When Navy SEAL Team Six slid down their zip lines in the wee hours of May 2, 2011, a 10-year reign of terror was about to come to an end.
In a matter of minutes, one of the most hated and wanted men in the entire world had met his reckoning. That day, the world was allowed to breathe a sigh of relief, and the actions of a few avenged the deaths of thousands of innocents. Osama bin Laden was dead.
Yet there is still a legacy that follows bin Laden, one outside of his villainous story. Just as the brave men and women who were a part of Operation Neptune Spear were fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, the world’s most hated man was a father and grandfather. In the aftermath of the shooting, bin Laden was survived by several of his wives, four children and five grandchildren.
The elimination of bin Laden was a necessary action, and if the hands of time could be turned back, the only change to be made would be finding bin Laden sooner.
Though we should show no regrets or remorse in our actions towards bin Laden, according to Zakaria al-Sadah, his brother-in-law through his fifth wife, the 9/11 mastermind had seen the error in his ways towards the end of his life and cautioned his own children and grandchildren to “study, live in peace and don’t do what I am doing or what I have done.” He pleaded for his descendants to turn away from the road of bloody jihad.
It’s easy to say that bin Laden’s revelation is a sign of his acknowledgement that the Westerners are not all harlots and infidels. It might even show bin Laden’s desire to lay down his arms, end all the senseless violence and live a life of peace with the West — had his actions not caused the freedom-loving world to demand his head on a silver platter.
But as a father and a grandfather, bin Laden showed there was some sort of humanity left in him, one that might still be present in other terrorists.
It’s easy to demonize our enemies in times of war. In America, the Muslim population has had to put up with the same type of racial fear that plagued the Japanese, Germans and Italians in the 1940s, when World War II caused their neighbors to doubt their allegiances.
Although immoral and unjust, it is a purely human and natural thing to doubt someone who could be connected to our enemies, just as it is a purely human and natural thing to want the best for our children. What was best for bin Laden’s children was, apparently, peace with the west and an education in America.
A chapter in history has already been written. There’s no need to open a new book and tell how the revenge-driven offspring of bin Laden joined their father’s terrorist network and declared a new war against the west. Osama bin Laden is dead, but his children are not our enemies, nor are the children of the insurgents who have already been put down in the name of ridding the world of this plague called terrorism.
The effects of an American 10-year occupation of a Middle Eastern country can be felt in Iraq and Afghanistan. An entire generation grew into early adolescence developing a familiarity with American culture through the presence of US boots on the ground. With our presence, countless little Iraqi children have learned to listen to the music US Soldiers and Marines listened to when they were on patrol. They’ve tasted the food we eat. They’ve learned the way we think. With their own eyes, they learned that the American people are a proud and industrious people, not demons and infidels as Taliban leaders would preach to them.
We have won the hearts and minds of a new generation of Iraqis, one that will never tolerate the hate preached by al-Qaeda and their allies. Just as the hateful days of the Jim Crow laws have passed into the annals of history, so too might the days of Western hatred, and an entire people will no longer have to suffer under the oppressive thumb of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The surviving wives and children of Osama bin Laden are being held by Pakistan’s Inter-service Intelligences. These are the same people who were either too negligent to realize bin Laden was living on their own mail delivery route or were actively acting to hide bin Laden. Either way, the ISI should not be trusted with the survivors of the Abottabad raid. Children should not be held as prisoners for their father’s actions. They need to be released into the care of their uncle or be given safe passage to the United States.
Terrorism is a crime of treason against the human race and bin Laden was a terrorist, but his children are not terrorists. His grandchildren are not terrorists. And to ensure they understand why the entire world wanted their father dead, they must be given the chance bin Laden never had but always wished for them: A chance to live in the US and learn the ways of a freedom-loving people.
James Wang is a history freshman and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.