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May 04

Is It Wrong to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?

Linton Weeks from National Public Radio emailed me after reading some of my comments on the need to forgive Bin Laden. And he wrote this outstanding column exploring much of the same questions. I’m quoted extensively in this so I’ll just quote from there and let you read the remainder of the column.

Not ‘Our Finest Moment’

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the news of bin Laden’s death with this statement: “Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

“I think that’s on the mark,” says Mike Hayes, a campus minister at the University at Buffalo. “As a Catholic Christian, I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, especially when it is done violently. Naturally, my human nature fights against that idealism, especially when I think of those who I lost personally that day and all those who lost their life on 11 September.”

However, adds Hayes, who runs the Googling God blog for young adults, “I don’t think that the celebrations in the streets were our finest moment as Americans, and reminded me much of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets at the fall of the Towers on that dreaded day.”

Hayes says: “We are called to forgiveness. And that is the only way that we can be truly free. Holding onto our hatred keeps us in slavery to bin Laden’s madness and gives the terrorists continued power over us.”

There is also a sense of false elation, he adds, “because many believe that the world is a safer place because of this death. That relief is probably misguided.”

Misguided indeed. The world might indeed be more precarious today that ever before. As a former New York City resident and now a resident of Buffalo, I remarked to a friend, “It’s a good day to live in Western NY. I don’t think I’d be too eager to take the subway today.”

Milennials certainly have grown up in this culture of terrorism and now that Bin Laden has died, there was a need for a collective sigh of relief, a sigh that grew into rampant celebration–something I found to be detestable, but understandable.

A former intern of mine wrote me from Singapore yesterday and had a good comment or two.

Its a catharsis for our young generation that the bogey man is dead. Not all bogey men, but one of them…the problem is in the real world the bogey man still is a human. And we must recognize him for his faults and maybe his virtue.

But right now we all have a lot of emotion kicking around that gets in front of that vital point, emotions that are valid, and real. Give it a second, and you will see the millenials will figure it out. To paraphrase an Irish writer I can’t remember. “its good enough to know that he was a man and that he lived” usually thats reserved for the over eulogized, but in this case its equally poignant.

Indeed. Excellent comments. A colleague of mine today asked why the world is any more precarious for the millinnials then it was for children of the 50 and 60s with the fallout shelters and air raid drills. As a Gen Xer we were scared to death of the Russians. However, today, we don’t really know the enemy as well. We don’t always know where the enemy will turn up. That, coupled with the over-parenting that many millennials have been raised with and the world can often seem far too scary and that we have far too few ways to battle back.

And JK on the NPR Website added this:

J K (phillipaj) wrote:
I’m glad that this question is being asked. Frankly, I was disturbed by the pictures and video of people rejoicing, jumping up and down with the American flag, and holding beers. This man was a killer and the world is safer without him, but to celebrate anyone’s death seems morbid and inappropriate to me.

Osama Bin Laden killed thousands of people – those people are still dead. As a result of 9/11, we invaded two countries – we are still there. Soldiers have died, been maimed, been severely injured, committed suicide – they are still dead or injured. Civilians have died, been maimed, been severely injured, committed suicide – they are still dead or injured.

To see mostly college students, who are here safe in America spending their days in the library, celebrating with beers while soldiers and civilians are still fighting and dying and trying to just survive another day, seemed to me disrespectful and out of touch. And I write this as a recent college graduate: I know that I was and am removed from most of the real implications of the after-effects of 9/11. Osama is dead, but let’s not forget that the impact of his actions and others’ reactions will continue to affect the world for many, many decades to come.

We continue to pray for peace and hope that we can show more decorum so that the rest of the world can continue to respect us.

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2 comments

  1. Laura

    Hi Mike,
    I saw you quoted on another blog this morning that cited the NPR piece, and I was so glad to “hear” your voice among all those that have surfaced this week. Another interesting piece I read in this morning’s paper on Millennials’ reactions to Osama’s death thankfully showed a more nuanced and thoughtful response from many of the young adults they interviewed than simply jubilant beer-drinking and celebration – reflections on what it means for this 9/11 generation to have such a symbol of terrorism and fear removed from their worldview.

  2. Gene Tozzi

    Mike,
    In asking if it is wrong to celebrate bin Laden’s death you have offered us a well thought out and perceptive comment on a touchy situation. You have also highlighted the perspective that many of us glean from our membership in the Catholic community. You said what many of us thought but might have found difficult to put into words.

    On the other hand I’m sure that there were many different motivations for those who came out into the streets Sunday night. Some may have wanted to show support for our troops after an heroic maneuver carried out with precision. They might have wanted to show respect for the victims of 9/11. Some may have just felt the need to do something to fill the emptiness that others of us fill with prayer when our feelings are torn. Of course there are always some who don’t need much of an occasion to have a few beers and then may not know why they were out on the street. However it certainly seemed that there was a darker element to the group emotion. I suspect that there were some out there who became uncomfortable with the tone and went away quietly.

    I second the thought: we are called to turn every experience of life into an occasion to grow in peace and respect, rather than reflect the hatred that can so easily take root in the human heart. That is the message of Christ. I suspect it is also the belief of the majority of the world’s Muslims as well. It is the only real answer to the hatred that we see in bin-Ladenism and in a thousand other manifestations.

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