Monday, May 2, 2011

People v. Symbols - Thinking About Bin Laden

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve spent some time in the last twelve hours trying to figure out how I feel about the death of Osama Bin Laden. My Twitter feed was practically exploding last night with a strange mixture of: “I don’t like celebrating death,” and “WOOOHOOO.”

I guess I agree more with the former sentiment than the latter, but, even though Osama Bin Laden was a living breathing person (at the basic level, just like me), thinking about his death I realized that I didn’t really think of him that way. I think of him as a symbol. Which is an odd way to think about any person.

Part of this thought process may also be coming from the way I was thinking about the royal wedding this last week. Watching the replay footage of Kate and William taking their wedding kiss before a cheering crowd of thousands with newscasters commenting, the only thing I could think about was how weird it must be to be Kate Middleton (or William for that matter). These are living, breathing people who have been turned into an idea and have become symbols for thousands (millions?) of people.

Yes, Osama Bin Laden was a fellow human, but he was also a symbol, and more than that, he actively sought the role. There is no doubt in my mind, that once you achieve that level of symbolic recognition, your life’s meaning changes, for yourself and for others. Most of us go about our days with little concern for the impact of our actions upon society at large. But for a person who has become a symbol? That’s the point.

Clearly Bin Laden’s death is meaningful to many different people for many different reasons. The best I can think to hope for is:
  1. That some of those people find some solace in the destruction of one of society’s greatest symbols of terrorism.
  2. That his death isn’t viewed as a martyrdom by too many and used as inspiration for retaliatory attacks on any scale.

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