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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. BonBon

    Psssh, party pooper!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  2. just so u know

    A common misconception that muslims celebrated the 9/11...The video that was played over and over on our televisions of arab women and children clapping during 9/11 was as Dan Rathar reported stock footage taken months before 9/11 and which some media outlets decided to play...
    now as far as celebrations go...i can understand people being relieved and happy for justice that needed to be brought...yet to celebrate death of even a man as vile as Osama just seems kinda off....I personally just reflected on the downfall of a man who with his charisma and leadership abilities could have benefited humanity yet choose instead to sow the seeds of distrust and hatred btw humanity.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      I'm glad that you monitored all of the network and cable broadcasts post Sept 11th to ensure, along with the keeper of all complete and truthful reporting, Dan Rather (why did he get fired by CBS again?), that all celebrations were from stock footage. I'm sure they were all in mourning...

      Question – are the people with Osama posters marching in the streets burning the USA flag now from stock footage too? I'd just like to know no. I don't learn that it was just a misunderstanding 10 years from now.

      May 4, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • just so u know

      boy are u a bitter...and a dufus...did i say that in the past 10 years muslims havnt celebrated....ofcourse there are those who have just as much hatred for america as u probably have for them...but the footage on 9/11 that was shown was stock footage...and since ppl often use that as an example i am telling u that in that particular case it is not true...
      and besides we here in America have ppl who do the same thing..ie Terry jones who burnt the quran...do we then say all Christians are bigots??

      May 4, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      Ooo – a dufus. I don't know how you come up with them. Zing!

      "...but the footage on 9/11 that was shown was stock footage..."

      What footage? All footage? A specific, single sequence? A frame? A single shot of a person? All networks? Just CNN? Your local TV station? When was the footage actually taken, and for what event? What country? Was it spliced with other current footage? How many minutes did the sequence run?

      Not exactly sure what your point in trying to explain away the celebrations that followed 9/11.

      As for how I feel about all Muslims – glad you could enlighten me regarding my feelings. You can't type a full and complete sentence, and can't frame an argument, so you just resort to insults. So..........you hate Jews, gays.... and you kick little puppies! Prove me wrong.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  3. duh

    When I was in college, my maturity level was such that I would have found any excuse to party. I don't like admitting it, but that's how I would have been 15 years ago.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  4. Dwight

    I am not going to sit down and read all of the comments being posted so that I can give my unbias opinion. Most decent human beings would never party on the fact that another human was killed however, this individual caused so much damage and heartache with the loss of life when he attacked the US on their own soil. I did not take offense on watching those who celebrated this victory, we may have not won the war but we did win this battle. I have served in the war on terrorism and I have lost good friends to this fight. Having a moment of relief was more how I described it because I know this war is not going to end anytime soon. So, having a moment to celebrate a victory was just fine by me. Did some take it to the extreme? Well Professor welcome to the real world where yes, I as a Soldier, will always put it all on the line so that you can make your unbais opinions which I do not agree with. It is a right given to everyone in this country and even though it may be tasteless to some, it is not for others.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  5. Peter

    The current generation is fed up and frustrated......we took out Bin Laden, but we are broke before it happened......as America goes further in debt, and the cost of living sky rockets because of the made up Wars.....These kids have less to look forward too.

    No wonder after watching the current greedy generation tear down America with it's reckless spending, they are partying when finally something positive happens.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  6. Johnmichael Monteith

    First, I am not certain everyone celebrating was doing so for the death of Bin Laden. It was a major turning point in our war against al Qaeda. Not only did we eliminate the mastermind behind al Qaeda but we left with enormous amounts of intelligence information that could ultimately bring their organization to their knees and could radically improve the situation in Afghanistan. After all of the negative news there finally was a reason to celebrate.

    The larger question might be should we ever "party" from the results of military action. After we won World War II was it appropriate to celebrate given the tens of thousands of lives lost? When is it justifiable to let your hair down when human lives were lost? Intellectually, probably never, but human nature being what it is you cannot ignore the reason people will.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  7. areposator

    Revenge and justice are two different things. Revenge is ancient and primitive; justice is the mark of civilization and comes of law. Read the Orestaia, if you are able to read.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  8. NYCresident

    Bin Laden was US funded, armed, and trained in the art of terror against the USSR in the 80s. We created him. Besides that, most New Yorkers I know personally are under the belief that 9/11 was an inside job. Many saw a military jet hit the 2nd tower, not a commercial flight. The US war machine has made billions in the Middle East on the back of American soldiers. Micheal Moore touched on this in his timely movie Fahrenheit 9/11. While bin Laden appears to have been a "horrible terrorist figure," it's unclear to many what true acts against humanity he masterminded. Ever see the movie, Wag the Dog? If you haven't, you should. Maybe you, too, will begin to question reality.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • doseofreality

      BWAHAHA I lover conspiracies as well. Did you know that it was Santa Claus that actually crashed at Roswell, and the Men in Black has him deep in Iron Mountain, not Area 51. I opened a bottle of champagne when I heard the news. The difference between a bad guy and good guy is that the good guy shields the innocent and the bad guy uses the innocent as a shield. 9-11 was not a declared war of any sort, it was a terrorist action; not by Muslims in the name of Islam, but in a power hungry group that has turned and twisted religion and faith to work their purposes. UBL was killed and he was a combatant (regardless if he held a weapon or not). I only hope that the Carl Vinson emptied its bilge when the body was cast to the sea.

      May 4, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  9. Dan

    If Hitler had been killed earlier, people would have come out into the streets and hurrahed for an evening, and few would have wrung their hands over the impromptu street parties. A proportion of people felt like coming out and milling around and expressing relief and happiness, so they did. It's normal. Get used to it.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  10. Wesley

    I totally agree. I can't say I would have ever wanted to meet the man, but I can't say I want throw a party over his death either. I'm a teacher, and I listened to some of my students talking about it, but I genuinely have been disinterested in the whole affair.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      Great...you're a teacher. God help us.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  11. Jay Delgado

    Stephen said: "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?"

    Hey, Stephen? On 9/11/2001, the Muslims, in the Muslim countries, celebrated the deaths of completely innocent people.
    The people you saw celebrating yesterday in the commons were celebrating the death of one who was COMPLETELY guilty, a RUTHLESS, VICIOUS KILLER.

    We haven't 'become like them'. If you ever start to entertain this kind of moral equivalence in your mind, then you may want to get a refund for your Degree...because you were cheated, my friend. You were cheated, BAD.

    Just my 2 cents, take it for what it is worth.
    Your mileage may vary....

    May 4, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  12. lance bell

    I for one am glad the world is rid of Usama Biladen , he was a cruel person who brought evil to the world. He was the one who caused his own death. We all have the right to see his dead body. We the people have the right to see for our self if we so chose that right and i for onr want to see the real pictures. We seen the pictures of the 9-11 and many other acts of cruelty he shed on the world. So yes i think it would be in world best intrest to release the pictures to the public. I sure i dont stand alone in this matter. I did not dance in joy of his death but i can say the world is better off with out him. If any one trys to follow in his foot steps may the world bring them down and we can all become one as a whole.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  13. duhh

    Finally a sane article...its sad to see what has become of current American generation...

    May 4, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  14. BoomBoom

    I hated them for rejoicing when ours fell, it hurt me on a strange level that took a long time to heal. Why would I turn around and rejoice when theirs fall. For revenge? I agree he needed to go no argument there. But I can be satisfied and respectful.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      Respectful? Of who? Bin Laden? You're sick...

      They celebrated innocents killed in mass murder. We target the guy responsible and take him out after 10 years and a lot more lives. You somehow are equating the two. Go back to Berkeley.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  15. Lilarose in Oregon

    My reaction was not one of condemnation towards the celebrators in the streets, but one of wanting to say, "Good job! I am glad the man is dead........forever." bin Laden lived ten years longer than his victims all over the world. We humans hold ourselves in too high esteem considering the tiny speck Earth is in the vast universe. We are only like grains of sand, if that. What makes us so special that we have to reflect on the death of a madman. I say, "Glad he's gone."

    May 4, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Ethan

      well said!

      May 4, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  16. Sasha Hasani

    Look, I am relieved Osama will never plot again. But I will not celebrate it so childishly as if my team won the superbowl. It just looks asinine and juvenile. Well, most of the people were college kids so I guess I can forgive their actions. This is, after all, the same group that goes down to Mexico to parteh every spring break...
    Still, I do not understand this whole "now we are safe" mentality. I never felt vulnerable in the first place. Not before nor after 9-11. I guess in the land of the free, home of the brave, I and perhaps a few others (yep, you know who you are) really lived the "brave" part. I did not cower or flinch! I cared not for orange, red or yellow alerts. I felt no more in danger after 9-11 than I did before 9-11. I lived a life devoid of fear or hysteria. I wasn't for massive war... I was for small surgical strikes like the one that took OBL... could have been done cheaper and with less casualty. Too bad we are a culture that still feels the need to throw our weight around internationally like bullies. I fear we have already planted the seeds for future bin ladens. Because my friends... you and I have sent an army of 300,000 and already made 200,000 orphans out there. We tortured thousands... (only to find out, only 20% of them were actually criminals) I am sure the rest won't take a "my bad, dude" for an apology.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  17. Dennis

    We the People of the United States of America dress up like with axes embedded in our skulls, fake blood dripping from our mouths and blood-soaked rubber limbs dangling from our limbs on October 31st each year. We celebrate death every year and throw big parties promoting it. And now we are celebrating our relief that a cowardly madman can no longer bring death to us and our children and suddenly we're all in the wrong? This is just ridiculous. I hope to see more complainers writing theses types of articles on Halloween every year.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  18. Wicket

    It does look like mostly kids who would have been in grade school or junior high during 9-11.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  19. That Guy

    I cracked open a beer and started clapping. I wanted to call everyone over to my house and have a BBQ. Party over here, F you over there!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  20. Cally

    I felt the same way. Am I wrong, why am not jumping up and down, making crude comments. Wheres the dignity.....not for him but for ourselves.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      How many friends and family members did you lose on 9/11 or as part of the campaign to track this guy down? I had two friends die because of this guy and people like him. Keep your self-righteous lecturing to yourself and realize that not everyone watched all of this happen from a distance on CNN so emotions will vary.

      Let me guess. You're a student in this guy's class, right?

      May 4, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • Calliopea

      Bin Laden Bin Shot – could you BE any more hypocritical?

      I also lost someone on 9/11, and I feel as Cally does. Why don't you follow your own advice and realize that emotions will vary, and that to tell someone that how they feel in response to this is wrong is shooting your own argument in the foot. Stop spouting nonsense.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
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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.