President Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner, turned the streets of America into a flag-waving frenzy with the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American forces. Finishing what the “mission accomplished speech” by President Bush could not, Obama rose like a phoenix from the ashes of a week in which he had to release the long-form of his birth certificate to silence the “carnival barker” Donald Trump and other so called patriot birthers.
The important takeaway for religionists is that Obama squarely placed bin Laden outside of the camp of traditional Islam. Obama said:
We must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
In a speech designed to bring some closure to 9/11, the emphasis on not demonizing Islam was crucial.
For those, including myself, who have wondered if the president was too soft on his detractors, the killing of bin Laden will resonate as a moment in which the president has proven his resolve as a leader who is willing to go to the wall to finish the job. The prattle of the religious right’s portrayal of the president as a crypto-socialist, crypto-Muslim, a non-American, and other insults just stopping short of the n-word, will be suspended as they try to figure out their latest spin on this blockbuster story. My guess is that they will credit the troop effort, and ignore that this was a decision on the part of the commander in chief to make the hard decision to go forward and commit troops to the operation.
The crowds singing patriotic songs in front of the White House, Ground Zero and other sites are a spectacle, celebration, and cipher to me. What to make of the happiness of the death of an admittedly reprehensible human being? Should we proclaim, as Mike Huckabee did, “Welcome to Hell, bin Laden,” or should we take a moment to remember all those who have died in the “war on terror?”
What I can say at this point, most assuredly, is that although many are relieved that bin Laden is gone, some of us are still a little perplexed that the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize will probably experience a surge of popular opinion, not because of all the other things he has done as president, but because a terrorist was hunted and killed.
But bin Laden’s death brings more questions — about our politics, and about the right’s discourse about Obama: will bin Laden’s death bring any satisfaction to those who lost loved ones on 9/11? Is this the beginning of more violence, or less?
Whatever comes, May 1, 2011 will be the day that one mission was accomplished, but another one begins: how to move the American people forward from fear of Islam and fear of weakness. Most importantly, I hope it moves them past their fear of a black president.