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My Take: Why partying over bin Laden's death made me cringe
People celebrate the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden at the White House.
May 3rd, 2011
06:16 PM ET

My Take: Why partying over bin Laden's death made me cringe

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Today in my “Death and Immortality” course at Boston University we were supposed to be discussing suicide and euthanasia. Instead we spoke of the death of Osama Bin Laden, the celebrations that followed in its wake and the Facebook war that broke out later concerning the propriety of “celebrating death.”

Many of my students partied in the streets and on nearby Boston Common after President Barack Obama announced to the world that bin Laden was dead. Others found those celebrations not only inappropriate but morbid - fit for Mardi Gras, perhaps, but not for the demise of a fellow human being, however odious.

When I polled the class, my students were split almost precisely down the middle on this question. Some felt “uneasy” and “uncomfortable” with the parties (which one student insisted were actually patriotic "rallies"). Others thought what was being celebrated was not death but justice; finally, America had a victory in the war on terror: “Mission Accomplished.”

When I turned on the television on Sunday night and saw the impromptu partying, I cringed. I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t like the optics.

A student today helped to clarify my reaction. It looked to her - and to me - like images we had seen before: people celebrating in the streets in the Muslim world after the 9/11 attacks. Have we become, she and I thought, like them?

Another student said that all the liberal hand-wringing about the propriety of the parties (including my own) was rooted in an inability to face up to our shared humanity. It is human to get angry. It is human to want revenge. It is human to hate your enemies, and to throw your hands in the air in exultation after they are killed.

Still, I couldn’t help noticing that the contingent in favor of the partying seemed farther removed from the events of 9/11. Students from New York City who had lost friends or family members on 9/11 - including one who said she went to 15 funerals in the days after the attacks - were in general more somber and reflective. Instead of celebrating bin Laden’s demise, it seemed, they were reliving the horrors of that day.

I didn’t lose any close friends on 9/11. But I thought that the visuals of drunken Americans chanting mindless (and often vulgar) slogans were not in American national security interests. There are lots of people around the world who hate America, and this was doing nothing to make us any more likeable.

But the key reasons for my disquiet were more psychological than strategic. I just don’t feel comfortable celebrating anyone’s death.

I think it comes down to an awareness of our shared mortality; the death of another human being reminds me of my own. And that is not a cause for celebration.

But the main reason I felt uncomfortable watching the bacchanalia in front of the White House and on Boston Common is because when it comes to death –anyone’s death - I feel I am in the presence of a great mystery, perhaps the great mystery of human life. And at least for me the appropriate response to that mystery is awe.

One of my students (she was in the anti-partying contingent) said that moments like this should lead us first and foremost into reflection. That is precisely what my students did for me today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Death • Islam • Opinion • Osama bin Laden

soundoff (1,428 Responses)
  1. Victor Castillo

    Next on the agenda Stupid Narcos!!!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • dgrrr10

      I guess there is a feeling of being so much above the rest of the humans by putting them down. You should feel highly elevated.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      You are ass backwards.I am not elevating myself to being higher or mightier than anyone.We are all human!!!!!!That is my point!No one should be looked down upon because they are celebrating that a filthy pig has died.You are being the hypocrites.Now go away missy you are bothering me and boring me.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • dgrrr10

      You just played into it all. Did I say look down on those that are celebrating? NO......where you got that is beyond me.
      But then I understand. You can only think so much and it hurts. LOL

      May 4, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  2. LOL

    It's becoming very clear to me that 9/11 was only something that happened on TV for many Americans.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Hmmmm

      Good point

      May 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Adam

      Too bad you weren't there.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  3. dgrrr10

    instead of calling people names, act like adults and express your opinion. Not your IQ.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      Well said maricon!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • dgrrr10

      Victor Castillo – I see you only know how to speak of what you are.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      Wow that is genius.Did Pee Wee Herman teach you that?I know you are but what am I?

      May 4, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • dgrrr10

      LOL

      May 4, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  4. petemg

    As everybody celebrates the death, let us look at facts. We all realize what he had done to humanity. He had a body do be recognized. He was able to see the person pull the trigger that killed him. He had a chance to fight. He had someone carry his body out, to be prepared for burial, wrapped in white, and had prayers said over him.
    Not so for the people of 9/11. Those people did not see their attackers eye-to-eye. Many did not have a chance to pray. The people had to pick up what remains they could find of the victims. There were prayers for the victims, but not individually. Many did not get the last rights of prayer and being clothed and placed in a coffin.
    I among many who had loved ones slaughtered had nothing in death. In my family's case, they only found some remains. Maybe it is a celebration of Bin Laden's death, but maybe it was the celebration that one part of the evilness is gone. Please do not let any indifferences in his death separate you. Celebrate life as we can wake in the morning with freedom and family around us. Unite in whatever peace you can find. Even if it is in an agreement to disagree. Praise God. And the war continues.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  5. conradshull

    I say this with all due respect, don't gaze at your navel to hard. It's just your navel.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  6. Victor Castillo

    What a bunch of fools you are to feel any kind of pity for this piece of garbage.I am disgusted that anyone would question wether we should celebrate this.Hell Yeah we should!!!Think of it this way,is there any animal in the world that would hesitate to kill in defense of it's offspring?This is nature and this is why sometimes "progress" is in actuality man's worst enemy along with Political Correctness and sensitvity.Grow up and grow a pair!!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      We should be happy vic...but celebrateing in the streets like some animals its just a lil sick.....we are not some thir world country,we are better than that,,,,

      May 4, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      I can believe it is butter,We are animals that is the point fool.When are people going to wake up and realize we are not any different than than animals just because we can read.We always try to act superior and look for answers where there are no questions.There is life and their is death.Their is love and their is hate.Love thy enemy is a lie perpetuated by a bunch of hypocrites who have hate in their hearts.Look at Reverend Phelps.I am glad to be an atheist and celebrate the true meaning of being human.Stop looking to please a God that don't exist.It is human to hate those who hate you.Hurt those that hurt you.Don't men have cojones these days?This is why breast feeding is a bad idea.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  7. Ernest L. Smith

    Well said sir, you encapsulated my sentiments exactly. It is comforting to know that there are still rational evenhanded thoughts in regard to this event. The crux of it is that we all one day will have to face our own mortality, and we need to ask ourselves:
    Would we want the occassion of our demise to be festive?

    May 4, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • H

      Holy sh't you're dum... did you just compare all of us to Osama? You did. That's really f'cked up.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      This is why Mexicans have day of the dead.Yes we celebrate death.We want our demise to be festive.We want all our friends and family there drinking and singing beautiful mariachi music when we are dead.We know that our time on earth is short and we are alright with that.We are taught that since we are children.We value life more because of that and live it up every chance we get.Let us teach you something.Happy Cinco de Mayo and have a Tequila shot on me.Happy all May what the Hell!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  8. Rick Anderson

    Your student is right. It is a human thing to do, and there is nothing wrong with it. Osama was evil and deserved to die.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • fuzzy

      If the "human thing to do" is to celebrate by downing dozens of Jager shots....and then forgetting what we were "celebrating" in the first place....then yes, the revelers got it just right.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  9. H

    I throw my hands up in the air sometime singing heyoooo Osama's deaddooo

    May 4, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  10. troy

    Basically, we will never get the full truth as to what happened in that raid, so what the media reports to the public is what the CIA and the military deem as least damaging to our government and to them. So, lets get that straight.

    Now, we do know the much hyped Navy SEALs actually had a very easy mission, and most of you yahoos don't get it. 20 or more of them went into to family compound, full of sleeping women and children, and a just a very few men who were not military trained, or even body guards. The SEALs had fighter jet and attack helicopter support, and they were armed with sophisticated weapons and had months to prepare. The few men there had simple firearms and were completely unaware. It was hardly a fair fight, and it definitely wasn't a testament to how "tough" any military personnel could be. So, lets get that straight right now.
    As far as the mission itself, all I have to say is that America has always maintained its principles of due process even for the most disgusting of criminals. Hitler's regime, responsible for the deaths of millions, was afforded due process via a trial. Even Sadam was given a trial. But since Osama killed at least 3000 Americans, I guess its okay for us to look the other way on this one.

    Osama bin Laden should have been arrested, tried, and sentenced in accordance to the tradition and laws of our country. Instead, we sent out a highly trained Lynch Mob to do some good 'ol fashion backwoods justice. I expected this from Bush, but not from Obama.

    America, you have your bloodlust fueled revenge. Celebrate for the violence we did. I, for one, hold my head down in shame. It shouldn't have gone down like this. It shouldn't have.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      Be ashamed to call yourself a man!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • H

      Troy, I hope you rethink everything you just said.. WE WERE AT WAR WITH AL QUEDA AND THEIR LEADER WAS OSAMA BIN LADEN.. In a war you take out their top guy, not put him in handcuffs and treat him like a citizen. We would've loved to kill Sadaam but he was laying in a hole half dead anyway putting up 0 fight.. Also you are talking about Hitler's regime and not Hitler himself, who if found before he killed himself would've been killed on spot weapon in hand or not... so with that being said, your an unpatriotic fool and I pray that you are in the great minority of people who feel this way.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Marc

      you don't like it, go live somewhere else, no one is forcing you to stay.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • dexter

      one thing is straight, you don,t know jack either

      May 4, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • usmc1

      Troy, do America a favor and kill yourself.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  11. Jonathan Vaughn

    Everybody dies.
    The world is a better place without mass murderers. POP that cork, dance in the streets and let all of the jihad movement know that we rejoice in the death of those that are responsible for 9/11.
    Hate of America is as natural as over analytical professors and the students that suck up to them.
    We will always be hated. Hello, winning!

    May 4, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Adam

      Yep, thats my point as well. Our enemys won't care whether we celebrate or not, they will continue to hate us no matter what we do. Thats why releasing the photos of his shot out face won't make a difference.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Mkat2

      Personally, Professor, 'I' cringed when I saw people jumpng from the Towers, I cringed when the woman on the upper floors, talking to a dispatcher saying; "Oh, it's so hot. It's getting so hot. I'm so hot, please help me".......while the dispatcher tried to comfort her, knowing full well it was hopeless...... I 'cringed' when I saw the Wall St. journalst being beheaded & heard his screams. I cringed when I saw four American hanging from a bridge. Meanwhile, YES, I rejoice in the death of EVIL, personafied by Osama Bin Laden!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  12. TheId

    Only a girly man would write this piece!

    Uno de Mayo is now a new day to Party (even if you ain't a Commie)!!!

    Wooot! And soooo close to Cinco de Mayo! Tequila head shots for all!!!! USA USA USA!!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Victor Castillo

      You said it!!!!You know how to party I got THE TEQUILA Amigo!!!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  13. Dan

    I was unable to read all the comments so I don't know if this has already been said. I remember the Muslim world celebrating in the streets after 9/11. They were celebrating the death of over 3000 innocent people. I remember thinking about that when I saw us celebrating the announcement of bin Ladens death. There is a huge difference here and that is that bin Laden deserved to die, the 3000+ innocents did not.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  14. Hmmmm

    "I think it comes down to an awareness of our shared mortality; the death of another human being reminds me of my own. And that is not a cause for celebration."

    This is an interesting statement from a professor of a class on death and immortality. The truly religious do not fear death.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  15. Mary

    I think the killing of Bin Laden was long overdue, but I also think it's not going to make a difference. I do have to comment on the remark about people all over the world hating us and this will make it worse. The people who hate us, hate us no matter what we do, so who cares. We need to stop caring about what other countries think of us. We need to get out of all the countries we're in and stay home and focus on the U.S.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  16. Larry

    All the rallies and party's in the streets made me cringe also. All I could think of was how much it looked like them parting after an ameican was killed or a helicopter was shot down. Granted the man was pure evil and deserved to die, but we should not lower ourselves to the mentality of Islamic militant. I thought we were better then that.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Eko

      totally agree with your statement, but some people just dont deserve that level of benefit. These needed to be taken down and fast. eg. Hitler, Saddam, Pol Pot, OBL

      May 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  17. Joe

    Response to "Seriously": Well, whatever it is I'm doing with my life, I'm certainly not spending it trying to convince people that hearing the news of Osama bin Laden's death is like being "in the presence of a great mystery, perhaps the greatest mystery of human life..." and that Osama's death should leave the American people in an utter state of "awe!".

    May 4, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  18. US Army

    I agree Stephen is a liberal. It's sad that people like him will criticise Americans for rightfully celebrating a noble victory over an evil enemy, but has never sacrificed. Instead these "scholars" should be teaching their students WHY we kill our enemies. Until you or your family are victims of terror or you sacrifice in combat, you have no right. It's sad your opinion has a front page in a national news media instead we could use this space to explain the atrocities of al qaeda.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • mizzouram

      Paraphrase: "CNN should only report things that I agree with and your opinion doesn't matter unless you are in the military."

      May 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • i cant belive is not butter

      Two evils don't make it rite.....I think this is were america is supose to set an example to dose people that don't know any better..

      May 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • usmc1

      I agree 100%

      May 4, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Retired USAF

      That was not the military I served in nor the military that founded this great country. The perception of how we reacted is important. Denigrating people who do not agree should not be a part of our culture. Agree to disagree but leave out the personal slams. I remember the day the planes hit ( I was in the Pentagon) and think it a somber event and should not be celebrated as a sporting event victory. Some did I don't approve and I will voice that. It is not going to change the fact that some disagree. Just remember if WE as a country are to survive we must find a way to be more tolerant between ourselves so we can bring about the justice of tracking down evil human beings like Osama. That is a principle that makes this country great.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • fearisenemy

      I don't have a problem with people celebrating the death of this monster but your statement "Until you or your family are victims of terror or you sacrifice in combat, you have no right" makes me sick. Last time I checked we were all Americans and have the right to question/criticize anyone anytime we want. Just because you are in the military (I'm assuming you are), does not mean you are a hero or a patriot.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  19. Mike

    A Fellow Human Being? I am not sure what kind of human you are but Osama was anything but a fellow human. He was a hypocritical murding animal who got what he deserved. Regardless of your "faith" he does not deserve anything, least of all forgiveness and respect in any aspect. Although celebrating may have been in poor taste, the celebration was for the death of a very terrible person for humanity and of all religions. Stomp on his grave and call it a day. Stop living in fear and maybe you will be able to see the light you lightfoot. And for those who forgive.....you are not making it better....especially if you were not the one's who experienced loss.....take your holyer than thou thoughts and stick it. Osama should burn for eternity and does not deserve any respect, dignity and forgiveness. Put your heads back in the ground.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Todd

      Amen Brother

      May 4, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Buck Futt

      R U kidding me??? Y don't you ask any of the relatives of the people that Bin Laden massacred how they feel about it. Its apparent that you didn't lose anyone on 911. I'll tell you what 911 made me "Cringe". What a moron...Hell yeah I'm celebrating... This butcher (Bin Laden) deserved what he got and More. I'm only sorry we didn't put his head on a spike and march it through New York City.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Kevin
      May 4, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  20. Ezzat Jaafar

    Celebrating death is a very stupid thing, celebrating justice is a good thing, however i think in this case many peolpe where celebrating the death itself of a brutal and mass murderer, i am very disturbed to watch innocent students and terrorists alike cheer after the death of human beings. I think prayer is the best way to heel not drinking in the streets, all my prayers and thoughts to the families of the victims may God bless their souls and let them rest in peace.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Libra

      @Ezzat..Yes they finally could finally rest in peace and (probably) partying right now.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:09 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.