Overseas, reaction to bin Laden’s death muted

A man watches television news broadcast

May 3, 2011

On Sunday night, thousands of Americans turned out in the streets of Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and other cities to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the joyous crowds and around-the-clock news coverage were largely confined to the United States, according to Northeastern students on co-op in India, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

News about taxi drivers on strike is more likely to unite people in India, said sophomore finance major Chris Turney, who is on co-op at IBM in Bangalore.

“Absolutely no one in the office was talking about it,” said Turney, who watched a telecast on bin Laden in Hindi shortly after the news broke. “No one expects any kind of public reaction.”

He called bin Laden’s death a “symbolic gesture,” adding, “If it brings comfort to people who lost loved ones [in the September 11 terrorist attacks], then I’m happy.”

People in Germany cheered the news, said junior international affairs major Angela Loporto, but appeared unlikely to gather in public displays of support. Loporto is on co-op with Bisnode Business Information Group, in Darmstadt.

“Germany is not a huge target of international terrorism, so it’s not something they will celebrate, like in America,” said Loporto. “But they’re happy a terrorist is gone.”

She learned of bin Laden’s death through the BBC News website. “It was kind of surprising,” she said. “I think it’s a big deal.”

President Obama’s speech on Sunday night, in which he called bin Laden a “mass murderer of Muslims,” resonated strongly in Dubai, where junior finance major Shoaib Kabani is on co-op for a global management-consulting firm.

“What hit home in this region was what Obama said about Muslims,” said Kabani, a Muslim-American who traveled to Abu Dhabi on Monday afternoon. “Muslims for peace welcome Osama’s demise.”

Third-year international affairs and anthropology dual major Rebecca Willett explained the meaning of the historic news to seventh graders at the Little Red House bilingual school in Ocotepeque, Honduras.

Her young students, she said, have a skewed view of current events and politics around the world. “A couple of the students asked me if the U.S. and Pakistan were going to fight now,” said Willett. “I explained to them that bin Laden was a member of Al Qaeda, which functions in Pakistan but does not represent the nation of Pakistan.”

She didn’t notice any unusual coverage in the local papers. “I just did a quick skim of a couple Honduran news outlets and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” she said.

For more information, please contact Jason Kornwitz at 617-373-5729 or at j.kornwitz@neu.edu