Mother of 9/11 victim reacts to death of bin Laden

Donna Marsh O’Connor lost her pregnant daughter Vanessa Lang Langer on 9/11. She responds to the nation’s reaction this week to the death of Osama bin Laden.

As the mother of a young woman killed on 9/11, I have to say that neither I, nor would anyone in my family celebrate or revel at the death of another human being, even if that human being is Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is dead and so, still, is my beautiful daughter. 

On Sunday night as word of the death of bin Laden spread throughout the world, the media documented these celebrations at both Ground Zero and the White House.  Many American citizens denounced the revelry, marking a line in the sand between, once again, us and them, referring to the reports of people throughout the Middle East dancing in the streets after the towers came down. As we sort through what this all does and should mean, I offer the following:

For nearly 10 years Osama bin Laden was portrayed not so much as a criminal mass murderer, but as an almost mythic supervillain, one who could only be brought down by superheroes. He was stripped of all humanity as he became the iconic correlative of evil and terror. 

If we are uncomfortable now with the portrait of American people dancing at his death, we should not judge those caught up in the moment. Instead, we should be willing to take some responsibility for the crafting of this night. We should recognize the energy that came from the elimination of this criminal at the hands of the U.S. government and we should try to craft, instead, the end of the terror years. 

As a family member of a young woman killed in the attacks, I want the response to the death of bin Laden to be one of somber reflection, one that marks how far we have come from the days of that attack and accounts for all we have lost—our civil rights, our trust in our government to act ethically. I want our civil liberties back, our reliance on the Constitution and the rule of law. I want, again, for my children to feel free.

Let’s take that energy and reclaim our land as the land of the free, the civilized and the just. There are dire costs to shirking this duty. We’ve just seen it in our streets.


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