June 25, 2018
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Mainers express relief at news of bin Laden’s death

By Eric Russell, Jen Lynds and Sharon Kiley Mack

Reaction across Maine over Sunday’s killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan ranged from celebratory to solemn to cautionary as Mainers breathed sighs of relief but also wondered: What’s next?

Tom and Jane Zimmerman of the Aroostook County town of Smyrna woke up to two urgent texts on their cell phones Monday morning saying the U.S. had finished the job that their late son, Marine 1st Lt. James Zimmerman, had helped start.

The texts were brief: Osama bin Laden was dead.

It was news that Jane Zimmerman said she was happy to hear. Her son died Nov. 2, 2010, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province in Afghanistan, and the young man considered it “his job” to rid the world of bin Laden.

“Osama bin Laden was a leader of wrong, and he damaged or took the lives of a whole lot of people,” she said. “Finding him was part of the purpose of this war.”

While other parts of the country rejoiced in the streets at news of the terrorist leader’s death, a somber mood settled over Lubec on Monday as residents in the small Down East town were reminded of loss.

Two community members, Robert Norton, 85, and Jacqueline Norton, 61, were passengers on American Airlines Flight 11, which originated in Boston and was the first of the two hijacked planes to slam into the towers at New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The couple was en route to Los Angeles to attend the wedding of Jackie Norton’s son, Jason Seymour.

Residents of Lubec established a memorial garden for the couple next to the Lubec Congregational Christian Church, which the Nortons attended. Several bouquets were left at the garden Monday.

Selectman JoAnne Case, who knew the Nortons from church, said they were exceptionally nice people.

“Everyone in town is talking about this today but in subdued tones,” she said. “This has opened a lot of old wounds, especially since television coverage keeps showing 9/11 over and over again.”

Case said bin Laden’s death “should bring closure for the families and friends, but it will never heal our loss here in Lubec.”

Robert Norton’s cousin Lawton Carter, 99, said his first thought on hearing the news Monday morning was “good riddance.”

“They should have got him a long time ago,” said Carter. “It’s a good thing he is gone.”

Lubec resident Shelly Tinker said that on hearing the news Monday morning, she went straight to a closet, retrieved her American flag and hung it on her home. “I was so proud,” she said. “I kept thinking of the Nortons’ son and how he must feel today — bittersweet.”

Sgt. Eric Martins of the Somerset County town of Detroit, who is currently stationed with the U.S. Army in Virginia, said of bin Laden, “I think it’s great he’s finally been brought to justice.”

“Hopefully there was some good info collected that will lead to other victories in the war on terror,” said Martins, who served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. “I really hope that this will bring some type of closure to all the people who lost friends and loved ones on 9/11.”

University of Maine senior Muna Abdullahi was holed up inside Fogler Library late Sunday night cramming for a final exam when the news broke.

As she left the library early Monday morning and walked across the Orono campus, she heard horns honking. She saw classmates parading with American flags, saying things like “It’s a great day.”

She still didn’t know what had happened.

“Someone said, ‘Didn’t you hear?’ and I said, ‘No,’” Abdullahi said Monday inside Memorial Union on campus. “So they said, ‘He’s dead; bin Laden’s dead.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’”

As a political science major and a Muslim, the UMaine senior had researched and written plenty about bin Laden during her years as a student. But when the news came to her early Monday, she had almost forgotten about the most prominent and feared terrorist in recent history.

“I think I was just tired of it. It had been so long that we were looking for him,” said the 23-year-old Portland native and president of UMaine’s Muslim Student Association.

Abdullahi said it is unfortunate that bin Laden carried out such horrific acts of terrorism, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the name of Islam. She said attempts to link him to all Muslims would be like equating Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh with all Christians.

Still, events in Portland on Monday offered a reminder that not everyone can distinguish bin Laden from other Muslims. Vandals spray-painted graffiti at the Maine Muslim Community Center, a mosque located in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, with words such as “Go Home,” “Osama today Islam tomorow [sic]” and “Long Live the West.”

The Portland-based Center for Preventing Hate quickly denounced the vandalism.

“Acts of hate and bias like this have no place in our city,” said Steve Wessler, the group’s executive director. “Muslims in Maine and across the U.S. deserve the same respect as all others who live here. They serve in our armed forces, teach in our schools and care for our sick. On September 11, Muslim firefighters and paramedics courageously stayed in the Twin Towers trying to save lives. “

Jenan Jondy, outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono, said the death of bin Laden creates another opportunity to educate the public about Islam.

“I’ve been pleasantly impressed with our local community and their willingness to learn what Islam really is: a peaceful religion,” she said. “We always have a way to go and there will always be a minority that don’t want to make that effort.”

Everyone seemed to agree that bin Laden got what he deserved.

Gov. Paul LePage called the death a tribute to the country’s resolve in the decade since Sept. 11.

“[My wife] Ann and I send our thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones of those who were taken from us,” he said in a statement. “Their memories have not nor will they ever be overshadowed by one man. The freedom we all share in our Nation and State has not come without great sacrifice.”

Doug Allen, a UMaine professor and a member of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, agreed that bin Laden’s death was justified, but he also said the United States perpetrated a lot of injustice getting to that point.

“We entered two wars that had little to do with Osama bin Laden that have caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent people,” Allen said, adding that the ramifications of Sunday’s events may not be known for a while.

Abdullahi said she’s not sure if bin Laden’s death changes the international landscape but predicted that, within the next month or so, that question could be answered.

James Zimmerman’s mother was reflective as she considered the news Monday and expressed her thoughts on why her son served in the military.

“I believe that our American soldiers are trained well, so I was not surprised,” Jane Zimmerman said of the military operation that killed the al-Qaida leader. “The only reason we go to war is to protect people and allow them the chance to live well, and James told me so many stories of children over in Afghanistan who hadn’t been able to go to school for seven years.

“It wasn’t a good way of life, and James knew that,” she added. “That is why he fought.”

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