Bin Laden killing cathartic for 'Generation 9/11'

AFP , Thursday 5 May 2011

The energetic reaction of many young Americans to Osama bin Laden's death reflects the dark hold and influence of Al-Qaeda over their lives

Bin Laden
People waving U.S. flags cheer outside the White House over the death of Osama Bin Laden in Washington, May 2, (Reuters).

Osama bin Laden's death was hailed by all Americans as a cathartic moment in the fight against terrorism -- but perhaps even more so by "Generation 9/11," who came of age when the Twin Towers fell.

While previous generations lived under the specter of nuclear Armageddon and the Cold War, those still at school in September 2001 grew up under the cloud of Al-Qaeda.

When bin Laden's death was announced late Sunday, it was noticeable how many students were among those who flocked immediately to the White House, chanting "USA, USA" and punching the air with joy.

"For members of our generation, 9/11 has served to epitomize the 'where-were-you-when?' moment," recalled Ryan Eshoff of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

"The death of bin Laden created an immediate stir unlike few things I’ve ever seen," added the 20-year-old, writing in the UCLA's student newspaper the Daily Bruin.

Bin Laden, America's most wanted man since the September 11, 2001 attacks which left over 3,000 people dead in New York and Washington, was killed Sunday in a town near the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

In an operation which some doubted would ever happen, a crack team of US Navy SEALS staged the raid after he was tracked down to a compound in the leafy garrison town of Abbottabad.

Shawn Summers, a student at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said bin Laden's killing laid to rest a "spectre that’s haunted our lives as far back as we can remember."

"9/11 cast a cloud over us, certainly... For a few brief hours on Sunday night, it was, at least to me, like the SEALs had shot all our stagnant national self-doubts to death with him," he told AFP.

"Just for a night, bin Laden's death was a clear victory, which has been sorely lacking in an age of counterinsurgency and irregular warfare and terrorism and an economy no one knows how to fix," added the 20-year-old.

While older generations can recall a time when getting on a plane did not involve removing shoes, belts, and the risk of having toiletries or penknives confiscated, those in their early 20s know nothing else.

"People my age and a little older can just remember the time before colour-coded security warnings ... But only just," Summers wrote on the Frum Forum website.

Cadet William Walker, who was 12 years old on 9/11, agreed that bin Laden's death was a defining moment for people of his age.

"For ten years of my life and the life of my generation, this man really had been the symbol of evil for us. He was responsible for masterminding the murdering of innocent civilians on American soil," he told CNN.

"I would say that the news of his death was a relief, that that target and threat had been eliminated for America."

The 20-somethings also defend the explosion of joy and patriotism which followed bin Laden's death. Critics say that celebrating any person's death is wrong, and found the "USA, USA" chants tasteless.

But in the Harvard student newspaper The Crimson, graduate Alexandra Petri compared bin Laden with the dark lord from the Harry Potter saga.

"Osama is our Voldemort. He’s our Emperor Palpatine. He is the Face of Evil, a mythical holdover from when we were too young to realize that evil has no face," she wrote.

"After all, our generation is generally not allowed to call anyone evil. No one is evil, they told us. They just had weird childhoods. Except Osama. He was pure evil, an acceptable target...

"So for people my age, the idea that you would greet the news of Osama’s demise with anything short of unmitigated exhilaration is ludicrous."

But while they welcome bin Laden's death, the 9/11 generation have few illusions that the threat of terrorism will diminish any time soon -- in fact alert levels have been heightened amid fears of reprisals.

One threat reported by the SITE jihadist monitoring site after bin Laden's death warned that "all your interests worldwide will be legitimate targets for the mujahideen, starting with universities and schools..."

Campus authorities are aware of the threat, but insist they are prepared.

"We are vigilant every day... Officers routinely train for the emergency scenarios and alerts, and are well equipped to respond," said a spokeswoman for the UCLA's own police force, Nancy Greenstein.

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