President Obama has just confirmed the killing of Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11 and founder of Al Quaeda.
This marks the end of a decade of radical change -- changed air travel habits, increased security awareness, renegotiation of the meaning of Islam worldwide, wars, economic shifts, concerns about oil, concerns about indiscriminate terror, and a more recent surge in democratic movements across the Middle East. News organizations are proudly and persistently reporting well after midnight this Sunday night, promising the beginning of a busy week of analysis and commentary. People have gathered outside the White House cheering "USA! USA!" You can almost feel the rumblings in the political, economic, and journalistic realms as twitter feeds light up and facebook statuses are updated. Some cities are shooting fireworks. Celebrations have started. They're singing "God Bless America" at the site of the World Trade Center at Ground Zero. Cheers and beers are being shared well into the start of a new week.
The announcement comes with the end of a school year, and creates a new endpoint to the first decade of the 2000s. It dissipates a specter of fear from the mountainous regions of a Pakastani/Afghan desert that most have never seen yet most can imagine. A new future appears to be establishing itself. And surely even stronger calls to end the wars overseas will occur.
Yet perhaps the fragmentation of terrorist cells and less noticed areas of terrorist planning will find new opportunities to assert themselves. We have danger points, old ones, and surely new ones to to come. Still, the death of Bin Laden brings with it the last innocent thought that there is a singular, unified direction to various efforts to violently disrupt the US and other parts of the Western world.
I suggest one of the most important consequences of the death of Bin Laden is a greater contextualization of the issues of the Middle East. We would all benefit from greater attention to what is occurring among particular people with particular issues in particular places. We need more careful attention in all regions and at various levels of discussion and analysis to appreciate the nuanced conflicts that will still exist long after Bin Laden is gone. We need to stop thinking in grand terms ("fundamentalism" "Islamofascism" "terrorists") and bring sensitive approaches that allow us to see the true danger points away from mere ideology, religious orientation, ethnicity, or even citizenship. Where shall we focus? What armed and diplomatic efforts yield the best outcome? What kind of intelligence is needed to be trained now?
Even more: What future are we more free to imagine now? Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, what can we now see as the collective life we most wish to live?