Bin Laden's Death Not the End to the War on Terror

I am an American who grew up in the shadow of 9/11.

Like many of my peers, I have never known air travel without pat-downs and random searches. I learned about suicide bombing the same time I learned long multiplication. I knew Iraq as the (alleged) country with weapons of mass destruction, not as the home of Ancient Babylon. “Terrorism” entered my vocabulary before “pacifism.”

So I cannot pretend that the death of Osama bin Laden—leader of Al Qaeda, mastermind of 9/11 and boogeyman of our childhoods—didn’t move me, impassioned the fickle spirit of patriotism, stir me to some great hurrah, if not knowing at what.

Last night, President Barack Obama announced that a small team of US operatives launched an assault on a compound in Abottabad, where bin Laden was killed after a firefight. The team took custody of his body, thus ending the 10-year manhunt.

In his speech, Obama said that yesterday’s events were the results of intelligence operations beginning last August. He also stressed that cooperation with Pakistani intelligence was crucial to yesterday’s events; and that America was at war with radical terrorists, not Islam.

We can find tempered joy in yesterday’s events. We can celebrate that no Americans died in these operations. It’s not everyday we get a blessing like this.

We can celebrate a safer world. Everyone can sleep more securely because of bin Laden’s death. That a man who killed thousands can no longer harm innocents is reason enough for cherish—even if we don’t celebrate his death, we can celebrate its implications.

But can we celebrate the death of a man—even a monstrous, murderous man? A man who has killed, by some estimates, around 7,000 people?

We could, but we shouldn’t.

Not because his death was unjust: He fought back and was killed in the fire-fight. Bin Laden’s death was not an execution; he was a casualty of his own war.

No, we should postpone our cheers and whoops because we should seek solace and resolution, not joy, in this bin Laden’s death. As Obama said, “On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.” In justice, we can only ever hope to find peace, to heal what was torn open 10 years ago, and to put to bed the nightmares of our childhood—now grown up.

More so, we should postpone our celebration because we still have enemies who would harm innocents. Yesterday was a victory in the War on Terror; and no matter what odds we still face, no matter what desperate means our enemies will now resort to, we can cherish this.

But bin Laden was a man—just barely a man but a man nonetheless—and our work is not yet done. Al Qaeda is more than bin Laden, and as the New York Times reports, “The fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al Qaeda number two in command, was unclear.”

But the most important work to come will belong to us, the world’s children who grew up in the shadow of 9/11. To not only continue the work of men and women oversees and protect homes everywhere, but to rebuild the homes and families bin Laden destroyed—in America, Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever al Qaeda spreads.

We can celebrate the death of this one man, but I will wait until we can celebrate the death of none.