May 03

Should we celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden?

I learned of Osama bin Laden’s death yesterday morning. I was immediately struck with a sobering thought: I hoped there wouldn’t be a retaliatory strike. As the day went on, I began to hear and read the reactions of others. The majority of emotions could best be described as celebratory. He may have been an immensely condemnable person, but I still find it hard to celebrate the death of anyone.*

I found that some agreed with me, but they were a quiet minority, giving way to the much louder parade mentality of the herd. People seemed joyous, as if some patriotic victory had been won.

I was struck by the oddness of these reactions. But I found at least one blogger on my side. Vjack, at Atheist Revolution, wrote this article, which contains two key points that I was also feeling. First, this does not deter future terrorist activity. Second, and more importantly to me, this brings us closer to the mentality of the terrorists themselves.


This does not show the world anything.

One sentiment I’ve heard from several voices was that this act somehow shows the world what happens when they mess with us. It effectively says to would-be terrorists, “We will hunt you down and kill you no matter what it takes.”

There are several problems with this. First, we are dealing with a group of people who engage in suicide bombing. The threat becomes empty against a person planning to kill themselves in the act anyway. Second, threats like these do not deter people from committing violent crimes, as various studies on the death penalty have shown.

This was about revenge, not about deterring future actions. If anything, it provides at least a temporary increase in risk.


This does not separate us from a violent mentality.

I would consider there to be a spectrum of reactions to violence. On one end, you have the jubilant reaction. It is shocking to think back to the celebrations that took place when the twin towers fell. On the other end, you have the most ardent pacifist who abhors any kind of violence.

When we celebrate a murder, we move closer to the emotive state of the terrorists, and closer to their worldview in how one ends a conflict. I’m not saying we have to be the pacifist, but if given a choice to have a reaction that moves me toward the terrorist mentality or away from it, I will choose the latter. I will choose it every time.

*I acknowledge that I might feel differently if I had lost someone in the attacks or been more personally affected by the 9/11 tragedy. It’s hard to imagine how one would feel in that situation.

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  1. Hurf Burf

    He may have been an immensely condemnable person, but I still find it hard to celebrate the death of anyone.*

    I’m getting really tired of hearing people (mostly confused liberals) repeat this self-aggrandizing little gem over and over and over like a matra.

    Some people truly deserve to die, and the world is a better place without them. Osama bin Laden was one of these people. Their passing is most certainly a cause for celebration, as the evil they represent has at least (even if only symbolically) been conquered for a moment.

  2. Mike

    I agree with you that some people probably deserve to die. I don’t have any problem with bin Laden being killed in the military strike. I just don’t agree that it’s a cause for celebration.

  3. Mark C.

    Hurf Burf,

    What value is there in blood lust? Justice is, or should be, concerned with righting wrongs when possible, and preventing future wrongdoing of the same kind. There is also something to be said for treating all people as equally as possible, whether citizen or not. It’s a matter of principle, of recognizing them as members of the same species. Capture and trial of bin Laden would have been better than outright killing him, even if he would end up being put to death, anyway.

    Perhaps he did truly deserve to die. But aren’t there things worse than death, such as continual torture or life in prison? Death doesn’t need to hurt, after all, and after someone’s death, there is no longer any opportunity for anything. Killing him could have been accomplished via lethal injection in his sleep, though I imagine you wouldn’t settle for that method. The people I see celebrating his death would most likely only be content with bin Laden having a violent death, or one in which he suffers. This is solely a retributive attitude, which is a state of mind I and many other people desire not to embrace. If non-lethal punishment is to be given, it should be for the purpose of preventing future crimes of the same kind already committed… but it should never be solely for retribution.

    What actually pisses me off more than the celebration of bin Laden’s death is all the people chanting things like “USA! USA!” and claiming that this is an American victory. It is as if the death of this one man, no matter how dangerous he was, justifies all of our own wrongdoings since 9/11: Widespread hatred and suspicion, the war in Iraq, the abuse/avoidance of our justice system and the abuses at Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, plane flight restrictions and TSA searches, etc. Don’t you think these realities would please Muslim terrorists? Perhaps it is an American victory, but to seemingly take pride in America for that is blinding oneself to what we have done to ourselves in the last decade. And not only does it impact us, but it also impacts other countries’ relationships with us.

  4. Mike

    I agree that it definitely impacts our standing in the world negatively. We could learn from this. We could use it to remember how we got here. We could figure out how we could conduct foreign relations in a better way to make tragedies less likely. Those things aren’t bing accomplished by chanting in the streets.

  5. JR

    My first thought was also concern for retaliation. I honestly don’t believe the death of single individual, even the leader, in an organization will deter them from working towards their goals. If Obama were assassinated, America would continue on, and I’m sure that some absurd acting out would be considered. I think we now wait for the blowback with no clue as to when or where. Should www expect an immediate attack? Will we eat some nukes in the middle of winter without a warning?

    The next steps are extremely difficult to anticipate and I can only hope that we have enough intel to take preventative measures and act prudent. Until then, I’m going to continue reviewing plans for a zombie proof house…

  6. Steve

    ” . . . that moves me towards a terrorist mentality or away from it, I’m going to choose the latter . . . ”

    We are at war with the Al Qaeda group (which started the conflict) of which Bin Laden was the recognized leader of, and our military killed him during wartime. How does that imply that we are moving towards a terrorist mentality? From what I can tell a terrorist mentality is blind hatred for a perceived enemy with the intention of harming them repeatedly with violent acts meant to terrify, maim and kill in the hopes that they will see the error of their ways and convert to an acceptable perception of God as deemed so by the self-proclaimed righteous haters. Is that how you feel having heard the news of Bin Laden’s death? Are you developing blind hatred? Do you wish to hurt, maim and kill? Does your belief system make you feel entitled to act out against anyone with a different belief system? Please, help me understand.

  7. Mike

    Steve, let me first say that I don’t oppose that we killed him and I also don’t think the Americans shown on tv celebrating were doing something as bad as the celebrations after thousands of innocent civilians were murdered. There is clearly a difference.

    But I think it’s fair to then ask the question, “Does celebrating like that moves us closer toward the terrorist mentality about violence and killing or further away from it?” I think the answer is clearly closer and it worries me to see that reaction. But even aside from that concern, we have an image problem in the world and those scenes probably didn’t help that.

    So does that help you understand?

  8. Steve

    Well, I think it’s fair to say that the human animal is always going to have an affinity for violence, just as much so for lust and greed—as are evidenced so clearly on a daily basis not just in the media, but in our own lives. It’s far too idealistic to believe humans can actualize pacifism. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting it, as I’m sure millions if not billions do, but to have it seems quite unrealistic. Violence isn’t only wanted by people, it’s glorified. Putting an end to the DESIRE for it is what is necessary for true and lasting peace. I won’t say it’s impossible over a long enough timeline to evolve to such a state, but I strongly feel that it is unlikely.

    I don’t watch the news or read the papers (I’m not a negative vibe merchant, nor do I enjoy my emotions being toyed with) which means I didn’t see the celebration in the streets that you are talking about. It certainly didn’t happen on my block, or even in my town that I’m aware of. I think I understand your point though, Mike. Realistically though, in regards to our image in the world, are we really that much different from other folks in other countries? Dead American bodies have been dragged through the streets over there and to us it’s an outrage. We dance in the street when the leader of our enemy is murdered. Which is worse? And these are only examples of acts that have been televised. Who’s worse behind closed doors?

    To be honest I try not to get involved in debates about these issues of life: morality, image, us, them, God, etc., because it just goes on and on and on, deeper and deeper, talking about the past–the present, the past–the present, what we did, what they did, who started what and why . . . Where does it end? It doesn’t. Not until the human race is gone from the planet. Then the debate is over.

    Until then we survive within the framework of a complex system that cannot be anticipated or controlled. Hell, it can hardly even be managed.

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