Osama Bin Laden is Dead, But This is No Time to Celebrate

Celebration at ground zero. Photo Credit: flickr/David Miller. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.

For some, the news brought an understandable sense of relief, or a bit of overdue closure. Others are viewing the event through a purely strategic lens, believing the kill shot to be an accomplishment only because it will likely avert greater violence in the future. The merits of such reactions are debatable. But those who boldly celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden have fallen for a devilish trick. In an effort to assert moral superiority and to separate from the legacy of the infamous terrorist, they have unwittingly participated in the same hatred that gave birth to his kind of extremism.

This is how it goes with nationalism. The lie is that our celebration of this violent death is warranted, but when others trample and dance on the charred bodies of dead Americans in Fallujah, it is vile. The lie is that one victory is enough to wash all the recent blood off of our own hands. The lie is that the enemy always deserves what is coming to them, while we are perpetually innocent. Nationalism is just like slipping into a warm bath. If you want to make things easy on yourself, just focus on the colors on the flag, trust the crowds and their jubilation, and believe in the power of courageous words. Slide in, and let your questions and all consequences melt away. God takes a different approach. Ezekiel 33:11 says “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.”

It is in this moment of celebration over the death of another human being that we indulge in self-righteousness and ignore the darkness in ourselves. The cross of Christ does not destroy the notion of enemies, but for those who follow Him, it does provoke a new response in us, because it is at the cross that we see ourselves unified with all mankind by our common darkness and need for restorative grace. Frederick Buechner said it well when he wrote “maybe those are the words that best sum up the paradox of who we are and where we are. Somewhere between darkness and light.”

You will find me celebrating in the streets when the appetite of the American War Machine is finally satisfied. When the death of Bin Laden is no longer used to whitewash over this nation’s recent atrocities committed during the War on Terror, and no longer serves as leverage for this continual war. When the U.S. announces an end to these wars, and removes our men and women from the battlefield. When we return our bases in the Middle East to the countries who own the land they’re built on. When we stop empowering the evil of terrorism in an indirect way through our exaggerated fears and disproportionate response. I will cheer when we acknowledge the reality of terrorism, but no longer surrender the pursuit of liberty and justice for all as we attempt to address it. On that day, it will be time to celebrate, and if that day never comes, then we can still look forward with hope:

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”- Isaiah 2:4


18 thoughts on “Osama Bin Laden is Dead, But This is No Time to Celebrate

  1. As I heard/saw the news on the networks and watched the crowds gather at The White House and in Times Square two thoughts crossed my mind:

    *I guess if I were there and lived in those cities during the attacks I might feel as excited as they were.

    *Boy, do they look young.

    And, as I discussed it with some friends I was with when the news broke (I was over a friend’s for dinner) we all realized that most of the (early) crowds in DC were college kids. It looked like a frat party in the streets. We surmised that these were kids who were about ten or eleven when the attacks of 2001 had happened. These kids have lived half their lives with 2001 being a reality, along with our domestic overreactions. I think their reaction was very naive and emotional. But, in a way, I wasn’t surprised.

    People tend to react the same all over the world because we all share the same basic sets of emotions, no matter our station, race, sex or nationality. We are overwhelmingly emotional beings who happen to possess a superior intellect compared to the rest of the animal kingdom of which we are members. It’s just that we often tend to react emotionally first and THEN intellectually. Were it the other way around, we’d be Vulcans. And, maybe a little better off.

    I was actually very heartened to hear a lot of the talk radio I did yesterday and discover that many people realized how brutish our dancing in the street seemed and that it wasn’t much different from what we saw in some Middle Eastern cities after the Twin Towers fell. Do I get the difference? Sure I do. But it’s not ENOUGH of a difference for me. I don’t celebrate the death of anyone, no matter how nasty they are/were. Nor do I particularly mourn them; I spilled no tears for Bin Laden. (I have to admit that it was easy for me to laugh at all the spontaneous jokes that the comedians on Twitter started shooting out — I felt no reverence for his memory or existence.) But to dance about his demise, it seems to me, is to dance to ALL the destruction that has come to us over the past decade (and before). I don’t celebrate the death of hundreds of thousands we’ve killed in the effort to get to him and justify our anger. In the end, it’s been a heavy price that both sides have paid to get our revenge.

    • Thanks for this Bri. Your last paragraph especially gave me food for thought.

      “But to dance about his demise, it seems to me, is to dance to ALL the destruction that has come to us over the past decade (and before).” I see it that way too.

  2. This is a very lucid and straightforward approach to the issue. Well done. Having been homeschooled in the 90s in Texas means that I was brainwashed to believe the nationalistic gospel: that the U.S. was right in all its conquests because we were truly a Christian nation.

    I don’t get surprised when I see non-Christians participate in this kind of bloodthirstiness, but when Christians, evangelicals at that, participate in it, it makes me ill. Here we are looking like warmongering vigilantes in the face of the world, but we (the Christians) are soaking in this “warm bath.”

    It’s madness.

    I think for the Christians, the unholy matrimony of nationalism and some sort of updated manifest destiny makes the whole thing seem right on a superficial level. Since we are always in the right and God is always on our side, we can celebrate this sort of injustice.

    Thanks for your work.

  3. When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan Proverbs 29:2

    I think the blood of the 9/11 dead cried out for justice, and a wicked, evil, devil, was no longer in rulership, and the people rejoiced… I see nothing wrong with that and quite right to do so…. When Hitler was overthrown, people danced too, to see evil stopped! From his sadisttic terror, and rape of countries… God is both just, holy, righteous, and loving, kind and compassionate, it takes a true man of wisdom to hold that in check… Solomon, helps us to see why…. Nationalism speech misses the point… The 3000 dead in New York, Pentagon, who I knew, is the point… This is no time for philosophical ivory tower speech’s… The people rejoiced, because the wicked have been removed…. This also is part of the Christian faith… Acts 12 Herod died, when an angel struck him! Luke shows God’s justice… I rejoice that an evil monster can no longer, attack and kills innocent people, and spend his life and his fortune to do so… You should rejoice at that too for the 9/11 fallen…

    • “John”- there is something to what you’re saying here, and a tension in people’s reactions that I tried to acknowledge, but perhaps I failed at that. Having said that, I cannot go as far as you can, for the reasons I’ve written about. I don’t say this because I wrote it, but perhaps reconsider the stuff on nationalism. It may be more of an influence than you’re willing to acknowledge.

      I appreciate the comment.

    • Part of the problem is that you assume that the “wicked has been removed” with the death of Bin Laden. When we only see the “wicked” as someone else and never see the wickedness within ourselves, then we are no different than the rest of this fallen world, and we Christians are called to be different.

      Is there reason to be relieved, maybe. But I see no valid reason to rejoice in death.

  4. Hey Ian – thanks for your article. I respect your opinion on this, but I also respect everyone else’s feelings about this too. I think every person’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death is colored by their own experiences and emotions. I’m not about to tell someone that lost both legs fighting in Afghanistan that he needs to be respectful of a dead tyrant. And I’m certainly not going to tell a 20 year old that grew up knowing an America that was victimized, frustrated and demoralized that she should tone down the jubilation so it doesn’t make us look unseemly. Feelings are what they are, whether you choose to restrain them or not, they still exist. I’m not concerned about religion or wrath, I just know that a mass-murderer is no longer walking the earth and that makes me glad and relieved. I don’t care about giving him another moments thought once the headlines fade – he’s gone. My thoughts will turn to wondering when the next sociopath will take his place on the world stage. I guarantee you, I won’t feel guilty, solemn or regretful when that one is taken down either. Bin Laden forfeited his humanity a long time ago, he attacked & killed innocent people, we attacked and killed a mass murderer. I don’t equate the students with American flags with terrorists burning them. Both may be celebratory, but for entirely different reasons. That said, if people choose not to show that kind of reaction, I get that too. However, I don’t think that morally elevates one over another.

    • Hey Kris. Likewise- yours is an opinion that I respect, and I wrestle with what you wrote.

      Don’t misunderstand my point though, there are a wide range of feelings and reactions that are understandable and quite human, and I am not attempting to regulate or micromanage those, in fact, I leave it to other people to determine what is the optimal response. What I am saying is, we must acknowledge that there is a line that can be crossed, that there is an extreme, and at that point we leave behind the spectrum of “debatable” human reactions for something inhuman- which is pure hatred. You don’t need me to tell you what that means for individuals and the wider world.

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful Response Ian. I could understand being concerned about a long term reaction of celebration combined with obsessive hatred, I agree that would be very disturbing. Holding onto anything for too long eats away at a person’s outlook. That said, I really don’t think 24 hours of celebration is excessive, I think it just hit people emotionally during that time, and they just reacted. The students have gone back to class, 9/11 victims are back to their day to day lives, as are the rest of us, not even a week later. It’s business as usual once again. I think now is the time when people have come down from their excitement and can start to think about what his death really means to them. Frankly, I’m now focused on the jailbreak in Kandahar by 475+ Taliban prisoners under the “watchful” eye of the guards. Back to square one. Yes, Bin Laden is dead, moving on…

    • Kris- I don’t understand how behavior can be judged by its duration. We remember the celebration of 9/11 in other countries, and of the mutilated bodies of Americans in Fallujah, and all we remember is that snapshot in time. We have no idea how long that lasted; for all we know those people were off saying prayers and loving their families the next day. Does that make it any less obscene and harmful? They could explain what they did exactly as you have.

      A predatory sociopath can spend 99% of their time blending in with normal society, but if 1% is filled with the most heinous, violating criminal acts, is it somehow justifiable because of its limited span? Imagine an attorney making that argument in front of a judge. If I’m comparing, an accumulation of short, hateful moments doesn’t really sound all that favorable to sustained hatred.

  6. “You will find me celebrating in the streets when the appetite of the American War Machine is finally satisfied.”

    Yes. This.

    I respect that vengeance was served; I am glad that — 10 years later — the person who ordered the planes into the buildings is dead. I cannot rejoice . . . not until we’ve turned from the path of destruction and returned to wise government.

    • Loved your comment Lisa, especially “I cannot rejoice . . . not until we’ve turned from the path of destruction and returned to wise government.”

  7. I like what Lisa said… perfect!

    Sometimes I have initial overreactions to stuff like this. Maybe because I’m ticked off by what the world has become… so I can go a little “captain america” right off the bat.

    In reality, anyone getting killed is never a GOOD thing.

    I believe Ben Laydens death was NECESSARY but there’s not much to rejoice about. Al Queda is still around and it took us 10 years to get him… embarrassing.

    I can understand the responses of those in NY and their excitement and I won’t judge them but it did look a little silly at times to me (is that judging? :) )

    On a side note: Al Queda threatening revenge made me laugh. REVENGE? Wasn’t Bin Ladens death “revenge” for 9/11? So I guess they were going to live peacefully from now on until we went and killed UBL and messed everthing up?
    The white house is claiming that they found plans to attack trains in the intel picked up when they killed UBL, so it looks as though those gosh darn silly Al Queda guys were going to continue killing those with different religious beliefs anyway. Shucks!

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