The 9/11 attacks traumatized America. I grieved for those killed and those who lost loved ones. My heart broke at the hatred directed at my country and my fellow Americans, as though we were considered less than human. I felt fear, helplessness, and guilt that I couldn’t protect the country I loved. I felt confused: I considered no one my enemy and didn’t understand why someone considered me theirs, or why they felt violence was the only way problems could be solved.
I became a conflict resolution practitioner because of 9/11, and currently work with Muslim-majority country partners on educational and peace building programs. Like 9/11, the death of Osama bin Laden led to many emotions and much reflection.
The man who claimed responsibility for 9/11 and numerous other attacks changed the lives both of Americans and many others across the world. While some celebrated his death, I and most here reacted with hope for a new life – that our country and world can now live with a little less fear and pain, a little more safety and peace.
I also felt sad. Every human life is God’s precious creation, and the loss of any human life is cause to mourn. I grieved for bin Laden’s family that lost a father and husband. I felt sorrow for so much wasted potential. What a force for good he could have been had he used his influence for peace instead of war.
I felt appreciation that, according to The New York Times, Americans consulted with Islamic experts before washing his body, wrapping it in white, saying prayers in Arabic and burying it within 24 hours, showing bin Laden the type of compassion he never showed his victims.
I felt fear. The hatred Al Qaeda bears toward us has now likely been greatly magnified. How might they retaliate?
I felt pain. When I see bin Laden, I remember 9/11, reliving memories I’d tried to bury. Wounds may become easier to bear with time, but they never go away.
I felt compassion and a compulsion to pray – for bin Laden’s victims, for greater peace in the world and for bin Laden himself. Catholics believe Jesus taught us to “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who mistreat you” (Matthew 5:44). He asked God to forgive his murderers. Bin Laden died on Divine Mercy Sunday, when Catholics celebrate God’s mercy toward even the most hardened sinners. I prayed that God would have mercy on his soul, and forgive him the evil he had done. The Bible says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons” (Luke 15:7). By praying for repentance and forgiving those who have hurt us, what joy we surely bring to God.
Facing so many emotions, it was in praying and forgiving that I was finally able to find peace. With each act of prayer, we make love stronger than hate. Those who are still committed to hatred and violence need our prayers. The world needs our prayers for peace.
I pray we Americans and our brothers and sisters in the Muslim world can be united in working together for greater peace. We all suffered under bin Laden. His mission was to sow suspicion and hostility, fear and intolerance, violence and hatred between the Muslim world and America.
We can counter this mission in several ways: by living up to our best values within our own societies and in how we interact with others; meeting and learning about each other; respecting each other as individuals; rejecting collective blame of nations or religions; studying and practicing conflict resolution principles; and working cross-culturally as citizens to address international issues grieving our societies.
Let’s apply the “people power” demonstrated by Egyptians and Tunisians to our relations, with ordinary citizens creating peaceful change from the grassroots.
US President Barack Obama marked bin Laden’s death by repeating that America will never be at war with Islam.
In America and the Muslim world, most share the same hopes for our families, our countries, and our world. Let’s work together, and pray together, for the peaceful coexistence bin Laden sought to prevent – that we may be one human family under God.
Let the world remember our legacy, not his.