Reflections on the killing of Osama Bin Laden

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May 12, 2011

If the Chatham Courier and The New York Times accurately mirrored the hopes, fears and interests of the residents of their namesake communities, one might conclude that the only thing the inhabitants of New York City cared about was the death of Osama Bin Laden (confirmed by President Barack Obama on national television late Sunday night, May 1), but that it was a non-event 125.6 miles north in the town in Chatham. All week long, and still as I write, The Times was and is dominated by Bin Laden stories, yet the Courier of Thursday, May 5 had nary a word about the killing, the reactions of Chathamites or its meaning and significance (if any) to this community. The Weekender, who characteristically split his week between the two places and whose family was hosting a beloved Chatham friend in their city apartment at the very moment of the President’s somber announcement, believes otherwise, at least with respect to Chatham.

My own reaction to the Bin Laden killing, whether I’m gauging it in the north or the south, like all of ours, is rooted in that day almost 10 years ago. On Sept. 11, I was in the city about 4 miles from Ground Zero and the Trade Center, where I had formerly worked as a state employee. Everyone at or above a certain age (say 17) knows exactly where they were on 9/11 and what they did after hearing about the attacks and the collapse of the Twin Towers. I described my own reactions and movements in a book called “Priceless,” published in 2009, and each sufficiently aged Courier reader knows their own.

After four days in the city that tragic week in September 2001, I drove the family up to Chatham for the weekend, but only after a family debate of sorts about whether leaving the city was an act of disloyalty or cowardice relative to fellow city dwellers who weren’t fortunate enough to have such a refuge. Raging fires still engulfed the crater where the remains of the Towers lay and hope still flickered that people would be pulled out of the smoldering pit alive. But we went to Chatham, in part to be with and console our older daughter, who had just commenced her sophomore year at nearby Williams College, and in part because the respite from the warfront would only be two days. When we got to Chatham we found that our neighbors felt the attack had been as much on them as in the communities to the south in New York City, Virginia and the one diverted from the Capitol to Pennsylvania. Friends in Chatham comforted us and themselves and were an early messenger of the sentiment expressed all over the United States, but most graphically in Chicago, when the Major League season resumed on Sept. 18 and the White Sox scoreboard loudly proclaimed to the Yankees and the world that “Chicago Loves New York.”

During that weekend of Sept. 14-16, 2001, the city/country dichotomy that I had felt so strongly for the first 14 years in the weekly roundtrip from and to New York City and which had been a big part of its allure, started to fade. In the years since, one constant reminder of 9/11 and the need to personally and communally make something positive come from it was the sign on Route 66 near the Chatham/Ghent border that proclaims “Remember September Forget Me Not.” In Chatham and New York City, we have heeded the message, become wiser, more vigilant, more humane and much more aware of the things that unite Americans wherever they reside.

Since Bin Laden’s killing the discourse in Chatham and New York City, that I have heard and participated in, has been pretty much the same. There’s been little gloating, some sense of relief and satisfaction and no illusions about returning to a “safe” pre-9/11 world which we now know was truly illusory. Much of the talk has been about the degree of Pakistani complicity in Bin Laden’s avoidance of capture for so many years. With that awareness has come discussion of new evidence that the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India were actually planned and executed by the ISI, a branch of the Pakistani government, and that the attacks were intended to kill not only Indians but also, specifically, American tourists, whether from Chatham or New York City, and also the tiny Jewish community in the city we used to call Bombay.

My family had visited the epicenter of that attack, the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, just a few months before and fell squarely within the target population, as American tourists and Jews. Then and again this week, we in Chatham and New York City noted the large influx of Pakistani and Indian immigrants to our communities and that these folks were among our hardest working and productive neighbors and had come here for the exact same reasons and with the same intentions as virtually all our ancestors had. The takeaway from 9/11 and Bin Laden’s day of reckoning was pretty much the same in The Weekender’s two hometowns, being that it’s a dangerous world, we’ve got lots of problems “here” and all across our nation, but we’re lucky to be Americans, native born and those who continue to come here seeking better lives.



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