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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. Tracey

    I'm Canadian, and I still rejoiced as it was a global terror that perished. While dancing in the streets worries me (not the sentiment, but the resentment it might foster in waiting enemies), it made me sob like a baby to see flags waving and Americans on their feet and proud. They got knocked down 10 years ago but you can't keep them down.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  2. TruthHurts

    America is responsible for the death of thousands of innocent civilians in this "war on terror". Surely those of you who are in favor of celebrating someone's death – would have no problem seeing Iraqi's and Afghani's dancing and partying in the streets when soldiers who killed those innocent people, or even the President himself, was killed ....RIGHT?
    Or do you only find it appropriate to use that type of justification when it works for you, and then turn to the other side and say they are wrong for doing it?
    It is great to celebrate our victory. It is great to celebrate justice. It is pathetic to celebrate someone's death.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  3. ryan

    Osama bin Laden wasn't 'odious' he was evil. Odious is what your armpits smell like after a long workout, evil is when you order the deaths of 3000+ innocent men, women, and CHILDREN.
    Let's keep our eyes on the ball here,

    May 4, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  4. uncertainstance

    No one's taken this too far, it's only been a few days. If the people who were affected by 9/11want to celebrate, I completely understand that. If this continues for weeks then I might agree with you, but for now I'm not uncomfortable with it at all.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  5. tom peters

    You write about religion. Your words are meaningless.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  6. Traci75

    For those of you that feel it's wrong, I suggest going back and watching the videos of 9/11 and watching people jump thoe their death from the twin towers. You do that and tell me that people are wrong for celebrating the death of such a horrible person who wouldn't think twice to kill you or your loved one.

    If you want to feel compassion for someone so horrible fine, that is your choice. But not everyone feels the same way. Remember, there were plenty cheering when those planes slammed into the those towers that day.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  7. hmm

    Hmmm.....I'm sorry but considering what has done.....I would not consider that piece of trash human at all.....

    May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  8. pat

    Sean, Your Bible quotes are irrelevant to the situation and out of context. Death ( and presumably, heaven) is the ultimate goal of life.Death, in its many forms, whether it be physical or spiriual has a purpose. Death is God's way of settling issues

    May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • dogs rule

      Death us just death. It happens to everything that lives. Trees, people, bugs, birds..... really.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  9. Reality

    Why we celebrate a major defeat of the radical religion called Islam:

    A historical prospective:

    Some examples of koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror:

    The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

    ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

    and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

    and more recently

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,483 and 925 in non combat roles. 99,901 – 109,143 Iraqi civilians killed as of 3/3/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,141 killed in action, 242 killed in non-combat situations as of 03/03/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

    22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

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

      WOW. That took a lot of work. Good info though.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Vincent

      Thanks for reporting these ussies:1. First, make sure the volume lock is off or there will be no sound. Next Go into iPad's setting page. Tap General , then Sounds . Minimize the volume slider and then maximize it. This will refresh the system's sound engine, which was crashed by a bad app. I've tested it on my iPad 2 with iOS 5.0 and there is sound.2. For now, you can turn off multi-touch gestures in the iPad's Setting page under the General section. I will be submitting an update to Apple soon to fix this problem. Instead of 4-finger swipes, it will be 3-finger swipes.

      April 3, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  10. stephen prothero is gay

    did you not see the celebrations those camel jockeys had after 9/11. phuck off u terrorist lover.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  11. FARMKID

    Id also like to repeat the Osama was not a muslim and nor did he follow the true Muslim faith. if he did...he wouldnt have done his attacks. There are plenty of muslims in this world and country who deny him being a part of the muslim community. muslims to not condone mass murders of thousands of innocent people. Osama bin Laden did. Osama is not a muslim

    May 4, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • ezgojoe

      I have always found your argument interesting. You say that peaceful Muslims are the only true Muslims. They say just as defiantly that murderous jihad Muslims are the only true Muslims. Frankly, there's no way to know what a true Muslim is. Catholics presided over the bloody Spanish Inquisition, or did they? Who were those people anyway?

      May 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  12. Mary

    This creature ceased to be human when he called for the death of any who did not worship the way he thought proper.Do we wring our hands about the appropriateness of shooting a rabid dog?

    May 4, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • lol

      actually, there is nothing more human than wishing death upon those who dont believe in the same sky fairy as you do

      May 4, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  13. Cranston Lamont

    Count me with those who think the celebrations are a tad vulgr and demeaning. And no, I don't care what you think about that.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • lolName*

      your name is cranston. enough said

      May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  14. zuck onit

    Typical libertard seriously needs to STFU.

    Go ponder "the great mystery" alone while the rest of us party.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  15. I Celeberated

    I celebrated. I will admit it. I didn't dance in the streets or get drunk.....but I celebrated. I did the Happy Dance in my living room. I posted the news on FB. I was, and still am, very glad that BinLaden was dead. Why was that so bad? Because you didn't like to see it? People waving American flags and yelling USA..USA..USA! It was music to my ears. I am SOOO very tired of being politically correct. I was so happy to see people standing in the streets and being proud to be Americans. It took us 10 years to get justice for 9/11. The "figure head" is gone. They will have to re-organize and while they are doing that perhaps we can take advantage of that situation. I have sons in the military right now. One in the Army, one in the Navy. I celebrated because killing this man might get my sons home safer and sooner. I celebrated because the world saw that the United States of America wasn't nearly as crippled as everyone thought we were. If you can't appreciate that, then you are the one with the problem. Maybe if you got outside of your little academic world and sat with the rest of us you'd understand. It would change your entire perspective.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  16. Ted

    Not saying I wasn’t pleased with this news, but some very good points are made here. Thorough thought and careful analysis, along with an empathy for our fellow human beings, no matter how notorious are what make us uniquely human and “civilized” at that.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  17. 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 11:42 am |
    • lolName*

      you are not a hypocrite. just a moron

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

      @lolname Not really. I've just evolved a little more than you since gladiators were fed to lions amongst jubilations

      May 4, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • I Celeberated

      Tina, perhaps you have evolved too much. Why is it that people like you are always safe at home complaining about how everyone does things, but you refuse to step up and volunteer to fight? My sons are being shot at so that you can sit here and do nothing but spout how much more superior you are than the rest of us.

      You're Welcome!

      May 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      Tina, Tina, Tina (tsk, tsk): So you've "evolved" into desperately trying to feed people's freedom of self expression, and freedom of speech, to the lions ...amidst the jubilation of your liberal cohorts?

      "Yes, telling people what they can, and cannot do, is my personal form of 'evolution'. That's all I can manage at this time." you say.

      Well try HARDER please! There's more to life than worrying so much about others.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  18. Me

    A friend of mine lost a loved one on Flight 93 and she celebrated when she learned of bin Laden's death. Maybe this cringing moron shouldn't talk so loud since he hasn't experienced the lost of a loved one due to 9/11. He definately doesn't speak for all of the victim's families nor their emotions. And he doesn't speak for me.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • I Celeberated

      He doesn't speak for me either. In fact, I'm ashamed to call him an American. He's one of those people that stands in the back and watches everyone else fight, then enjoys the rewards of other people's sacrifice.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • rey

      3000 Americans died, so what? We killed over 100000 innocents in the middle east, wait till these stupid celebrations bring about more violence

      May 4, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Jessie S.

      Yes, the author IS a spoiled little wimpy bystander. "But I own a word processor, and know how to type!" he exclaims. Yes, but as he's discovered, ...so do we.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:24 am |
  19. ezgojoe

    Call me what you will, but I rejoice at the deaths of child rapists, mass murderers, and the rest of the inhuman psychopathic monsters that wander the earth. Revenge is sweet and my heart sings for the death of Osama Bin Laden.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • I Celeberated

      I celebrated too. Finally good triumphs over evil and all these people can do is complain. Perhaps a little real world experience would help them understand.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Joi

      Thank you! Beautifully said!...Did this guy not even see the rejoicing and dancing in the streets from the middle east that occured after the twin towers came crashing down????

      May 4, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • dogs rule

      I agree and love you for saying that.

      May 4, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Rustydog

      Amen Brother.
      By kiiling all the criminals as quickly as possible, we can save a TON of money from not having to build new prisons.
      Call it "deficit reduction".
      Susan Smith- hang her.
      Dick Cheney- hang him too.
      Do you think it is coincidental that most of the people shown celebrating in the streets were young? Just newbies really, hardly able to wipe their own ass on Sept. 11, 2001.

      These are the same crowd that would celebrate an American President getting shot in the head.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      Rustydog: As far as dogs go, you're getting a little rusty, there, Fido. Even Labrador retrievers know that not all college students who cheered the death of Osama bin Laden would cheer "a president being shot in the head" as you so eloquently barked.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  20. Carol

    Is this the age of dissecting all people's behavior? Does everything we do in the U.S.A. have to be filed under politically correct......... Everyone is different emotionally, and reacts differently in situtations of happiness, and death. Be who you are, and let others be who they are, and please stop saying, " Christians do this and Christians do that", instead say, " I, as a Christian do", you are the only one who thinks as you do. All Christians are as different as day from night.

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

      Exactly! Great comment.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:15 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.