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Lay them to rest


May 12, 2011

It didn’t take long at all, once they got around to it—less than 40 minutes from arrival to departure. No time, apparently, for epic hand-to-hand struggles, breathless pursuits, or final, defiant soliloquies (though these will no doubt be added to the movie and video-game versions). A bit of gunfire, and the job was done. And just a few hours later, a weighted bag containing the shroud-wrapped corpse of Osama bin Laden slid off the deck of the USS Carl Vinson into the waters of the Arabian Sea.

I would like to imagine a long trail of detritus, connected to that body by massive chains, skittering off the deck of that aircraft carrier, plopping into the waves bundle by bundle and being dragged to the bottom of the sea, the remnants of a decade of nightmare and psychosis. “Freedom fries;” the “Project for a New American Century,” the neo-conservative think tank that found in bin Laden’s attack the “second Pearl Harbor” that they had longed for; the benighted, color-coded “terror alert” system, now thankfully abandoned, that it seemed would stay forever stuck at “elevated;” the pre-emptive campaign, pernicious and absurd, leveled against pacifists by conservative commentators and pundits in the days after 9/11; the very idea of a “New Normalcy,” so smugly promulgated by Dick “Dark Side” Cheney. Maybe that whole sordid chapter of our history could be submerged, covered with barnacles, and left to dissolve.

I wish.

Unfortunately, hot air and noxious gases are buoyant, and in my mind’s eye I see many of those bundles popping back up to the surface, despite the weight of their bonds. Civil liberties remain in dispute, the USA PATRIOT Act remains on the books, and the prison camp at Guantanamo remains open. An entire industry has come into being devoted simply to helping travelers deal with airport security procedures. Irrational Islamophobia persists, and demagogues from Rev. Terry Jones and Newt Gingrich to Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz are still eager to exploit—and, incidentally, profit handily from—the fears of the misinformed.

But the news of the ongoing democratic revolts in the Arab world may help some Americans look on the inhabitants of the Middle East and northern Africa with new eyes. Al Jazeera English has joined the BBC and CNN as a source of international news for many Americans. We are beginning to see these countries and these peoples as something other than monolithic, swarthy, malicious boogeymen, and to gain appreciation for the range and depth of their cultures.