Iraqi refugee Marwan Sameer, 19, waved his Iraq flag in the crowds outside the White House the night it was announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
By: Emily Dickinson
After hearing the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death on the evening of May 1st, Sameer and his friends cancelled their study plans and decided to head to the White House. When he arrived, there were few people but within minutes he was in the middle of a massive crowd of cheering, ecstatic Americans.
His photo ended up online, but he didn’t get the chance to explain why he was there to the media, as he had to leave to study for finals at The George Washington University, where he studies international affairs .
I wasn’t chanting and celebrating the death of Osama. I wanted to make sure people would know I was celebrating the fact that we scored a point against terrorism,” he said.
Sameer said he was able to identify with the feeling that was exuding through the crowd the night of May 1st.
For me personally, Bin Laden was the cause of 9/11, which started the War on Terror, which eventually led to the war of 2003 in Iraq that separated me from my family and friends to become a refugee,” he explained.
At the beginning of the Iraq War, Sameer was forced to move to Kurdistan following threats to his family from an unknown group, but his parents had to stay in Baghdad because they were unable to find jobs elsewhere.
In 2006 a New York Times journalist wrote a story about Sameer’s family that especially touched a family in Connecticut. Sameer was given the opportunity to move to the United States in 2007, where he still lives today.
Bringing the Iraqi flag to the White House
As he held his Iraqi flag high and proud, he yelled “We support” so that his message was clear. At one point, he recalls, an American thanked him for bringing the flag and showing his support.
I wanted to show that this is not just an American celebration,” said Sameer. “We are all on the same side and we all want to be safe and have our freedom.”
However, the flag that he brought could have been misinterpreted. He had the old Iraqi flag with three green stars which represent “Unity, Freedom, and Socialism,” from the previous al-Ba’ath regime, led by Saddam Hussein. The new flag does not have the stars on it anymore.
He received criticism from family members because he was holding up the old flag, which was given to him by his friends when he left Iraq.
I’m definitely against al-Ba’ath and against Saddam, and I respect the new flag, but the one I hold is the one from my childhood and memories, so it’s more of a personal flag than a political message,” he said.
Still a very real threat
Because Sameer was in the United States when this event happened, he was able to express his joy and join in on the celebrations without fear. However, he said, if he was in Iraq he would not have openly celebrated like he did with his American friends.
Those insurgents and radicals are mostly active back in my home and where my friends are, so they knew killing Bin Laden wasn’t going to change anything so they were rather careless of the fact that Americans were celebrating.”
He explained that because modern terrorism is based on small cells that act individually, that the death of Bin Laden doesn’t mean that the world is a safer place.
As reported by CNN, al-Qaeda released a statement threatening to take action against the United States, stating that the death of Bin Laden would serve as a “curse that chases the Americans and their agents, and goes after them inside and outside their countries,” the message said.
Hence, al-Qaeda’s activity is not that affected by the death of their ‘leader’ since they mostly act on their own and they are, probably, as powerful as they were before his death in the Middle East,” said Sameer.
Representative of the moderate Muslim view
Mervat Abou Oaf, professor of journalism and mass communication at the American University of Cairo, said she empathizes with Americans and thinks they have a right to celebrate payback to the man that caused so much harm to their loved ones.
At the end of the day, 9/11 is a miserable event for anyone who cares about humanity. I believe that they are saluting their lack of fear, because imagine the fear that they have been living in,” she said.
The relief that America is feeling, she explained, is also very real in Egypt, a primarily Muslim country, where she lives.
Despite the feeling of relief, she said, “I wouldn’t salute the killing of anybody, because at the end of the day, it’s a loss of a life.”
Sameer agrees with this view.
I felt that Americans, at least the educated ones that were in front of the white house, were not celebrating the death of a person, even if he is evil,” he said. “We would be as bad as the terrorists if we had danced over the death of a human being.”