By Rizwan Qureshi
Exclusive | The Crescent Post
One year ago today, most people in this country were celebrating an amazingly heroic achievement by our American military, the assassination of one of the most despised men in history, Osama bin Laden. Like the assassination of President Kennedy almost fifty years ago, our younger generation will forever recall this moment with the question: “Where were you when you heard Bin Laden was killed?”
On May 1, 2011, while most of the world was glued to a television, my wife Kelly and I were going through a very different historic moment of our own. While this dangerous mission by our Navy Seals was being conducted in the country of my parent’s birth, I was sitting next to Kelly’s bed at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City helping her cope with labor pain as we impatiently awaited the arrival of our first child. As the brave special forces dealt with the unknown of their dangerous mission, we were dealing with the unexpected anxieties associated with the birthing process and the daunting reality of being parents for the very first time.
Then it happened. My wife Kelly gave birth to the most beautiful thing we have ever seen, our daughter Lila Grace Qureshi.
The emotion of the moment when we first laid eyes on Lila will remain forever etched in the memory of our hearts. It was a singular beautiful moment in our lives; an experience most parents would agree is something words cannot give justice. It is something that cannot be described, but can only be experienced. After our last visitors departed, we finally had our first moments together as a family. We were very tired and had not slept for over 48 hours. Although it is somewhat embarrassing to admit, even despite this incredible moment, I decided to turn on the television in our hospital room so that I could check the score of the Philadelphia Phillies game.
Although it was very early in the season, it was a big game because it was against our archrival, the New York Mets. As a Phillie’s fan who resides in Queens, this meaningless game was significant only for my own selfish bragging rights. The game had gone to extra innings, neither team had scored and the Mets were batting. I recall so vividly the confused look on the face of the Mets batter and even remember him looking towards the catcher and umpire to exhibit his confusion. It was at that moment that through the television I could hear that the crowd was chanting in unison. Even as a Philadelphia sports fan I have to admit, I immediately thought the worst since our fans don’t have the best reputation. As I watched closely, the fans were celebrating like the game had been won, but the game was tied 0-0 in the 13th inning. Then as I listened closely it became clearer and louder. The fans were chanting “USA USA USA!” It was at that moment that the play-by-play announcer stated that the fans were reacting to the breaking news: Osama bin Laden was officially dead.
Realizing the significance of this moment, I immediately turned to one of the cable news channels and learned that the President was soon going to address the nation. Almost simultaneously, I logged on to Facebook and Twitter to learn more about what had happened and to see the reactions. To put it simply, I was disappointed to see that the reactions were largely a celebration of death with vulgar undertones. The most common comment was “rot in hell Osama” or some variation thereof.
Maybe it was because Kelly and I were so engulfed in the miracle of life seeing our baby Lila take her first breaths, we were slightly disappointed in the overall societal response to this historic event. Although I will not judge the reactions of others, I was embarrassed to see that Americans would celebrate death, albeit the death of one of the most ruthless killers in our history. It reminded me of the disgust many of us felt when we witnessed the charred remains of US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Iraq at the height of the Iraqi war. Although these were only reactions in social media, I really believed then and believe now that we are better than that as a nation. After reading through profane and sometimes violent reactions to bin Laden’s death, I came across a single Facebook status that expressed how I felt.
The status was allegedly a quote of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it read: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” It was later reported that this Tweet was initially posted by Penn Jillette, the famous illusionist of the magic duo Penn & Teller, and that those words were never uttered by Dr. King. Whether they were Dr. King’s words or whether they were just created by a magician, they accurately reflected my feelings on that day.
It is undisputed that bin Laden and those who share his views represent hate, violence and intolerance. Their bastardization of the religion of my birth, Islam, has served as a pretext for the unjust murder of thousands of innocent people. However, just like bin Laden represents division, the birth of our baby Lila proves that these two worlds can coexist. The fact that a first generation American of Pakistani descent and his wife, a Catholic of Western European heritage, can come together to create such a beautiful life is a testament to the fact that there is no inherent “clash of civilizations” at all.
The religious texts of most monotheistic faiths, including Christianity and Islam, are derived from the Old Testament. So if we do not want to trust the false quote of a Las Vegas magician, we can look no farther than the Old Testament which says: “Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17). Again, I will not judge the reaction of others, but as we reflect on this one year anniversary, let us instead focus on the virtues of our country and what it represents. I believe that Lila’s ancestors, whether they emigrated here in the 1970s from Pakistan or at the turn of 20th Century from Western Europe, they came to this country to escape a world where the celebration of death is the norm.
On 9/11, Osama bin Laden not only conspired to hijack planes, but he also hijacked the peaceful faith of more than a billion people, including my family. I am glad that Osama bin Laden is gone, but I will also not rejoice in a celebration of his death. Kelly and I are not the most religious people in the world, but there is no question that even despite our stark differences in culture and religion, it was the basic Judeo-Christian-Islamic tenets of peace, love, tolerance and respect that brought us together. Thus on this day let us celebrate the virtues of a tolerant America where people of all backgrounds peacefully coexist, rather than solely focus on the death of an evil man. So during this one year anniversary of bin Laden’s death, I hope some will also remember that only in America is it possible for a beautiful child like Lila to be born into a Pakistani, Scots-Irish, German, Muslim, Catholic family.
So as our nation commemorates the one-year anniversary death of an infamous terrorist, my family will instead be celebrating the first birthday of our little bundle of joy named Lila.
Rizwan A. Qureshi is a litigation attorney for a large international law firm in Manhattan. He lives in Queens with his wife Kelly Frame Qureshi and their daughter Lila Grace.