One year after the death of Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Cornellians reflected on a turbulent period of revolutions, election campaigns and political warfare that followed the historic event. Bin Laden — who helped execute terrorist attacks in England, Spain and Africa — was killed by American forces in a raid in Pakistan.
On May 2, 2011, bin Laden’s death prompted a crowd to storm the streets of Collegetown and set off fireworks in celebration. One year later, students and professors said they have been able to view the death of bin Laden more objectively –– though still with the same strong emotional connection.
Rob Fishman ’08, a former Sun columnist, was one of the many Cornell alumni in New York City that went to Ground Zero after bin Laden’s death.
The scene at Ground Zero, Fishman said, reflected “a sort of frat-house mentality: lots of 20- and 30-something males who had come from all of the boroughs and even other states.”
“The mood was celebratory, at times disconcertingly so — patriotism verging on jingoism and even xenophobia,” Fishman said of the atmosphere during bin Laden’s death. “There was also a feeling of catharsis and of community.”
Despite these more positive feelings –– especially after the Arab Spring revolution that escalated after bin Laden’s death –– Prof. Ross Brann, Near Eastern studies, said that the geopolitical structure under which bin Laden thrived has not changed.
“Bin Laden is gone, but the conditions in Muslim ... countries [where] he was able to manipulate to al-Qaeda’s advantage are still present: a political economy in which the people have had virtually no say while a small minority and outsiders benefit,” Brann said. “These same grievances are now manifest in the various uprisings in the region.”
Bin Laden’s death will remain relevant as the U.S. presidential election moves forward, students said. Some said bin Laden’s death would help fortify President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“The killing of bin Laden highlights Obama’s executive leadership skills and his ability to deliver on promises he made during his 2008 campaign,” said Jessie Palmer ’13, president of the Cornell Democrats.
She said bin Laden’s death will likely be a talking point in Obama’s campaign.
“When we begin campaigning for Obama’s reelection, the Cornell Democrats will point to Bin Laden's death as an example of Obama's strength in office,” she said.
However, Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, said bin Laden’s death –– and its one-year anniversary — highlighted a different side of the president: his intention to remain engaged in wars in the Middle East.
“What bothered me was Obama using this anniversary to let us know that we’ll be in this war for another 10 years,” Lowi said.
Bin Laden’s death also highlighted the need to remember and pay tribute to the efforts of Americans who helped safeguard the country, students said.
“Americans should never forget to thank everyone — including President Obama, national security officials and especially the Navy SEALs –– who helped bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” said Raj Kannappan ’13, chair of the Cornell Republicans. “We are forever indebted to those who have sacrificed so much to help protect America and the world from another 9/11 … We must always be vigilant, as it is crystal clear that global terrorism will continue to plague us for a long, long time.”
Many Cornellians who grew up near New York City reaffirmed their relief that the man who had left an indelible impact on their childhoods was finally killed.
“It was a huge celebration because he was one of the most hated men in American history, and we were able to celebrate that he is no longer a threat,” said Kolben Pritchard ’13, a student from Kinnelon, N.J. — a suburb of New York City.
Erika Paley ’14, a student from Short Hills, N.J. –– a town from which many commute to jobs in Lower Manhattan –– said bin Laden’s death provided solace to the families of 9/11 victims.
“I felt that on this day, families who lost fathers and mothers in my hometown have finally gotten closure and [that] justice has been served,” Paley said.
The feelings of closure and safety that Pritchard and Paley described echo comments Prof. David Patel, government, made to The Sun the night bin Laden died.
“Your generation came to consciousness with 9/11 … The vast majority of people who will read this story basically had Osama bin Laden as their bogeyman,” Patel said. “They always had to wonder if he’ll rear his ugly head again.”