Wyoming Avenue, the Arab American intelligentsia of imams and advocates in the area detailed their delight in bin Laden’s end.
“As Arab Americans, we’re triply happy,” noted Marwan Kreidie, executive director of the Philadelphia Arab American Corporation, a social service agency.
“First, he killed at least 3,000 Americans on 9-11, and we’re glad he got his just due.
“Next, as Arab Americans, we know the vast majority of people killed from his reign of terror are Muslims.
“And third, his actions caused reactions here, making us unfairly targeted – a community under fire.”
Kreidie added that bin Laden’s message of a violent Islamic revolution yanking the world back to the 14th century never took hold among the youth of the Arab world.
The proof has been the so-called Arab spring, in which young revolutionaries have gathered and fought for democracy – not jihad – in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere.
Moein Khawaja, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that as an American and a Muslim, he cheered when he heard of bin Laden’s demise.
“My wife and I were watching the Phillies game where they announced his death,” Khawaja said. “As people at the game chanted, ‘U.S.A.,’ we yelled, ‘We got him!'”
He added, “I never forgot the day our country was attacked so brutally, and at the same time the religion of over 1 billion people was tarnished.”
Among the religious, a paradox develops around bin Laden’s death.
“I’m not not happy he’s dead,” said Marc Manley, a South Philadelphia imam not associated with any particular mosque.
“But I do feel odd about being happy a human was killed. Is it appropriate?”
Manley also wondered what changes would develop from bin Laden’s demise.
“Will we Muslims get screened less often in airports now?” he asked. “Will we not be used as political hockey pucks during election campaigns that include anti-Muslim feelings?”
Manley said he’d like to be optimistic that pressure on Muslims will lessen.
“But,” he added, “the cynical side kicks in, and you say, ‘Of course this isn’t going to change everything.’ At least not yet.”
Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.