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COMMENTARY: Nation’s mood shows a desire for peace

The celebrations that erupted outside the White House and at Ground Zero after President Barack Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed have been criticized as unseemly. As someone who shared in the feeling of exhilaration, I would like to believe that the celebrations were about much more than the death of a mass murderer.

They were, perhaps a little prematurely, but hopefully not woefully so, this generation’s version of the Times Square kiss photographed on VJ-day, the end of World War II.

One of the worst strategic mistakes made at the outset of this conflict, was the narrative framework set up by the Bush administration. This was a War on Terror, a war on a tactic of war itself. Such a war would have no end.

And so, for almost a decade, we have lived out an Orwellian nightmare, the brunt of suffering and sacrifice borne by those who serve in our military, along with their families, while the rest of us got used to color-coded alert systems and getting felt up at airports.

Our War on Terror led to very modern warfare on a far from modern nation, one already reduced to rubble by the misadventures of a former superpower and by years of civil war between the illiterate, poor bandit fighters who defeated it with weapons we provided.

The problem with modern warfare is that it is inherently immoral — not something conducted on a battlefield, among those who choose or are chosen to fight, but in the very heart of civilian life, with women and children suffering the most. Within weeks of the onset of our war in Afghanistan, the civilian deaths there outnumbered our losses on 9/11.

The most exceptional of American exceptionalists, the neo- cons of the Bush administration, then led us into another war on the pretext of the first one, in a country that had no connection to 9/11. These two wars have been endless, the one in Afghanistan being the longest in our history, followed by Vietnam, and then the war in Iraq.

Bin Laden’s death was a reminder. This was the real enemy. And while there will surely be others bent on destruction in his name and in the name of his al-Qaidist ideology, he was finally stopped not on a battlefield, but after years of painstaking intelligence work — on a nighttime raid that made all those years of war seem irrelevant and even sordid.

It’s time to end the wars that have created more enemies than have been conquered. It’s time to move forward. That realization is what was celebrated on Sunday night.

Now, we have to look back to the end of World War II to plan our next steps. Marshall Plans are in order. Humanitarian aid and vigilance are required to ensure that no pocket of the planet becomes a breeding ground for terror, as Afghanistan became after the Cold War.

Bombs and guns aren’t needed for that task. Teachers, doctors and engineers are the ones we need to enlist now. Democracy will come, sooner or later. One of the lessons that I hope we have learned in recent months is that freedom can’t be a genetically engineered crop.

More than anything else, U.S. foreign policy must shift to reflect the best of what America has to offer. No longer can support for brutal dictators be justified in the name of so- called strategic interests at the expense of the democratic aspirations of people around the world. That murky euphemism for corporate profits and U.S. goals must be redefined.

Oil and democracy haven’t mixed and it’s imperative that we develop sustainable energy to fuel our way of life in order to avoid the hypocrisies that have defined our relationship with much of the world for too long.

Let the celebration that erupted on Sunday be a celebration for a new way of relating to each other, the way that the League of Nations was born in the aftermath of the first World War and the United Nations formed after the second.

Let us celebrate our shared humanity, our shared global interest in the support of peace, justice, freedom, and the kind of prosperity that takes into account the consequences for nature itself, which is the foundation of all life on the planet we inhabit. Sunday night can and should be the beginning of the kind of change that every generation hopes for and that few have the opportunity to enact. That is truly a reason to celebrate.

Nafisa Haji is the author of “The Sweetness of Tears” and “The Writing on My Forehead.”