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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. Brooke

    It was not Muslims dancing on the streets celebrating 9/11. It was terrorists. And there is a difference.

    I can only speak for myself, but I am not celebrating the fact that a human life was taken. I am celebrating the fact that this horrible man can no longer directly cause harm to our country. He wasn't going to surrender. Killing him was the only way for justice to be served.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Chris

      Well the way the media is how are you so sure what the people celebrating 9/11 were or are for that matter or what they were told...They are so far behind technology they could have been told those were buildings of Muslims...Im thinking the people that celebrate death put too much of what they believe into what the media darlings tell them...

      Lets be honest here I didnt see the celebrations when Saddam Hussein was killed and he was responsible for far more deaths to humanity...Not a toast from anyone....

      May 4, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  2. Scott H

    Another Prothero article. The rampant left-leaning Universalist spews his usual drivel. Boy does HE fit in at CNN. Prothero, if you are uncomfortable with the "parties", don't take part, and zip the lip.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Jonnydc

      So if someone has a different opinion than yours they should zip the lip? Maybe someone who has had rage or relief and expressed it publicly will gain perspective from the suggestion of quiet contemplation and become more compassionate as a result. Is that ok?

      May 4, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  3. glad but not happy

    I'm glad OBL is gone from the planet but not happy anyone had to die to get it done. Just like I would be glad Hitler was gone from the planet, but that would also make me happy! People are born and they die, nothing to be done about that except being certain that personally we are living the life we would be most proud of and too many of us are not. Do we pardon a child molestor because we can't put him in that chair? If a human being turns dark and CHOOSES to kill fellow human beings then for the sake of all of us, that person needs to be put down, in the best interests of mankind. Millions of the world's inhabitants are now safer because Osama bin Laden is dead and that is a wonderful thing. Not the death itself but the fact we are now all safer is what is celebrated. Feel guilty if you need to but do not consider yourself like the radicals that started this war. We are simply doing what our founding fathers did when they felt their freedoms threatened. They defended them to the best of their abilities and we are all here now because of that commitment. Don't sell us short because we celebrate still having the ability to breathe and live our lives.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  4. CKENTRUTH

    It’s not about the impropriety of reaction from the drunken kids in the street making American look much like that which they profess to despise.

    It is about the unenlightened from each and every country using whatever opportunity provided to display their idiocy. Nearly everyone in this world, regardless of country or professed ideology, are lemmings and fools; this is simply a demonstration of that state of evolution, as were the demonstrations after 9/11.

    The death of OBL was a necessary evil. Saying that no human “should” rejoice in the death of another is Koombya fortune cookie nonsense.

    Let that person ask if they would not rejoice in the death of the person who meant to kill them and their loved ones. Anyone who says yes is a PC liar. Period.

    Ask that same liar if they would allow a cancerous growth to go untreated? Do not those cells have the right to flourish? Are we not the body of the human race? Do not cancerous cells, i.e. anyone bent on the body’s destruction, demand eradication?

    Certainly it would have been proper to have passed the event with dignity and honor as an evolved race arguably would. As logical as investing in a 401K or quitting smoking, increasing exercise and reducing calories. That said most Americans are fat, don’t exercise and would you believe many still smoke.

    Can you really expect them to demonstrate enlightened reactions to a most base event; the death of ones enemy? Get a grip.

    To say you one should not be pleased at the death of the cancer which threatens it’s very life is either suicidal or just plain stupid.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  5. Will

    always discouraging to read ad hominem attacks on people who have an opinion that is different from what appears to be conventional. Our behavior, our thoughts, our feelings are always worthy of examination, scrutiny and reflexive thought. People who celebrated loudly have done nothing wrong, nor have those who reflected quietly or even cringed a bit. These reactions demonstrate the continuum of human emotion and expression.

    There is no reason to attack one another over how we reacted to this event or what thoughts we had in our head when we heard the news. There is no reason likewise to condemn one reaction in favor of another. Neither are wrong and neither are right. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Chris

      Will did you not attack me and ask how can I call myself an American...If you cant separate American and human thats on you....Talk to your parents they didnt love you enough...

      May 4, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  6. Michael Degen

    I woke up on the couch to this vision of Geraldo's creepy moustache goading the revelers into stupid slogans and screaming tirades. The scene was more like that of a College Campus after their team had just won the Football Championship. It was unnerving, inappropriate, and I see nothing positive that would possibly come out of the Arab world seeing this display of unabashed american ignorance.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  7. Patrick

    I did not celebrate simply because I only celebrate the death of people I like. And I really do not like Osama.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  8. John in AZ

    There is a big difference between celebrations where people are singing the national anthem and cheering the power and resolve of a nation...and celebrations where they shout slogans against another group and burn their national flag. To put the two in the same category is ridiculous! Additionally, unless you are against the death penalty, you have no business being upset with the execution of Bin Laden. He was a mass murderer, confirmed, proud and unrepentant. If you do not see this as justice because you are against capital punishment...fine. But if you're against this because you just want to feel like you are above this all, then on top of being patronizing, you are also a hypocrite.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • CKENTRUTH

      Well put.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  9. Name* Arizona

    I believe that we should celebrate in ourselves... But let's not over do it to make it seem like another radical person is not planning for a USA attack that will be even greater then 9/11 belive in me, it will happen again. When is the USA going to bring our military back home ? when are we going to stay out of the bussnies of the police of the world and start to put our country number one priority. Were spending billions of dollars to run world peace, but the good old USA is in shambles... with our own crime, poverty, homeless, the unemployed, the uninsured, our own country is in the most in need. But we are taking care of the world .. So go ahead party on... but remember one thing .... Our Country is first.. who is going to save Us...

    May 4, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  10. Bud

    Let the munchkins have their day. Were people appalled by their celebration in the Wizard of Oz? Ding Dong the witch is dead.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  11. proud to be an american

    I'm tired of hearing all this crap about how we Americans shouldn't do this or do that because the rest of the world won't like us for it! Screw the rest of the world! The world sits around and allows evil people like Osama Bin Laden to prosper, and when it finally hits home for them, they expect the United States to step in and fight for them. Yes, I remember the images of Muslims dancing in the street on 9-11, and I remember how angry that made me. If video of Americans celebrating the death of a man who killed close to 5000 human beings makes them uneasy and angry, then we should send a non-stop video feed to Arab television stations so they can see what happens when you sucker-punch the USA!

    May 4, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Jeff Zorn

      You wrote, "The world sits around and allows evil people like Osama Bin Laden to prosper, and when it finally hits home for them, they expect the United States to step in and fight for them.." Apparently you forgot that we armed Osama to the teeth for years to step in and fight the Russians for us. Exactly as we armed Saddam to fight the Iranian ayatollahs for us. "Evil" is good when it's on our side, evidently.

      Jeff

      May 4, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Peanutman

      Yep. You are the typical agrogant American. "Screw the rest of the world."? Your sentiments certainly don't respresent my feelings about our relationship with the rest of the world.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  12. Rick Thomas

    Well said Stephen . As a Christian people the "high road ' is the right road . Am I glad we have closure? ....YES ! But I believe reflection is the most appropriate response to this situation .

    May 4, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  13. Alex in NJ

    When you dedicate your life to murdering thousands upon thousands of innocent people, you give up your humanity. A family's pet dog is more human than bin Laden was. Sunday night when the news first broke I cried tears of absolute joy. My conscience is clear.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Peanutman

      And how many innocent people have we killed in the name of Freedom and Democracy. Bombimg people with drones doesn't make us any more human. Can you justify these deaths as "justified"? You are rationalizing your own guilt.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  14. Shawn

    I am tired of this "oh no, we can't do that! We might offend someone!" mentality. The guy was a rotten SOB that would have partied his a$$ off to see YOU dead. Yet you get on your political correctness high horse and tell us that we can't/shouldn't do the same for him. When I read your article, I can hear a Ce Lo Green song in my head directed right at you.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  15. Chris

    Its sad that people would celebrate the death of anyone for the mere fact that lets remember....This man did have family that I am sure loved him...He was the 17th of 52 children...Which is crazy but I am sure some one loved him and didn't know the bad side or want to see the bad side of him...Its like all our parents....We do not always make them proud but our parents still love us..The way I look at it is like a serial killer being put to death...They had family who is ashamed and loved them and you remember that this could be you in the future... I always say this as a good way to treat people..>Treat people not like how you want to be treated but how you would like your children to be treated...

    May 4, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • JSW

      So, you are saying that I could be the next OBL in the future.

      What the hell are you people smoking? Oh wait, this is a religious blah blah blah piece on CNN. These always bring out the closet weirdos.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • will

      My parents would want me put to death if I had even imagined plotting a day like 9/11, and yes they love me more then anything. How can you call yourself an American!!

      May 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Chris

      In no way shape or form am I more religious than the people who commented on my post but its quite obvious my parents taught me better than yours...

      May 4, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  16. JSW

    Fellow Human Being? Human Being? Seriously? Get your head examined. That monster was no human being. If he (actually it) was a fellow-something to you than you are a product of Satan just like it was.

    Typical bleeding-heart Boston.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • dave

      SHUT UP!

      May 4, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Dave said "Shut up!"

      Haven't you heard? Dave said "shut up!" Doesn't it automatically follow, then, that we should all shut up?

      May 5, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  17. John

    having attended a rally/party (some may even go so far as to say it was a riot), and being a college age student, I can attest to the fact that for myself and many of my peers that it was more then a reason to party or a purely a celebration of one man's death. Anyone who says these college aged party goers cant even remember a world before 9/11 is correct. However, that only makes UBLs death all that more symbolic.One of my most distinct childhood memories is being in 4th grade and having our teacher turn on the tv to the image of a plane flying into one of the most recognizable skylines in the world. Since then, our generation has grown up in the shadow of 9/11, growing up in fear of perhaps another , equally if not more destructive terrorist attack. For us, UBL has been the face of that fear. And so we celebrate the end of a childhood nightmare, not the death of a single man.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  18. Hannah

    Remember the parade of charred bodies of our soldiers in the streets of Somalia. Are we really any better than those people if we dance for joy when bin Laden is killed? And to murder this man without a trial is just plain uncivilized. It has never been proven in a court of law that he was responsible. What most people don't know is that Osama bin Laden was working for the CIA in Afghanistan in the 80's and we helped start the Taliban with freedom fighters to fight the Russians. And then when we left there they continued to rip Afghanistan apart and al Qaeda was born. If we would just stop meddling in other countries business...but that's what imperialists do, meddle and occupy other countries.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • JSW

      Shut up.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • YeahRight

      JSW – at least we know the level of your intelligence...worthless.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Jenny

      Thanks for speaking the truth. We don't hear it very often these days.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  19. Faiz

    People like Alex and Lisa are true follower of christianity – if you don't agree, go and read Bible please. I am a Muslim and respect, share and appreciate their thought about humanity. Celebrating human death is a unhuman act – unless we don't consider ourselves as Human anymore.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Jonnnnn

      I agree 100% I am also a Christian and actually have the sad thought of Osama in Hell... :/

      May 4, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • JSW

      OBL wasn't a human. It shed that characteristic a long time ago.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  20. John Sharp

    No one is dancing about his death. They are dancing because justice was served.
    We are joyous because we no longer have to worry about this very evil person killing more innocent people.
    That is a very joyful occasion indeed.

    May 4, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Jonnnnn

      Obviously and I think that it's a good thing that he was taken care of... But there are some people out there that are literally spit on anything having to do with the Pakistan people and bringing them as low as we brought African Americans back in the late 1800's.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Michelle

      Please don't compare the partiers to the people in the Middle East that laughed at us after 9/11. They were celebrating the murder of over 3000 innocent people. The partiers here in the States were celebrating the end of a mass murderer's reign of terror.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • get off your high horse

      10 years of is a long time to wait for justice to be served. I felt relieved that a man who attacked me personally was finally made to take responsibility for his actions. It's not celebration it is group relief.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:41 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.