Impact of bin Laden's death reaches into EL and MSU communities
Editor’s note: This story was corrected to accurately attribute Najib Hourani’s quote.
Julie Mianecki was sitting in her apartment in Washington D.C. when one of her roommates saw on Twitter that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
At first, the journalism and Spanish junior didn’t believe it was true.
U.S. officials had been searching for the al Qaeda terrorist group leader for more than a decade. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, one of the U.S.’s top priorities has been to capture or kill bin Laden, President Barack Obama said in a televised address to the nation Sunday night.
“For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies,” Obama said. “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.”
After hearing the news of bin Laden’s death on CNN, Mianecki — who currently works as an intern for the Tribune Co. Washington bureau — and her roommates hurried to the White House.
Surrounding the White House, Mianecki said there was a crowd of people cheering, hugging, waving flags and singing the national anthem.
“Pretty much the whole crowd was chanting, ‘U.S.A.,’ so we joined in,” Mianecki said. “People were excited. It kind of just seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity that we were here when this was happening. We decided we couldn’t miss it.”
Mianecki said bin Laden’s death was a cause for celebration among many Americans.
“I think it’s just justification for a lot of people for all the time and effort and people fighting and dying for this cause,” Mianecki said.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., agreed this death is a great victory in the fight against terrorism.
“The people of the world can feel relief and satisfaction that a monster has been brought to justice,” Levin said. “Justice has a long memory and a long arm.”
With the death of bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leadership might suffer, assistant professor of international relations Yael Aronoff said.
Aronoff said al Qaeda has many sympathizers who look up to bin Laden as a leader and morale figure. Bin Laden was the most well-known leader of al Qaeda and the organization will select a leader to replace bin Laden, as well as rely on its various regional leaders, she said.
Aronoff said al Qaeda will be a different organization than it was under bin Laden’s direction.
English sophomore Michael St. Charles said it’s important to remember although al Qaeda’s current head was killed, there still are other terrorists ready and willing to continue his efforts.
“If you kill the head of some organization, there’s 10 people to take his place,” St. Charles said. “It’s nice that we have the American people rallying around this (with) this patriotic mentality, but there’s still sort of a truth to the matter itself that people don’t really see because they are blinded by the mentality.”
Now that news of bin Laden’s death has spread, some citizens fear a retaliation from al Qaeda against the U.S.
Al Qaeda’s agenda always has included targeting the U.S. But al Qaeda will want to take revenge on the nation that killed its leader, Aronoff said.
Terrorism against the U.S. also won’t end after bin Laden’s death, Obama said.
“There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us,” Obama said. “We must — and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
Because of such fear of retaliation, the U.S. Department of State has a travel alert, effective until Aug. 1. Americans living and residing outside the U.S. are advised to limit their travels.
Because most MSU study abroad programs have concluded for the spring semester and have yet to start for the summer, Cheryl Benner, communications manager at the MSU Office of Study Abroad, said the university has issued a statement on their website.
Students who might still be abroad are encouraged not to do much traveling and to stay away from big gatherings and protests, she said.
“We’re advising students to read the worldwide travel alert and stay away from anything that looks like it could cause anti-American violence,” Benner said.
Networking for news
St. Charles, who had received the news while watching television at home, noticed the amount of people using Facebook as a place to share what they’d heard of bin Laden’s death.
He soon saw people patriotically rally around this news.
“When I heard the news, I didn’t really think that much of it until after I saw people’s reactions to it,” he said. “People’s reactions were generally like this ‘gung-ho, yay U.S.’ kind of mentality.”
History senior Kerry Harris first heard of bin Laden’s death through Twitter. Harris was in Washington D.C. on Sunday for an annual dinner with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, where she had interned this spring while participating in an MSU Study Away program.
After turning on the television and confirming bin Laden’s death, Harris said she and her friend got in a taxi and headed for the White House.
Harris said she is glad she was in the capital when the news broke because she was at the heart of the excitement.
“You always remember moments like this,” Harris said. “We all know where we were during 9/11.”
Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, said he heard from more than a hundred MSU alumni after he learned of bin Laden’s death Sunday, including those currently serving in the U.S. military.
“The power of Twitter and Facebook brought many of us together to reflect on this historic moment,” Westerman said in an email. “There isn’t a one of us who has not been touched in some way by the events of 9/11, and Osama bin Laden’s death marks a crossroad in what we all know will be an ongoing fight against terrorism.”
Touching a community
Despite celebrations, East Lansing residents remained calm last night, East Lansing police Sgt. Carl Nowak said.
No additional officers were dispatched and officers did not observe any riots or violence, Nowak said.
During Monday’s evening service, members of the Islamic Center of Greater Lansing will pray for the continued security of America, President of the center Mahmoud Mousa said.
Members of the society felt “joy” after the death of bin Laden, said Abdalmajid Katranji, public relations director for the Islamic Center.
Although Muslims “suffered like everybody else,” they faced additional challenges after 9/11 because they wrongly were associated with the attacks, Mousa said.
Members of the society do not support bin Laden in any way, Katranji said.
“The less connection between anything that bin Laden is about, the better,” he said.
For Kristen Schotts, an environmental plant-biology junior and Muslim, 9/11 had a major impact on her, despite only converting to Islam about two years ago.
Schotts returned to her high school after converting and realized how the attacks ten years ago shaped some Americans’ views on Muslims.
Wearing a hijab, a traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women, Schotts attracted attention from one of her teachers.
“My teacher said, ‘You’re not going to bomb the World Trade Center are you? Oh wait, you already have,” Schotts said.
Although her former teacher explained the comment as a joke, her feelings toward Muslims were apparent, Schotts said.
“It’s pretty clear that that’s how she felt about Muslims in general,” Schotts said.
Closing a chapter
Schotts felt relief and joy after the killing of bin Laden. Still, his death might not end stigma against Muslim Americans, she said.
“If they had these ideas of Muslims being terrorists, then just by killing one that’s not going to change,” Schotts said.
Islamophobia might continue in the U.S. regardless of bin Laden’s death, said Najib Hourani, MSU assistant professor of geography and anthropology, whose research interests include Middle East studies.
Especially during elections, politicians and activists use fear-based persuasion to achieve political agendas, he said.
“You don’t have to have very rational arguments,” Hourani said. “It’s a low ball form of politics.”
The true meaning of Islam sometimes is distorted in America, Mousa said.
“The word ‘Islam’ means peace,” he said. “Unfortunately, it has been used … to create fear and fear-mongering among the public.”
Still, relations with Muslim Americans have improved since 9/11, Katranji said. Focusing on improvements and continuing conversations will help create bridges in communities, he said.
St. Charles said in citizens’ celebration of bin Laden’s death, it mustn’t be forgotten that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations still are at work.
“We can’t get lazy about this in case something (else) is to happen,” he said.
U.S. officials will continue pursuing terrorists despite bin Laden’s death, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, said.
“This closes a key chapter in the war on terror – it’s hard to imagine an end to al Qaeda without the death of Bin Laden,” he said. “While we can all certainly celebrate this important victory, the fight will go on. We will not stop until al Qaeda has been eliminated.”
Although 9/11 will continue to impact Americans, bin Laden’s death represents a victory for the U.S., Katranji said.
“The pain of the attack from 9/11 … can never go away, but there is some sense of closure know that the mastermind behind this atrocity has finally been brought to justice,” he said.