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. Jordan


    May 4, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  2. Party Hard

    Life is a b*t*h...but in this case...Death was a blessing.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  3. Luposian

    @ Bill... you said:

    "i think there are moments when it's good to allow ourselves the right to dance in the streets when justice takes place, even when the justice doled out is in the form of an execution or assassination."

    You know what justice is, in God's eyes? It's payment for sin. And the only "justice" that we deserve, is burning forever in hell/the Lake of Fire, according to the bible. Thankfully, Jesus came and paid the price FOR us, so we don't have to go to hell to pay for our sins, Jesus already did. I'd rather have heard Osama accepted Christ rather than he was killed (because you KNOW it's not going to end "the war on terror", only a fool would think that it would), but given to knowing it's 99.999999% unlikely he'd ever accept Christ... knowing he will never be able to hurt or spawn further destruction, will have to suffice. He was still a soul that needed saving, just like Hitler, Stalin and Mao... but... oh, well... 'tis appointed once for man to died and after this... the judgement."

    May 4, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  4. BrontosaurusRex

    The author's reflection has no logic to it whatsoever. When Muslim's celebrated 9/11, they celebrated the death of thousands of innocent people who died because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, people are celebrating the death of the man who is directly responsible for that day and the deaths of thousands of others, both directly and indirectly. So, because we "celebrate" that makes us like them?

    I'm sorry, but the vast majority of Americans do not take pleasure in the deaths of innocent people like those who celebrated on 9/11 did. They celebrated the death of a mass murderer.

    It's a sad state of our education system when the educators can't even make this basic distinction and actually have their dribble put on CNN.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  5. Shell

    To know that the monster who was responsible for 9/11 has been taken out of this world is cause to celebrate! To celebrate taking another humans life? Was this monster human? C'mon people, they were celebrating 9/11 where thousands of innocent people were murdered, we celebrated the death of the guilty monster who did this...we are nothing like the enemy. All these people need to stop their whining!! Justice has been served!!!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  6. Mike

    To hell with propriety. I am an immigrant now a US citizen; I am not looking for approval from other countries who hate me anyways to party or celebrate !!! Sorry dudes don't like my country or my partying, turn the TV off....and you can hate US all you like whether I party or not its not going to change you mind

    May 4, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Bin Laden Bin Shot

      Rock on Mike – and welcome to the USA! Glad you came.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  7. SonsofLight

    Well written article. Very pleased that at least one major threat to our great nation has been eliminated, but also dismayed by the "partying" reaction. This was the violent death of a human being–despite his twisted, murderous ideologies. There's more that binds all of us than separates us. All of the violence and hatred aimed at America is because of the abject poverty and squalor the rich of the world force upon the poor. It's their expressions of jealousy, frustration, and complete hopelessness. If there was a little more love and sharing the wealth going around monsters like bin Laden would have no followers. As far as not being a Christian, it's never too late....Let's hope our Heavenly Father doesn't exact the same standards of "having no pity for your soul."

    May 4, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  8. Emperor Xenu

    Osama bin Laden ceased being human many years ago.

    What was killed the other day was a perversion of humanity. While I pity any person that loses their life prematurely, I refuse to pity something like bin Laden.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  9. michella

    I have to agree, it seems to me to celebrate his death made us look like them, we're better than that. While I am very glad his reign of terror is over, I want us to display our relief with dignity. That's the American way.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  10. EM

    Death is horrible. No one should die. We should all live forever.

    And be accountable.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  11. Joe the atheist

    I am always terrified of mass demonstrations, be it riots or celebrations. I agree with the author in that celebrating the death of anything is not civilized. I also agree that our war with islam is not over yet. Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • LINDA

      JOE, You are so right, our war with Islam is far from over.
      I worry about the future for our children if this keeps up – there will always be another Terrorists!
      You would think in this day and age we could all live in PEACE.
      It will never happen – we will always be at war with someone.
      It does not make the future look too promising. I don't like to see partying in the streets. It does remind me of how they reacted when the towers went down.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  12. Lisa

    Osama Bin Laden represented something horrible globally, just as Hitler did. I will let God judge him, and judge me for being glad that a military action took down the leader of a terrorist organization. I wish he had come to Jesus but he did not and was as twisted a soul as they come. I wish he'd have given up, but he didn't. I'm sick to death of self righteous spiritual people who will judge those who feel relief at the stance our government took to say no, we will not be terrorized, and no, we will not be bullied. Take your moral high road, but God said don't judge me either. This is human and God know ME too.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  13. sumonecomon

    The celebration of Osamas death is not only appropriate, it's a necessity for some who lost loved ones in 9/11. It is soothing to know that the mastermind behind the attacks that killed more than 3000 people will never be able to strike again. He was human, but not one that should have the privilege of indulging in the same oxygen peaceful, law abiding humans breathe. There is no place in this world for a person with his thoughts and actions. The world is a better place without him and that alone is reason to celebrate.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  14. Dennis

    We the people of the United States of America are not celebrating the death of someone. What we are actually celebrating in the streets is relief....we are demonstrating our relief that some cowardly madman is no longer able to threaten our lives, the lives of our children, our liberty and our pursuit of happiness. Make no mistake, all those people out there are not celebrating death, they are celebrating life. Try and look at it from a different angle my friend.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • David Marin

      You are definitely not speaking on my behalf. I assure you that the majority of the country WAS celebrating his death along with all the other things you mention. Stop feeling bad for someone that would have murder you and your family if he had the chance just because you have a different ideology.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  15. Joe

    Then "cringe" you sissy.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • AwesomeBob

      Thumbs Up.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  16. David Marin

    I have no regrets by celebrating the demise of this "human being. I remember watching footage of some parts of the middle east right after the towers fell of people burning American flags and praising BinLaden. This person was a mortal enemy of our society and our people and given the fact that if he had a nuclear weapon he would have used it makes me want to have killed him myself. I praise our military for having ended his life and support anyone that rejoiced in his demise.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  17. Mike

    There's a key difference between the Palestinians celebrating on Sept 11th and the Americans celebrating Bin Laden's death. Those who celebrated the atrocities on Sept 11th were cheering the death of thousands of INNOCENT lives, while those who cheered Bin Laden's death were applauding justice and the renewal of the social contract in society.

    My father was on the 72nd floor of the North Tower on Sept. 11th, and I remember watching the celebrations in the streets of Palestine with great sadness rather than hate. By the grace of God, my father survived that day. He and I shared a laugh at the news of Bin Laden's death because it was justice finally served.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Dr. NoVA

      I'm always amazed how when a falsehood is distributed, that the retraction and correct of the story can never quite catch more than 10-20% of those that saw the original false story.

      Only a SMALL, SMALL minority of Palestinians took to the streets after 9/11 – the context though should be understood that it was near the height of the Intifada and the Palestinians largely viewed the US as a co-conspirator of Israel. It is misguided to think of the US as a neutral party to the Palestinians at the time, they were not and were viewed largely within the context of Israeli military support.

      Having said that, many, many Palestinians poured in the sympathy and empathy with the US. You must understand, Palestinians very much admire the US and most of the Levant region would want nothing more than to be an ally of the US.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  18. Robert

    Bin Laden is dead. Party first, reflect later.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  19. Bill

    luckily, not all of us are Christians. i celebrate his destruction. he was a vile creature. a monster. i have no pity for his soul. he chose his path. he paid the price for that choice. i lost friends in 9/11, as a lot of us did. i think there are moments when it's good to allow ourselves the right to dance in the streets when justice takes place, even when the justice doled out is in the form of an execution or assassination. i'm not criticizing others for taking the moral high road and sticking to their Christian values (although that morality seems quite selective at times), but the world will not miss that creature anymore than it would miss anthrax or smallpox.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Robert

      You referring to "soul" is selective also, no?

      May 4, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Clair

      I'm not Christian and I'm relieved Osama is dead, but I do not agree there are ever moments to dance in the streets when I terrorist leader is killed. Celebration of victory, yes. Celebrating death, never. the celebrations in the American streets last night looked very much like when the Palestinians danced in the streets after 9/11. Osama was the product of a value system that considers the death of others a cause for celebration. We see where that lead.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Bill

      your relief that he is dead is truly but a hair's breadth from celebration in the streets. if it is in your heart, is it not truth to live it out loud? hypocrisy to say one thing is bad, but feel it nonetheless.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Clair

      @Bill I think there is a great chasm between breathing a sigh of relief and then shedding a tear for those lost and for the hate in the world in the hearts of all man and running outside with a 12 pack and shouting "Rot in Hell" and singing "Na Na Na Hey, Hey Goodbye." while dancing and ripping your shirt off like I watched on the news. There was no rejoicing in my heart as I thought about the servicemen and women whom I served with who still may never get the chance to come home. Their was no rejoicing in my heart for the children and babies killed in American air raids in Afghanistan & Iraq. Relief that this man was stopped yes, but joy no. Life is not that black and white.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • BRYAN

      Exactly take religion out of it. The guy orchestrated murders of thousands of innocent people based on his own twisted beliefs. it has taken almost 10 years, who knows how much money, and thousands of lives of our service men and women along with countless civilians. justice has been served. crowds in courtrooms here and abroad break out in jubilation everyday when justice is served why should this be any different? For all those who say we should be reflecting, get out of your shell and turn on the TV!!!!! WE HAVE BEEN!!!!. The guy is dead and the world is a better place today than it was before his death. End of story.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  20. Texas Harry

    As I am currently on company assignment in the Middle East, the partying in the USA makes me feel very unconfortable. If this incites the hate America crowd, or worse yet, helps to foster a sense of wanting revenge, then it serves to only endanger the lives of US citizens abroad.

    Great article. Those readers who profess to be Christians should heed Jesus' admonition to love and pray for your enemies - else you are a fair-weather Christian at best.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Robert

      Jesus never said to let murders roam free. Bin Laden would not give up without a fight, so he dies. So be it.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Wicket

      @Robert, no one said that it wasn't justice, i.e., live by the sword/die by the sword, he was speaking of the lack of dignity in the monkey-like behavior of the kids, and how that might appear to Muslims-on-the-edge, among others in the world. It stands to reason that if we can blame other countries for not acting true to their majority religious beliefs, they can do the same to us and we can all drop down to the same level.

      We aren't known for our dignity, introspection or self-control. Good Luck to you over there, @Texas Harry.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:51 am |
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