JISHOU, HUNAN — While Osama bin Laden was a big name in the West, he was a blip that barely showed up on the radar of most Chinese students here. So, I and my fellow foreign teachers have had to explain why his death is such a big deal.
For example, one guy was surprised to learn that nearly 3,000 people died in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. I explained that bin Laden had taken credit for the 9/11 attacks, and that was why he had been on the USA’s most wanted list for the past decade.
A girl — one of our smartest students — wanted to know if the successful raid on bin Laden’s suburban lair would mean President Barack Obama would get re-elected. I offered the surmise that Obama’s approval ratings got a boost, but time will tell whether his rating remains high. There are a few other issues he needs to deal with before the next elections.
Her classmates asked how Pakistan, our ostensible ally in the fight against bin Laden and Al Qaeda, will react after US forces swooped in near a Pakistani military base to engage bin Laden in his own home. I had no answer for that, other than to note that Pakistan has egg on its face right now, and a whole lotta ‘splaining to do.
To my surprise, some students have picked up on the conspiracy theories floating around that (1) bin Laden has been dead for years, or (2) the raid and killing were just a ruse and bin Laden is still alive. Most have discounted the likelihood of either being true, though.
I had an interesting QQ chat with another fellow who argued that bin Laden had a valid bone to pick with the USA, given our penchant for invading Muslim states and/or interfering with their politics. I agreed with him to a small extent, but pointed out that Al Qaeda had specifically targeted civilians who had nothing to do with American involvement in international affairs. Then I added that New York City is my hometown, and so I took the destruction of the World Trade Center and the death there a little personally.
You may have heard that the State Department has issued a warning to all Americans abroad to be careful and avoid crowds, stay at home or in our hotel, etc., in case of Al Qaeda reprisals. I got one from the US Embassy in Beijing. But there’s nothing to worry about. I doubt Al Qaeda has any presence in a poor section of south-central China. I worry more about the pickpockets on the buses and the streets downtown. So, I’m OK.