Jeremy Walton, NYU: Late last night, on a return flight from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion biannual meetings, I was stirred from my sleep by an announcement from the cockpit: “Some uplifting political news—we’ve just learned that Osama bin Laden has been killed. It’s a great day to be an American.” Those passengers who remained awake broke into spontaneous applause and cheers, a celebratory scene that achieved quick replication in bars, dormitories, police precincts, living rooms and, most notably, outside of the White House and at Ground Zero in New York.

I did not join my fellow passengers in applause, and a curious emotion, some synthesis of chagrin, cynicism, and grief, gripped me in response. As a scholar of religion and Islam in particular, I have necessarily spent much of the past decade attempting to complicate many of my friends’ and acquaintances’ Manichean views of Islam. In the echoes of jubilation that greeted President Obama’s announcement of Bin Laden’s death, I was only able to hear the failure of all efforts to explain the complexities and contradictions of the political processes that produced and continue to animate violent transnational jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda.


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