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Jenna Arnold Headshot

See Real Evil, Do No Evil

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Like many Americans, when I first heard the news of Osama bin Laden's downfall on Sunday night, I was relieved to close that chapter. My relief turned into uneasiness shortly after our President's speech, when my Facebook, Twitter, and Google feeds were flooded with images of youth partying in front of the White House and revelers at Ground Zero.

Why do I think that these reactions, in combination with nasty headlines, such as "Rot in Hell," are problematic? Frankly, I'm worried. In a transnational media environment, our celebratory reaction to a violent take-down can have an incendiary effect abroad.

Part of my uneasiness is tied to the chilling images of youth who rejoiced in the streets after the 9/11 attacks. Of course, the targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden and his accompanying cadre is not the same thing as the indiscriminatory massacre of thousands of innocent civilians on 9/11. Still, it is a celebration of death and I wish that our response looked radically different from theirs.

Our reaction to his death could perpetuate these divisions and not only turn bin Laden into a martyr, but recruit more people into violent, anti-American organizations. It is true, the shouts of triumph have quieted and many are taking the time to reflect, but the calls for photos of bin Laden's body to be released (and the fake ones circulating the internet) continue to foster an attitude that is not conducive to global peace. I respect Obama's decision to withhold the photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse.

The truth is, it is not just our foreign policy and how the international community perceives us now that makes us unpopular in the eyes of the world. Americans today have a bevy of unofficial, buxom cultural ambassadors on the international stage. Hollywood is the United States' most popular export. The Kardashian sisters, the miscreants of the Jersey Shore, and the characters in bootleg copies of Clueless can inadvertently define the American people. Is this fair? No. But that is what's coming down the pop-culture pipeline. Add to this the imagery of celebration the recent days and the debate over releasing the gruesome images of bin Laden's corpse, and we look ignorant. This can easily add kerosene to an already smoldering fire of anti-American sentiment.

Now we have a new opportunity to evolve as a society just a little. We can show an increased awareness -- show that we understand how we are perceived. It could be a leap forward in cultural understanding if we take the opportunity to learn. If we want to be the 'best' country on the planet then we should think about broadening our global perspective to learn more about how our behavior is seen by others.

Humility is a better approach. Instead of continuing jeers, let's take a long and a very still moment of silence to remember those who perished at the hands of a psychopath. Let's remember those who perished because of war, foreign and American, since that day.

I believe that in our reflections of Osama Bin Laden's death we should turn our attention to building bridges. If we can expose and embrace our common trait of human dignity, then we can end violence. Organizations like Soliya, an organization that facilitates dialogue among students from diverse background, and Seeds of Peace, an organization that inspires and empowers new generations of young leaders on individual and societal levels, are ahead of the curve.

The world is small. The differences in our values, in our beliefs, and in our assumptions, that look so diverse from the outside, are just interesting variations of the fabric of our species.

We are being watched under the microscope by the rest of the world, so let our national reflection in this time be a somber one. Now we have a new opportunity as a society to evolve -- just a little.

I will take this event as a time of reflection, a time to remember those who perished on September 11, 2001, on Pan Am flight 103, in Madrid in 2004 and the many others who lost their lives to the workings of Osama bin Laden. This is a time for humility, for healing, for reaching out to our fellow humans and mending what has become decades of catastrophic loss at the hands of those who only see the evil others cultures sow and not the good.