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. Dennis

    let that be a lesson to everyone, there is always a niche market for those that are the opposition voice.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  2. dusty

    and i am sorry i spealt hypocritical wrong im sure that will be the best people will come back with.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • dogs rule

      Give it up Dusty. You're just digging in deeper. Please, go back to school, take a spelling course (or: "spealt" course0

      May 4, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  3. Neal

    Please, stop posting opinion articles of christians who try to lecture us on morality.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • dogs rule

      Ditto from here! The days of the self-righteous bible-beaters are over.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  4. spacewizard

    I have no problem with Americans celebrating an American victory. However, I wouldn't call this a victory. In the end Osama won. He killed 3000 Americans on 9/11, started a war that cost 4000 American lives and $1 trillion , and he effectively divided this nation by making us fear a Muslim bogie man for the last 10 years. All he gave was his life which is nothing more than he asked from his followers. If you ask me, a would chalk this one up as a win for Osama.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  5. Hypocrates

    I find it hypocritical for you to make this comment. It is your kind that undermine U.S. security interest by writing inflamatory articles, not the average Americans who lived through the pains of their country being attacked. Are you sure you are not a closet communist?

    May 4, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  6. TOm

    Oh Shut up Stephen. He was pure evil and his death should be a holiday. Go back to teaching your pointless class.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • dogs rule

      TOm: You've said it all. I agree. I think it should be a national holiday, too!!! YESSSSSS!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  7. Jamie

    I have never seen any death as cause for celebration no matter who it is that has died. Death is not the same thing as justice. Nor is vengeance.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  8. FrankLW

    Yes, no reason to celebrate, though it IS a great relief.
    Far more worrisome, however, are those condemning the killing and calling bin Laden a "holy warrior" and "martyr", as in the Hamas, Palestinian Arab terror group that rules Gaza, or Indonesia's Islamic Defenders Front, or the Palestinian Arabs holding special services for bin Laden in Jerusalem's al-Aksa mosque, calling him a "father of Islam"...

    May 4, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  9. Realist

    The fact that you ask the question, "Have we become like them...?" clearly shows that you or your students do not believe that all are equal. I don't think that is a bad thing since I could care less about your fake god or their fake god or anyone else's fake god, but perhaps we need some more animal instinct to clean the world up. Maybe, if the vast majority of humans ceased existing the world could be better. I doubt it. It is what it is and regardless of what religion or faction or color this animal was, he is dead and it made me very happy. Now, so what? What about the price of fossil fuels and the homeless in America devastated by tornadoes? I say give them their god with a mushroom cloud over mecca...and then party in the streets just like those animals.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  10. Paul Stein

    I think the college partying was just an excuse for them to go out and drink on a Sunday night. Any college student now would at best been in high school during 9/11 so it's not like some college out in the middle of the country was as affected by 9/11 as a college actually in NYC. I'm proud of our military and glad they took him down, but the college students are more likely out there just to party and not really because they were profoundly affected by anything from their own life experiences when it comes to 9/11.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  11. raj

    I totally disagree with your arguments. You can not just compare these celebrations to the ones on 9/11 by some parts of the world. They were celebrating the death of the innocent for their beliefs but here,we are celebrating the death of an evil. If you look at great mythological like Indian, Greek..etc, people always celebrated the death of the evil and we are still celebrating those festivals in India namely Dusherra and Deewali. You simply made a wrong assumption that all deaths are equal and we should treat them equally...

    May 4, 2011 at 9:39 am |

    Faulkner's liver-- just who said everyone in the streets that night was drunken and disorderly? i didnt see any college students (who are right in the middle of studying for their exams on monday) chugging beers before Obama's speech -(because they knew what he was going to announce_....give me a break. It takes more than the 5 minute run to the whitehouse from the dorms to become intoxicated. I'm sure you're claiming that the family members of the victims who showed up on site were also drunk and disorderly? Lets me realistic here. Im pretty sure i saw plenty of people in those photos in relaxing clothing, many in pajamas who returned to celebrate the VICTORY and JUSTICE...not the DEATH of an animal. Once again....becoming intoxicated takes much longer than the 5-10 min jaunt to the street gathering where it all took place....and im sure many studying college students, military personnel, and business workers are getting smashed on a sunday night,, **rollseyes**

    May 4, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • dogs rule

      Farmkid: Please don't call this thing an "animal". Animals (except for cats) do not kill for the fun of it, but just for what they can eat. And for all the goody-two-shoes worried about our celebrating a monster's death: not to fret; some other AlQueda monster just as evil will come right behind to replace him!

      May 4, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  13. Doug O

    We celebrate the capability and accomplishment of our "men at arms". At the "recognition" and "delivery" of Justice. At the courage and dedication of our military who spend years away from family and friends to protect us. We who celebrate are still in touch with our humanity and intellect. We are the "drive" that has civilized the world. Without our kind you liberal bleeding hearts would have been devoured by the barbarians that are kept from your doors by people like us. This was not the "the death of a fellow human being"; this was "the put down of a rabid animalistic barbarian". Perhaps those of you that want to "reflect" can find yourselves another of these jihadists and take them home to meet mother (they will slit her throat!).

    May 4, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Josh

      I agree Doug O!! What a barbarian!! Drink a beer in celebration of his death!! Lets have another beer for each fallen American Soldier. While we are drinking, we should have a beer for each civilian that was killed during the journey to kill Osama Bin Laden. How many beers is that? That's 1 for Bin Laden, 5500 for U.S. soldiers, and 800,000 for civilians. Shoot I don't have the money to cover all those beers. Maybe I can get a loan from Uncle Sam to support my party. Shoot, Uncle Sam can't afford it either, they spent all their money killing Bin Laden. Oh well, at least we can sleep comfortably knowing that the leader of Al Qaeda is dead. What? He wasn't the leader and he was dying of kidney failure anyway. Eh............so........eh......how bout them NBA playoffs!

      May 4, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  14. karen

    For all those people concerned that bin Laden didn't get a fair trial as he deserved, we decisively closed with and destroyed the enemy and collected valuable intelligence about other planned terrorist activities and supporters. The world won't know what evil was thwarted, but justice will come to more loyal supporters of bin Laden's regime AND THEY, TOO, WON'T GET A FAIR TRIAL! I praise Obama for having the nerve, taking the risk and doing the dirty work. That took a lot of personal courage. We have black ops for a reason, folks. They get the job done.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  15. Cc

    I would like to thank you for this article. I too felt a little uneasy about the celebrations and wondered why I felt like that way. So thank you for writing about another point of view that some of us might be feeling.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • dogs rule

      Clearly you did not lose a loved one on 9-11, either. In fact, I'm betting you do not live anywhere near New York. Wiping out pure evil is always a cause for celebration.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  16. Freddie

    I cringe at the thought of statements such as this, born out of pretentiousness and intended impute guilt upon the people who recognize the defeat and death of an enemy as a victory. I don't like to make assumptions about people without knowing them but only a man safely removed from the trenches of battle, observing from behind a wall of security would make such observations. A privileged man, who is fearful of his own blood.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • OARFNY

      People rejoiced when Hitler was dead, when Stalin was dead..............and they were right to do so. Bin Laden, like them, was responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocents, the majority of them in this debacle have been Muslims. All people who love life, liberty and freedom are absolutely correct to celebrate the departure of this loathsome thing from among us.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Rico

      Well said! I agree with every part of your statement

      May 4, 2011 at 9:53 am |

    and you dont think killing the man was just adding fuel to the fire for the al qaeda lunatics? No matter what; people are going to hate this country...just like we dislike other countries. I want to know when this nation and its current liberal citizens and liberal way of thinking is going to WAKE UP and stop being a bunch of pansies and sissies. We didn't create this nation on the ideaology that we might make someone mad or hurt their feelings...so maybe we should just keep quiet. The unique thing about this country is we are proud of who we are, what we have risen from, and where we are going. We have rights in this country and there is nothing wrong with celebrating a mission accomplished to show some support for your country and the military who kept this operation alive. I want to know when these crazed thinking liberals are going to grow a backbone; put some callouses on their hands, start waving their flags high and start exhibiting some down-home American pride. Enough of the BS; its time to man up and understand that this country isnt getting anywhere, and has never gotten anywhere without being tough. so toughen up city slickers.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • belgianbaby


      May 4, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  18. Faulkner's Liver

    Do any of you believe Jesus would approve of drunkenly celebratIng the death of even the most vilest and loathsome of God's children?

    May 4, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • dogs rule

      Jesus loved ones didn't get hit on 9-11. You people are morons of the worst level.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • John _Atlanta GA

      We "celebrate" the deaqth of Jesus all time. We worship the method he was murdered and tortured by too. Just because people are celebrating the death of Bin Ladin does not mean they are evil worshippers of death. I celebrate his death as the end of an evil and as justice and for the message it sends to the world that we stand up against evil.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Dog Catcher

      Dog, did you have any loved ones die on 9-11? I didn't think so! Most people who have, that I have heard of have said they were not interested in celebrating such as the student mentioned in this story. You're obviously not a Christian. Christ said, "Love your enemies." You may not like it, but that is what he said.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • zjohnson

      Jesus' loved ones did get killed on 9/11. If you are a true Christian, you believe that Jesus loves us all – we are all His loved ones.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • dogs rule

      Dog Catcher: My Beloved sister was at Cantor Fitzgerald for a meeting that day. She never came home again. Don't you dare judge my family. We will never fully recover from that. If I could I would have had a party right on his dead carcass.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Dog Catcher

      Dogs Rule, I am truly sorry for your loss. But, I don't think I am judging you and certainly not your family. You are the one calling people morons for just telling the truth about what Jesus would do. How did it make you feel when you saw the people celebrating in the streets in the Muslim world after 9-11? As the writer of this article, I see little difference between that and the celebrating here this past weekend. That does not mean that I support the evil terrorists or Osama Bin Laden. I don't! It means that I believe that two wrongs don't make a right.

      May 4, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Edward

      Who needs approval from Jesus? Everyone's so desperate for everyone else's approval nowadays. I thought it was only liberal Nazis demanding that everyone seek their approval before attempting to speak their minds (i.e. it must pass the liberal PC test first). But are you saying that Jesus is in on it too?

      May 4, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • dogs rule

      DOG CATCHER: Not all of us are obsessed with what Jesus would do. Jusus doed 2000 years ago. There are some Jewish people in the world, believe it or not. I am sorry to see so many anti-Semitic prejudices still alive and thriving. I wonder if you dislike African Americans, too. I am betting you are a Southerner.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  19. Prilla

    I am so glad to see this story. I have been so conflicted about the effects of Osama's death and it's good to see that I am not alone. Personally, I feel that celebrating any death is inviting some vicious karma into your own life no matter who the deceased was or how deserving of death they are – that's between them and God. This event brings back the fear/anxiety/stress in the days following 9/11 when we were not sure what changes the US would face and how it would impact our way of life. I find myself wondering about a retaliation to Osama's death and the uncertainty is fresh again.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  20. greg

    i am with you, Stephen. For me, Osama's death is an event to be satisfied with; some of that reaction is that I viewed him as a mere criminal. We are not fighting a nation, or Islam, and for me a celebration elevates the importance we give AQ. They are nothing, we will hunt them down if they try to hurt us, and justice will be serviced.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:30 am |
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