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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. TD

    No wonder our kids are coming out of college all messed up in the head, with teachers teaching crap like this to them! Maybe if the teacher's daughter of wife was killed on September 11th he would have a different tune! But I doubt it, only in America we would let someone teach this, I think he is in the wrong country! He should take his cringing heart and go live in Pakistan! I rejoice when evil is killed!

    May 4, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Jessie S.

      TD: In all seriousness, this is why people (like Ronald Regan way back when, and Ron Paul currently) have lobbied for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education. The Federal government, through the Department of Education, hands out money to States, but only if the States implement "politically correct" curriculum. We tax payers are, in effect, funding the process of turning our own children into little wimps who can't think for themselves or speak their minds, or stand up for what they believe. This liberalization of the country over the last forty years (including the introduction of cultural relativism, at the expense of morality) was funded by the Department of Education, at your expense. (Just food for thought. ...And no I'm not a Ron Paul fan, or a Tea-Party member, or anything like that.)

      May 5, 2011 at 2:13 am |
  2. Tina

    I agree. I am proud and happy that Osama is dead. and yet to grab a can of beer and hit the streets like its mardi gras is a little too crass for me. What Bin Ladin did was cowardly, wrong, cruel and he deserved the death that he got but I would not 'celebrate' his death any more than I would celebrate my neighbor's or the mayor's or some other guy I barely knew. IF I do, I can't really rebuke the festivities that happened on 9/11 amongst the muslims. otherwise I'd be a hypocrite, period.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  3. James Woodin

    I am so tired of people who are “OFFENDED” by what we do. America is becoming a pandering, sniveling, pansy-assed, wussified country.

    When the Muslim world was celebrating 9/11, they were celebrating a successful attack on an infidel nation. When the Americans were cheering the death of Osama, they were celebrating the strength of America to endure and overcome terroristic threats. Do you see the difference????

    Think about it this way. A gunman walks into a bank and kills a couple of people in the process. After several days of negotiation, the hostages are released and the gunman is either shot or taken into custody. When those innocent people walk out of the bank, aren’t we all going to cheer for them?!!!

    America has been held hostage since 9/11 and we still are today. We are still on high alert, we all still have to go through heightened security when we fly! When Osama was killed we got some of our freedom back from that terrorist organization!

    I, for one, am cheering for the strength of America! I didn’t lose anyone in the towers, but I still cried when it happened. For those of “you” who are offended by this, go suck lemons and cry into your beers!

    I am so tired of people who are “OFFENDED” by what we do. America is becoming a pandering, sniveling, pansy-assed, wussified country.

    When the Muslim world was celebrating 9/11, they were celebrating a successful attack on an infidel nation. When the Americans were cheering the death of Osama, they were celebrating the strength of America to endure and overcome terroristic threats. Do you see the difference????

    Think about it this way. A gunman walks into a bank and kills a couple of people in the process. After several days of negotiation, the hostages are released and the gunman is either shot or taken into custody. When those innocent people walk out of the bank, aren’t we all going to cheer for them?!!!

    America has been held hostage since 9/11 and we still are today. We are still on high alert, we all still have to go through heightened security when we fly! When Osama was killed we got some of our freedom back from that terrorist organization!

    I, for one, am cheering for the strength of America! I didn’t lose anyone in the towers, but I still cried when it happened. For those of “you” who are offended by this, go suck lemons and cry into your beers!

    May 4, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • TD

      Awesome!

      May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • JJ

      "When the Americans were cheering the death of Osama, they were celebrating the strength of America to endure and overcome terroristic threats."

      They were celebrating the death of Osama, dude.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Jessie S.

      Ha! I wasn't surprised that your comment went right over J.J's head! 🙂 You're right about the pandering, sniveling, pansy-assed, wussified America. It has become embarrassing when "men" turn themselves into little tots just because some narcissistic liberal, or other, demands it of them. "Yes master. My brain has become so 'comfortably numb' by your relentless droning, that I will now do what thou wilt." Even when (like someones suggested earlier) the author should "get a pair".

      May 5, 2011 at 2:01 am |
  4. wendy Fletcher

    I too felt a bit uneasy when US citizens were celebrating OBL's death, yet like the author, did not know why. I agree with the person who pointed out that college students might know people who are serving, or have been killed. But in celebrating, we are forced to reflect on what happened, those who were lost. Aren't we also mourning the loss of our own way of life and the life of our county we had before 9/11? Do we all live with unconscious fear on a daily basis? Maybe, at least for one day, the fear stopped.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  5. Dan

    In this case I believe that celebrating was the appropriate response for those that felt the need to. For my entire adult life I have lived under the specter of Usama bin Laden much as previous generations lived under the fear of Soviet Russia. To hear that this evil despot had finally been dealt justice was a huge weight off my shoulders. In a time where everything seems to be going wrong for America, we finally got something right, and that was putting an American bullet through the left eye of Usama bin Laden.

    If you feel the correct emotional response for you is to sit in quiet reflection, so be it, do what you need to do to process this monumentous event. But let those that felt the need to celebrate do their thing too, a collective sigh of relief has been let out, one of the most evil human beings to ever set foot on this planet has met his end and for that we should all be thankful.

    Also, give the kids a break, a country that they have been brought up to expect to fail succeeded, for once. Take their rampant enjoyment as an expression of relief, not bloodlust, and move on. There is still a physical and ideological War on Terror to fight, let this cretins death serve as a step in the right direction.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • JohnRJ08

      Dancing and cheering in the streets is what we've seen all too many times in the Mideast whenever there has been a successful terrorist attack on the West. Behaving in that same manner after we've just killed a half dozen people, whether they deserved it or not, was a stupid, thoughtless thing to do. There are better ways to show our satisfaction than to run around like a bunch kids at a beer party, climbing trees and mugging for the cameras.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  6. JohnRJ08

    The people who were "celebrating" on Sunday night, climbing trees in front of the White House, were mostly college kids from Georgetown. They weren't even teenagers on 9/11. What we were seeing Sunday night was a collective hormonal response that was more like a beer party than a demonstration of support for the President's action. It didn't upset me, but I did think it got quite stupid. Given the state of our current educational system, it should have surprised no one.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  7. Mitchy Slicks

    My friends and I are having this very same debate. I realized Sunday night that celebrating bin Laden's death may look morbid, but on the other hand, bin Laden was one of the most misanthropic individuals in recent history, a person who had committed his life to deprive countless others of theirs. I may not have thrown my hands up in joy Sunday night, but I sure as hell didn't lose any sleep either.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  8. jj

    Sorry... 'purpose' was meant for those not intent on grinding evolution to a halt – my bad.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  9. Michael Patrick Schmitt

    These liberals make me sick. I remember very well that these people celebrated when Ronald Reagan was shot and mistakingly reported dead. Liberals were giddy and laughing that day and i will never forget that. Liberals celebrate death; they thrive on it. They wear T shirts that say "Eat the Rich"; "Kill the Rich"; it is their philosophy to take "by whatever means necessary" from one person and give to another. They were secretly happy inside on 9/11 to watch Americans die and then sought to blame America for what happenned.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • JohnRJ08

      This is a ridiculous lie. NOBODY celebrated when Reagan was shot. He had only been in office for a few months so he hadn't done much damage yet.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Lyndsey Jackson

      Michael, you're making a very dangerous generalization. I myself am a liberal, and I know many people who are also. Our goal in life is never to "take by any means necessary, and give to another." I can't speak for other liberals, but I'm fairly certain that's not their goal either. I also find it very sad that you would say you hate fellow Americans based off of their beliefs. It's perfectly fine for you to disagree with people, but hate them? That's taking it too far. It is also contributing to the problem with this country. We're slowly, but surely ripping at the seems because we're divided by political parties. What we should be doing right now is coming together. We should use our differences in opinion to bring ideas to the table and colaborate. Even though I was offended by your comments, I don't hate you. I just want to let you know that I have respect for you as a fellow American, and I love you with the love of Jesus Christ. I hope your views change from now on because we can't fix anything by hating each other. If we come together we can accomplish so much and get this country back on track. I hope and pray that you won't be one of the people who contributes to this country's downfall by hating your fellow Americans, but you will be someone who helps put it back together. That's all I have to say. Have a fantastic day.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  10. OBL

    You sound like a castrated man. Grow a pair!

    May 4, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  11. DanteX

    Wow.

    Stephen Prothero is correct.

    The huge crowds of people breaking-out in "celebrations" and dancing in the streets of this so-called "Christian Nation" after they discovered the death of Osama bin Laden were ominously reminicent of the huge crowds of people in the "Muslim World" who broke-out in "celebrations" and daced in the streets of so-called "Muslim Nations" when they discovered that the events of Setempber 11, 2001 had occured – BOTH were disgraceful and unseemly.

    And now – These people -through their so-called "celebrataion"- have proven themselves to be no better than the very people this Nation criticized when the events of September 11, 2001 took place.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • FARMKID

      wrong. the celebration of an American victory and the gains being made by the death of a mass murdering terrorists is the complete opposite of those celebrating the actions of a mass murderer while thousands of innocent people lost their lives in the most horrific ways.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  12. -T

    People on this board seem very confused between celebrating the death of the leader of an evil terrorist organization that murders innocent men, women, and children, and celebrating the murder of innocent civilians.

    If America started intentionally bombing Muslim places of business, recreation, etc with the intention of murdering innocent people, then yes, that would be sick. Because that is what many of the radicals were celebrating after 9/11. Huge difference.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • TheLord

      But they don't think the people that died on 9/11 or the US in general are innocent. So the people that celebrated on 9/11 were celebrating the deaths of evil people that kill and oppress Arabs. You will say, "yeah, but they are wrong and we are correct." And they will say "No YOU are wrong and we are right." It is exactly the same.
      You don't have to agree with your enemy, but to beat them you have to understand them.
      Plus, you just look like drunken idiots. When you do something great, act like you do it all the time, not like you're a loser that finally accomplished something.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  13. JeramieH

    Don't think of it as celebrating death, think of it as celebrating the lives that will be saved now that he's gone.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • JJ

      Nice try. I'm sure all the beer consumed by the revelers was in thoughtful contemplation of the lives saved.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Jessie S.

      JJ: I'm sure that all the inebriating sense of self importance consumed by the author was in thoughtful contemplation of the lives saved, as well.

      May 5, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  14. Mike

    I would gladly buy a beer for every single person involved in that raid, including the President and Hillary (neither of whom I particularly care for), but the imagesof Amaericans dancing in the streets actually made me think a bit. I understand being happy that justice was served, and I understand people wanting closure, but a drunken celebration because someone we hated was killed is a bit much.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • FARMKID

      since when does celebrating mean they were all drunk?? NO ONE WAS DRUNK!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  15. Nuttin

    I have grown tired of the constant hand-wringing in our society over our actions which will or may "incite Muslim anger". When I see or hear about Muslim hard-liners equally worried about "American anger" I will rejoice. Until then, I don't really give a damn about making Muslims, especially those in Arab lands angry. The US military has ousted a scoundrel who had no moral compass. I can opnly hope he pled for his life before part of his skull was shot off. The man had no moral compass. While some "irrational exuberance" may have taken place on Sunday night, I submit the country had a pent up right to vent some happiness over this. But please spare me the angst of the blogger who wrote the article. Thankfully, his right and ability to write his hand-wringing blog was and is protected by folks with clearer thinking than his in our nations' uniforms all around the world.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Mike Sterling

      Here here.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  16. Kurt

    This clown is writing this garbage to see how many people view the article. It's a simple attention getting article so boy wonder here can get his attention fix for the day. Suck it pal.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • JJ

      You stay classy there, Kurt.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  17. KENNETH LEON

    While I understand your concern over the celebrations, I wholeheartedly disagree with your comparison of Muslims celebrating the events of 911 to the celebrating the death of Usama Bin Laden. If you could show me one individual who was responsible for the deaths of even one person, nevermind thousands, among the victims on 911, I might be tempted to agree with your statement. The facts are celebrating the death of a murderer,VS the celebration by Muslims of the murder of innocents is no comparison.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  18. lolName*

    the people who are opposed to celebrating the death of a hitler type and the victory over terrorism are pathetic indeed and not really human at all.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Dan

      Pathetic? You mean the people who lost loved ones are the pathetic ones? Go ahead and party when someone dies...just be prepared for the comparisons to the "inhuman" response from radical muslims on 9/11. You are no better. If you grew up in this country, I'd say you should know better. Nothing wrong with being relieved, or even glad, that our troops finally caught up with him. But, to rejoice that some got killed doesn't make you a patriot. Just a callous individual. Devoid of the best of what our species has to offer.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Jessie S.

      I'm sorry, Dan, but YOU'RE the one most desperate to compare it to an "inhuman response". Why are you so desperate? When Dan reeks of desperation, we (humans) worry.

      May 5, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  19. humtake

    To say that because we are celebrating anything we are like them is absolutely correct. We are human. We have the same emotions every other human has. If someone reacts in a way that is not the same as your reaction, does that make them bad? Or is that, in itself, something to celebrate...life. You can react however you want, God has given us our freedoms to do just that. Stop going against God and embrace your human reaction, the same human reaction that has been ordained to you by the Creator himself.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  20. LCN

    It's not that complicated. It's always in bad taste to celebrate the death of another, because death is something each of us must face. The evasion that lets people lose sight of that in this case is the same as the blindness that let Arabs cheer after 9/11. People use their rhetoric about evil and justice to forget that death is a universal phenomenon.

    The real liberal bias in the columnist's piece is not that he was bothered by the pep rally response, but that he was afraid to sound "elitist" by calling a spade a spade – celebrating a violent death is simply vulgar and distasteful.

    And btw you don't get to use the "this is war" excuse when you're a civilian living stateside. Those who actually are involved in fighting get a pass, because they actually need to cultivate this kind of detachment.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Kurt

      yaaaaawwnnnn...

      May 4, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • BUBBLES

      W E L L P U T !!!

      May 4, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • JJ

      Not a yawn from me. Good comments, LCN.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • JPD

      There were ticker-tape parades in the streets to celebrate the defeat of Hitler after WWII. No one was bothered by that.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • JimmyFlim

      JPD, those ticker tape parades were celebrating the end of WWII. If the killing of Osama somehow equated a final victory in, and an end to the 'war on terror', you'd have a point. But since the war on terror is just a ideology, an immaterial PR stunt, there is never an end to it.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      God we're proud of you LCN! You're the only person on earth who understands that we're all going to die. That's what makes your comments so insightful and meaningful. The rest of us had basically been lied to, all along; being told that we would live forever. No one bothered to reveal the God awful truth to us, until you came along with your wise cousel. I hope you go through the rest of your life understanding how truly special and extra-informed you are, so that you can continue making such insightful comments.

      May 5, 2011 at 1:33 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.