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Osama Is Dead! Will the Healing Begin?

| May 11, 2011

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Iranian-American writer Noushin Darya Framke

Iranian-American writer Noushin Darya Framke: it's time to move on from the "war on terror."

I woke up May 2 to an AP alert on my phone: Osama Bin Laden dead, buried at sea. At first I thought he had just died—not that we had caught and killed him.  But soon enough I found out that this was not a regular day, but one of retribution. Will justice be done after a decade of war? I wondered—when, in the end, the “war on terror” is not what delivered the most wanted fugitive of our time.

Back on 9/11 in 2001, my family and I had recently moved back to New Jersey from living in London. We were at the tail end of a year-long house renovation project, and I shared the news that fateful day with a crew of Polish painters, Italian carpenters and Honduran landscapers, all of us in front of the TV expressing horror in several languages at once. When the second tower fell, that’s when I felt the threat at my own door. I decided I had to go pick up my kids from school, which is exactly what other mothers felt at that moment around the entire region. I spoke briefly to my husband, at work in Manhattan, and told him to get a room in the city. It was going to be impossible to make it home.

What else was impossible was to know what this day would mean, going forward, for the whole world, but also for my own family, with so many connections to the Middle East. In 2001, I had been a U.S. citizen for 15 years and had managed to live as an Iranian-American with one leg in each world. Maintaining both identities would become more and more difficult now. In the days following 9/11, huge crowds held candlelight vigils around the world in solidarity with America. Not surprising to me, the spontaneous crowds with candles were particularly large in Iran since there is no people-to-people hostility from Iran to America. We got phone calls from friends and family in Iran, checking in on us to express their outrage but also their support so that we could pull through. We heard from them that nothing could ever justify such an act of evil.

However, in short order, our president, George W. Bush, began to speak of Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil”—in the same category as North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  No longer allowed to feel comfortable as an Iranian-American, I was put in the enemy camp by my own president. Every day, as the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war took shape, Middle-Eastern Americans were treated more and more as the unwelcome other. Ten years later with two wars and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, there is now an enormous gulf between Middle-Eastern Americans and most of their neighbors. Not to mention the animosity spilling into a clash between East and West and the 1.6 billion Muslims being painted with a single brush.

The news of the death of Osama Bin Laden takes me back to the spontaneous outpouring of support on the streets of the cities in Iran after 9/11. It was a missed opportunity when the United States could have started a new chapter with Iran—ending the period since the hostage-taking of 1979. Instead, the Bush Administration took us to war with a country that did not attack us—Iraq—and in the process, handed Iran what I have called “Bush’s Shia Victory.” Our war with Iraq brought about the emergence of Shia Iran as a regional power as they reaped the benefits of the fall of the Sunni minority and the rise of the Shia majority in their backyard. Something Iran never dreamed would happen. "Thank you, Mr. Bush!" I could imagine the leaders saying. Iranians flooded into Iraq to make pilgrimages to Shia holy sites, opened for the first time in generations. Bush’s war guaranteed the ascendance of the hard-liners in Iranian politics throughout the decade.  The reformers in that government were crushed after their outreach to the United States, and Iran's help with intelligence against the Taliban following 9/11, did not pay off.

Today presents the powers of peace another opportunity. Will President Obama use this great victory and his position of strength over these terrorists to help broker peace in the Middle East? The Obama Administration was caught by surprise when the uprisings began to spread from North Africa to the Middle East not knowing whom to support: the protestors in the streets or the dictators we had long backed. Stability is what we called for, as though our stability were not in fact their tyranny. Finally, seeing the writing on the wall, the United States came out on the side of the people and abandoned the brutal and corrupt dictators. But by then we had relinquished the mastery of our actions to the protestors in the streets of the Arab Awakening.

Now that we have spent untold lives and over a trillion dollars on the “war on terror,” we awake to the news that intelligence and a secret operation led to the end of the hunt for the terrorist Bin Laden. It seems fitting that the head of the CIA is moving to become defense secretary. The military war we launched a decade ago, the cost of which has been more than our country can bear, was not what brought about the capture of Bin Laden.

Will we learn the lesson that we can’t fight terrorism by going to war and putting boots on the ground? Will we use this fleeting moment in time as the opportunity that it is? Let us use this victory over the forces of terror to open a new chapter with the Middle East and end the paranoia that has hung over our lives for the last decade, from airports all over the world to the halls of power in Washington. It is time to close the book on fear and the “war on terror.”

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