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Savor this moment, in the name of the 3,000

By John P. Avlon, Special to CNN
  • John Avlon: Killing should bring some comfort to those who lost loved ones on 9/11
  • Avlon says death makes clear there is no glory in perverting religion for mass murder
  • He says 9/11 seared into Americans' minds; bin Laden's killing helps heal psychic scars
  • Avlon: It's a time for renewed unity, an American affirmation: Freedom defeats terror

Editor's note: John P. Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America."

(CNN) -- I have never been so happy to hear that someone is dead.

It's not bloodlust -- it's justice.

Ten years ago at this time, Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan planning the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 of our fellow Americans in cold blood.

Now he is dead and the families of his victims can have a measure of comfort. The healing can deepen. And if there's a celebration in the streets outside the White House and ground zero -- just as there was celebration after the death of Adolf Hitler was announced on May 1, 1945 -- it is deserved. It is 10 years overdue.

It feels like the end of a war. But it is just the end of one evil man. The war against radical Islamist terrorism endures. The sick ideology that bin Laden perpetuated will unfortunately not die with him. But it should be clear that there is no future in such a violent perversion of faith -- and no 72 virgins in the afterlife either. Just old men convincing young men to kill themselves along with innocent civilians in the name of God -- a completely corrupt, hate-fueled fraud, a dead end in every way.

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This is a day to honor the families of the fallen -- especially the 343 New York firefighters who gave their lives so that others might live that day. We swore that we would never forget, and now is a time to remember as well as rejoice. This is their day. Bagpipes were playing "Amazing Grace" at ground zero at 2 a.m., the same song that accompanied the endless funerals throughout the fall of 2001.

Obama: Osama bin Laden killed
Timeline of bin Laden's death
Chants of 'U.S.A' at Mets-Phillies game
Celebration at Times Square

Every American remembers where they were on 9/11. The images and emotions are seared in our souls. Ground zero is my neighborhood -- I live there now and I was working there on September 11 as chief speechwriter for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

I watched the first hijacked airplane fly by my apartment window, witnessed the towers' collapse from three blocks away in City Hall and spent the next three months writing eulogies with my colleagues. It was the defining time of my life.

When I heard that President Barack Obama was addressing the nation at 10:30 p.m. Sunday on a matter of national security, I expected the worst; the best-case scenario seemed to be news of another thwarted terrorist attack. Hard experience has taught me that terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1.

But it did not occur to me that the president would announce that our forces had finally killed bin Laden after almost 10 years of searching without success. When I first heard the news I was stunned, shell-shocked. Then I felt a rising joy rooted in resolution, like I was shedding a psychic skin that I did not know I still carried.

The details of the military assault are still emerging, but the mission in Pakistan is a triumph for our Navy Seals and CIA, and a validation of Obama's focus on Pakistan as a target in the war on terror despite that nation's outcry over American drone strikes and incursions. I've seen photos of signs at the spontaneous celebrations that say "Obama 1, Osama 0." But this is not a victory for any one administration; it is a win for all Americans.

This is a time to savor and remember the common purpose -- what Franklin Roosevelt called the "warm courage of national unity" -- that infused our country immediately after the attacks of September 11. We should be careful to cultivate it and see that it does not get extinguished by partisan politics, as it did too quickly before. This is also a time for American affirmation. Our country is strong because we are proudly pluralistic. Freedom does defeat terror, eventually.

It is fitting that this closure occurs as we face the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This is no time for 9/11 amnesia.. We have reason to remember our fallen fellow citizens with increased urgency and appreciation. It is a reminder of the spirit underlying one of Obama's favorite quotes: "The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

This is not the end of terrorist threats -- but it is the end of Osama bin Laden. And now we will not only remember where we were when the planes slammed into the twin towers, we will remember where we were when we heard that bin Laden was killed by our troops. It is cause for celebration and national pride, rooted in justice delayed but not denied. Savor this moment in the name of the 3,000.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John P. Avlon.

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