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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. Jason

    Now we know what it must feel like to be Israeli and see militants celebrating rocket hitting a target only to be spitfired by the international community when there is a retaliatory defensive attack.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  2. Margie

    I agree one hundred percent. I was feeling very uneasy and a little depressed seeing all the celebrations and couldn't quite verbalize why. It does go against the moral doctrines I have to celebrate someone's death, even a hated enemy and evil person such as Bin Laden. It indicates a lack of respect for life that I see that is more and more evident in the world right now. I know for some it is justice and a feeling of revenge. It is human nature to want revenge but I think society needs to think about what kind of message we are sending our children when there are parties and celebrations about another human being's death.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      And this coming from someone who will probably go out for a burger this afternoon, and munch on dead cow flesh. Such a blessed respect for life, that you're trying to teach us all! (I LOVE it when people long to hear their own voices sounding "holy" and pious, little realizing that some of us just laugh!).

      Thanks Margie! (the dead cow munching lady!)

      May 5, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  3. Otto

    "Revenge is a dish best served cold"
    We waited almost 10 years for this man to meet his maker. What better feeling is there than to know finally, we no longer have to ask the same question over and over again. "Where is Osama Bin Laden"? We know the answer and revenge has finally served him a cold dish. Haaa...fish food, hopefully the type of fish humans never eat.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Interesting site although not related to the blog subject but could be a source of informations related to the Holy Quran....
    http://kaheel7.com/eng/

    May 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  5. John B

    This guy equates crowds cheering the mass murder of 3,000 people with crowds cheering the justified killing of that same mass murderer? Was he raised by hippies?

    May 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  6. Rustydog

    Most of the responses from family members of the victims of the 9/11 attacks either expressed relief or a sense of satisfaction that Bin Laden was finally hunted down, cornered, and killed. Call it justice.
    I did too.
    However, celebrating this event in the streets was simply an expression of pent up anger and a desire for revenge.
    Neither emotion will bring back any of the victims of terror.
    Curiously, most of the celebrating was by younger people. People who have lived with 9/11 since they were in grade school, but who have little memory of the actual attack or its effect on this country.
    If you are a soldier or warrior, you do what needs to be done to accomplish the mission. And if you manage to come home alive, then it is a good day indeed.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  7. rufus

    The people who celebrated probably also cheer when the quarterback on the opposing team is injured. What a shallow group of people we are. Do they cheer when killers are executed? Probably so. Why not say justice was done and move on?

    May 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      "Why not say justice was done and move on?"

      It's because we're not as wonderful as you are yet, rufus, ...because you have not yet fully taught us how to live. Pleeeze write a book. We've been hungering for it our whole lives. We LONG to be more like YOU!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  8. Steve

    ... And the hate spews.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      Exactly! The author hates those who think for themselves, and do what they want. You're so RIGHT!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  9. SRH

    Many of the individuals celebrating bin Laden's death are clueless as to how they desecrate the U.S. flag by wearing it as clothing. Look at the photo of the celebration outside the White House. To see the flag used as a head covering or as a blanket covering the celibrants makes me feel ashamed of them and very aware of their ignorance. The flag is a powerful symbol. Treat it with respect!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  10. xyz

    The argument this article makes is not whether or not Osama was evil and deserving of death, its about whether or not we should celebrate it. So for a grossly simplistic example: if you are in a school yard fight and you take out the big bully with a single punch to the head, is it better to jump around for joy like a little punk-ass b***h or to calmly walk away happy that you defeated your foe?

    May 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Concerned4Fla

      We were raised on action-hero movies.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Matt

      have you considered that maybe AMERICA is the big bully in this grossly simplified metaphor?

      May 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • xyz

      The metaphor was merely used to illustrate the value of stoicism that often gets over looked, I am not one who looks to action movies to understand the world around me. And yes, I very often view America as a bully in the international community. Try not to take things so literally.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  11. biblecat

    let the heathen [ walking dead rascals ]make jokes or worry about death.bin laden was a master thought adjustor[ urantian lingo]. the next guy will be worse revelation chapter 13

    May 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  12. awaysaway

    The celebrations were apolitical and totally spontaneous. So I would say they were a whole lot more honest and real than any hand-wringing and grade-grubbing classroom discussion. To be honest I'm still laughing at the worthlessness of a “Death and Immortality” course – presumably some poor parents are paying good money for their children to attend that. Dear me.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  13. American Soldier

    While I couldn't disagree with your opinion more, I will fight til the death for your right to have one.
    P.S. "bacchanalia"? Someone's their money's worth out of their Word of the Day calendar.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Joey

      here here

      May 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  14. Ric

    Everyone should ponder this saying. 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      It's easy to take scriptures out of context Ric. Jesus also said ...

      Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

      Amen.

      May 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  15. Phil

    I have never agreed more fully with an opinion piece.

    I cringed and felt it made us look shallow. It made us look to many in the Muslim world how many in the Muslim world looked to us on 9/11.

    To me, it looked like the shallow, Facebook crowd was looking for an excuse to party. A somber walk of many, to the white house and a candle light vigil to honor those lost during 9/11 and the countless American soldiers, civilians, and innocent Muslims killed since then would have been much more meaningful and helpful to show the world that they should not hate us.

    Instead, we once again supported the majority of the negative American stereotypes that exist in the wider world today.

    Then again, could we really expect anything less from the majority of the twenty something Americans today?

    May 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • DanTex

      Liberals are always unhappy – period. And patriotism is something they just can't stand (except perhaps in France). They think everything that is bad in the world is ultimately America's fault. If you can actually sit and watch the tape of those people on Sept 11 that leap to their deaths from the top floors of the World Trade Center - and express one ounce of comapssion toward OBL - then God help you. You must live a quite unhappy life.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Phil, you do nothings are the blight on our country. Accept it. You have balls but no guts to use them. What a waste your generation is that listens to other do nothings, do nothing, but complain and call it debating. Get off your duff after graduation and do. Or, is that too much to ask?

      Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

      Isaiah 5:20

      Amen.

      May 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      Look! Look! ...By his own admission, Phil is more amazing than "the MAJORITY of the twenty something Americans today!". Please tell us MORE Phil! Being more wonderful than tens of millions of other American must feel pretty darned sweet! ...and we all want to know more about you!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  16. vegas

    The same as them?!!!! r u kidding or jst stupid?!!! THEY WERE CELEBRATING AFTER KILLING THOUSANDS OF US TO THIER LOUSY ONE?!!!! WE R NOT THE SAME...WE WANT JUSTICE AND THAT'S WHAT WE GOT...ALTHOUGH MORE NEED TO BE TAKEN OUT...EVERY LAST EXTREMIST EXTINGUISHED!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  17. Joey

    We are celebrating a military victory over an evil ideology. This is way bigger than celebrating the death of one man you obviously dont get the big picture here.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Joey

      We are not in our local towns throwing apples at someone being hung, or decapitating the heads of our enemies we are better than that. Al Qaeda, the group and the idea, has a great deal of confidence thanks to the invincible leadership of OBL. His death marks the biggest blow we could give to everything they stand for, which is evil. You look at this as us celebrating death of a human life, I look at this as celebrating the potential lives we can save by ridding the planet of people like him and his thought.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Joey, pay no attention to the idiots that just talk and can't walk the walk. I'm just grateful that these cowards refuse to fight for our freedom or we'd all be dead ducks.

      God Bless our men and women in the military for each and every war that is being fought and that was ever fought.

      Amen.

      May 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  18. Kelvin

    Photos of Americans celebrating can be superimposed directly onto photos of arabs celebrating. All the same. Americans celebrate the one who killed their innocents. Muslims celebrate those responsible for their deaths. The ball was in your court America to take the higher ground but you're noe just back to deuce.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  19. JonP

    Comparing this to the celebrations in the streets after 9-11 is comparing apples to oranges. If we had just dropped a bomb on Karachi and killed 3000 innocent unsuspecting Pakistanis and were celebrating that, it would be a similar situation. Sure celebrating the death of another is not on moral high ground but I think for many it's a celebration of justice. There is a substantial portion of the population of the planet including each and every American that if they were in his crosshairs, he would pull the trigger. Eliminating that possibility is what we are celebrating.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Skegeeace

      @JonP- THANK YOU! We didn't bomb 3,000 innocent people during their work day while they were minding their own business. Celebrating the death of ONE mass murderer is not the same thing as celebrating killing thousands. Do I think we should take joy in anyone's death per se? No- but I do applaud justice being done in a broader sense.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Concerned4Fla

      So right on John P. Exactly.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Joe - Wilmington, DE

      I feel a sense of relief and "celebrate" the fact that the world is now a bit safer. I certainly will not criticize others for overtly celebrating the fact that a mass murderer was dealt with appropriately.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Correction. We are celebrating the demise of a monster. Whoever thinks bin Laden to be a human with feelings is delusional beyond belief.

      Pray for our military. They sacrifice everything for us.

      Amen.

      May 4, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  20. charlesmartel

    This Prothero and his kind are so stupid that they pose more of a threat to this country than bin laden and co.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Ricky L

      Why is he a threat?

      It's easy to say it.....now explain it.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Phil

      Wow, way to respect someone's opinion.

      I think you pose more of a threat to all of humanity than you can possibly fathom.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jake

      Hey Phil,

      way to respect charlesmartel's opinion you hypocrite

      May 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Joey

      I disagree with this article as I stated below, but I dont think this guy is an idiot at all.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • neoconpunk

      Prothero and his ilk are nothing but girly-guys. Bunch of namby-pamby sissies. Americans were celebrating good triumphing over evil. We were celebrating the power of our military and the fact that justice was served the old-fashioned way. No egotistical judges or high priced attorneys using technicalities and legal jargon. Good old American end of a gun barrel. Just like the old west. Cowboy style. John Wayne would have been proud.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Ricky L

      When Americans broke out into spontaneous street demonstrations in the past, it was to celebrate the end of a war, not the death of an individual.

      Still, I believe these were more acts of patriotism than anything else.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      charles, he and others like him are the terrorist in this country. Especially, how they've turned our younger generation into walking, talking robots that do nothing but debate and question everything without knowing Truth, only their lies. They turned our children into a bunch of ball-ess wonders complaining about our military that protects their rights to not lift a finger, never mind use their minds that were conditioned to be cowards, calling themselves intellectuals. Yes, intellectuals so they assume, without wisdom. LOL.

      Amen.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Jessie S.

      Phil:
      Liberal fallacy #1: "Respect someone's opinion" as a prerequisite ..before even knowing what the opinion is.
      Liberal fallacy #2: "Respect someone's opinion" even after you DO know what the opinion is, and that it is nothing more than the typical liberal Nazi "do as I say, or I shall not have a single reason to live" B.S.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:05 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.