Party! Osama’s dead!

For throngs of Americans, the news was reason to take to the streets and celebrate the dramatic demise of the detested mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Yeung May 03, 2011 10:18:50 IST
Party! Osama’s dead!

How'd you react when you found out that Osama bin Laden was dead?

For throngs of Americans, the news was reason to take to the streets and celebrate the dramatic demise of the detested mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Party Osamas dead

Americans rejoiced as news of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's death filtered in. Mazhar Ali Khan/PTI

While U.S. President Barack Obama was careful to strike a solemn tone when announcing bin Laden’s death, the public’s reaction was less restrained. After nine and a half long years of searching for the Al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was boisterous singing, chants of “USA! USA!,” beach balls that bounced through the crowd, and even reports of chest bumping. It was a giddy, cathartic jubilee all around.

But the triumphant revelry didn’t sit well with some Americans, especially spiritual leaders.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, religion editor for the Huffington Post and associate dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University took exception with what appeared to a kind of dancing on the grave of bin Laden—but not because the hateful extremist leader deserves any sympathy.

Instead, he encouraged readers to "mute our celebrations" because:

All humans have the potential for grace, but we also all have the potential to sin and do evil. It is a tempting yet dangerous practice to look around the world for evil people and target them. That is just what Osama bin Laden thought he was doing. We must be vigilant that we do not become what we despise.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author of Judaism for Everyone, got into a Twitter spat with comedienne Rosie O'Donnell after he quoted the Bible—"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:170)—after congratulating President Obama, the U.S. military and others who helped "neutralize this monster".

To which O'Donnell responded: "Do rabbis condone violence -- war -- murder?"

Rabbi Boteach later clarified his position by explaining that while Judaism is singular in world religions in its exhortation for followers to hate evil, the Bible also teaches that "we are not to celebrate our enemy's demise". In other words, while we should give thanks for bin Laden's death, we should hold back from figuratively dancing on the body of a dead man.

Catholics, too, had some difficulty with the post-Osama partying. As Salon editor-at-large Joan Walsh put it, "After years of Catholic school, I am constitutionally unable to feel joyous about anyone being killed, but I got close tonight with bin Laden". (The students at Catholic University, however, seem to be skipping their religion classes, as some students gathered in front of the White House and led the crowd in the National Anthem followed by Miley Cyrus’ "Party in the USA".)

But you needn't be religious to question the exuberant celebration.  David Sirota, a former Congressional staffer who was told to flee the U.S. Capitol on 9/11, argues that Americans once held contempt for those that "actively celebrated death" because it was "anathema to a nation built on the presumption that life is an 'unalienable right'".

He notes that Americans were disgusted at the video footage of Palestinians cheering on 9/11 in the U.S., but with Sunday and Monday’s street parties following bin Laden's death announcement, "we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise".

And Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at NYU, called the unchecked celebration in recent days "anti-American". Though he acknowledges that a quest for revenge is understandable and natural, Zimmerman revived Abraham Lincoln to argue:

By celebrating death, even of someone as evil as bin Laden, we let our worst impulses trump what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature." We look petty, juvenile, and small. And we should all be worried about that.

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