Whether or not to feel joyful about Osama bin Laden’s death is up for debate, but dozens of Long Islanders clearly felt better as they gathered May 2 for a candlelight vigil under the stars at a memorial in Eisenhower Park for their friends and relatives lost in the Sept. 11 attacks.
As the group trickled into the monument—which features a replica of the World Trade Center, several steel beams from the site, a wall bearing the names of Nassau County victims and a fountain—to pay their respects, some broke down in tears, just touching the names of their loved ones etched in stone. Those who stuck around joined in a chorus of “God Bless America” led by local lawmakers, who called in the color guard and extended park hours for the informal assembly. Although a feeling of uncertainty hung on the prospect of future retaliation, people gathered here to just be in the moment.
“My heart is heavy tonight for a lot of reasons,” said Debbie Ryan, of Bellmore, who came with her husband, Bill, to remember their friend’s son who was one of the 2,752 killed in lower Manhattan on the day many avoided saying by name. “Are we supposed to be happy that someone’s dead?”
It was more of a reflection than a celebration, Bill chimed in.
Others present took comfort in knowing that the mastermind of the worst mass murder in American history had been held accountable.
“It was a good day,” was a line echoed throughout the crowd, although those words belied the somber mood. Despite closure being the theme of the event, the feeling remained elusive for some.
“I feel a sense of justice but no closure,” said Lisa King of Levittown, who lost two cousins—John Viggiano, a New York City firefighter and his brother, Joseph, a New York City police officer.
That feeling was echoed by Talat Hamdani, of Lake Grove, whose son Mohammad Salman, a certified paramedic and New York Police Department cadet, rushed into the burning Twin Towers to try and help. His body was identified six months later.
“I was just numb,” Hamdani tells the Press in a phone interview from her home.
She listened to Obama’s speech, turned off her cell phone and simply went to sleep. She went to work the next day as a substitute teacher at a private school in Lake Grove. She knows Bin Laden’s death will not bring back her son.
“On a personal note, it made no difference to me, none at all,” Hamdani, a member of the non-violence advocacy group September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, says. “If it had, I would not have continued my daily life as normally as I always do. It really had no impact; it really had no impact at all. But yes, now as time went on, I realized it’s a symbolic event that will hopefully turn the page towards peace.”
Rob Spataro, of South Setauket, whose 32-year-old brother John was on the 97th floor in Tower One of the World Trade Center when the hijacked United Airlines Flight 11 slammed into its northeast side, tells the Press he didn’t hear the news of bin Laden’s demise until the morning after Obama’s announcement. Although he didn’t get overly emotional, he says that his parents did.
“They were up all night. They had family calling them,” says Spataro, who owns a Hershey’s Ice Cream parlor in West Islip. “Me, I was just trying to watch the news, trying to figure out if it was real… It was weird, it didn’t really hit me until the end of the day when I went to work. Just trying to figure out what happened, what it meant.”
His brother was “very close to my mom,” Spataro adds. “He actually spoke to her that morning. He was the type of person who called every morning just to say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ He would be in the office by 7, 7:30. By 8, 8:30, he’d call my mom up, ‘Hey, Ma, what are you doing?’ He’d do it every day. It was routine for him. For her, he called everyday. It was her first son… It was extremely tough. They never recovered from that, my parents.
“I just think this is part of the process of trying to get to a point where everyone is held accountable,” he adds. “It’s better late than never.”
It was a sentiment shared by Dr. Faroque Khan, a trustee at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.
“What took so long?” he asks the Press. “It was mixed emotion when you see somebody getting killed, but considering what he did, and what he initiated for the last 10 years, I think he met his end and justice was served.”
Khan says bin Laden’s doctrine of hate was a complete perversion of Islam.
“It’s completely twisted, I don’t understand it, I just don’t understand it,” he says. “Because attacking bystanders, you know there are rules of engagement, even when a country is at war, Muslims are told that you don’t damage even a fruit-bearing tree because it harms the community. So by this killing, and bombings and suicides, this is totally from my understanding of Islam. It’s absolutely the opposite. If you look at the prophet [Muhammad], for example, how he led his life, nothing like this pans out anywhere.
“In the middle of a war there are conflicts between opposing forces, but not this random destruction,” he continues, adding that bin Laden’s death will inevitably have some impact on the terrorist network he leaves behind. “He was the rallying point for this movement. Certainly it will hurt. How far, how deep, I don’t know, that’s something we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Shaik Ubaid, co-chairman of the New York Chapter of the Muslim Peace Coalition who lived on Long Island for 25 years, tells the Press he was relieved upon hearing of bin Laden’s death. He views it not just as an end to at least some of the hurt suffered by his victims’ families, but as an opportunity to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There will be some closure to the victims’ families, not only here but all over the world,” he says. “Unlike President Bush, Obama should declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ and, of course, it has to be an orderly withdrawal, but he should end this war. I mean, we need all that money here, and it’s a very good opportunity.”
Habeeb Ahmed, chairman of the board of trustees of the Islamic Center of Long Island and a member of the Nassau Human Rights Commission, also believes bin Laden’s death is a good opportunity for an end to armed conflicts in the Middle East.
“My first reaction was that I was relieved that this happened and that he deserved what he got,” he says. “Definitely he was no Muslim leader. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of Muslims all over the world. He was encouraging people to do all these things that he never did himself. It’s good that he is gone. I hope we will have more tolerance and respect for each other.
“I hope we can move on from here, and that will break the backbone of al-Qaida now that the leader is gone,” Ahmed continues. “Hopefully things will simmer down, and we will be out of both the wars and bring our troops home safely.
That is most important, because these wars are not helping anybody. They are just creating more bad blood between the West and Islam. And a lot of people on our side are not happy losing our men and women in foreign lands.
“There has to be a political solution to this,” he insists. “It can’t be a military solution.”