Cheering Bin Laden’s Death

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Have you cheered the death of Osama Bin Laden?  His death is a singularly cathartic time for Americans.  Is a more profound human cheering at play?

I joined the cheering as I sat riveted by the TV images of crowds spontaneously gathering at the White House and Ground Zero when Bin Laden’s death was announced.  I too wanted to wave my American flag.

Was I doing the unimaginable and rejoicing in the death of another human being? I am at the very least thankful to know that he is dead. I have gratitude for the calm precision and leadership of President Obama and those Navy Seals. Some may be choosing triumphalist cheering. My own desire to cheer is born out of relief. But relief to what end?

The face of fear represented by Bin Laden is gone. It is like knowing that a mass murderer on the loose in your city has been apprehended or that the sexual predator who has abused you is behind bars. Fear of imminent abusive assault diminishes when the threat is removed.

Does our national cheering reveal more about the fears that have lurked in our collective psyche since 9/11 than a desire for blood sports? As relief settles in questions about what we are relieved about will present themselves.  Is there common ground to be appreciated in the human yearning for well-being and security?

In places like Spain, Britain, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East Bin Laden’s disciples have inflicted terror on tens of thousands. In the aftermath of 9/11 every person in the world was an American in the empathy directed toward us as we reeled from the attacks in DC, Pennsylvania and New York. That empathy had dissipated by the time we declared war on Iraq.

The Bin Laden franchise operators will attempt to wreak havoc wherever and whenever they can.  A new opportunity presents itself in the collective global relief of knowing that the face of fear represented by Bin Laden is gone. It is an opportunity to rebuild the common human bonds among those who make no peace with terror by pursuing security and well-being for all. The empathy that existed after 9/11 is an empathy that lingers within people of good will.

The bridge to this new opportunity exists when our cheering is not for ourselves alone, but a cheering for the human family.

The cynical will say that political and military leaders cannot deliver on such a hope or promise. Such a response creates a new face of paralyzing fears. We have learned from the people of Middle Eastern countries over the last few months that the human yearning to be free of fear and violence can never be squashed.

Deftly mobilizing the power of social media they have taught us that the human yearnings which unite us are in our hands. Bin Laden’s acts of terror and sowing of fear were designed to alienate the human family from one another. If we embrace the opportunity that his death as unleashed it will the human family rejecting fear and insecurity through proactively seeking the well-being and security of one another.

Our American cheering is a visceral reaction – it is real and freeing. Its lasting value will be in our connecting it to the cheering on of the human family’s yearning for freedom from fear.

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6 Comments

  1. Even though I don’t believe that killing one terrorist will make our world safer, I do at least agree that the feeling of excitement at bil Laden’s death may at least be in part bc other people do believe it.

  2. I can understand the cheering, but I do not support it. Some people have remarked on the reactions in the Middle Eastern and other countries when the Towers went down. I remember the horror in the USA that people would dance and cheer in their street over this blow to American pride etc. I see this behaviour as a reaction born out of our desire for ‘instant’ everything. Watching John Brennen? in the White House press room yesterday brought home this ‘instant’ need on the part of journalists, and then into the country, “Give us the answers NOW.” I feel the follow up is, “and if you don’t give them to us, we will just construct them ourselves”.
    I applaud the fact that the US managed to keep the information secret for ?6+ months. This was a great coup, let us not belittle that. The care taken to give Bin Laden a Muslin burial speaks to the care taken in planning and executing the operation. Let us cheer for that, not for yet another death. I am glad he is dead, but I do not think that this will bring us back to the safety we took for granted in the lives we led before 9/11. Evil is always with us, let’s recognise it but not glorify it.

  3. I think you are correct! By itself don’t the cheering misses the invitation to a larger question of our inter-connectedness with all who seek well-being and freedom from fear?

  4. Thanks for your reflections! Don’t you think that when we recognize the existence of evil we are invited to be participants in working for those things that affirm the life of every person. Instead of being passive victims we become partners in compassion, justice and hope

  5. I am so glad you wrote about this Robert. When I heard the news, I had a great feeling that justice had been served. But, when I saw people cheering, it made me very uncomfortable. My feelings about the death penalty have changed greatly since I was young – then I believed that no one had the right to inflict the ultimate punishment. As I have aged, I think now about people who are so evil that their very presense in this world seems wrong. But the other thing that I have found as I have gotten older is that I cannot find it in my heart to be happy at someone’s death. I’m glad Bin Laden is gone, but I can’t cheer.

  6. Sherri Tilstra

    Thanks for sharing your reactions, Robert. As I found myself feeling relieved and, yes, happy about Bin Laden’s death, I also wondered if this was a compassionate, Christ-worthy response. My husband’s response was more one of sorrow, for all of the deaths. I’ve come to think that feelings are visceral, neither bad nor good; it’s what we do that counts. I’m so glad our president is handling this in an even, non-gloating sort of way. I’ve also come to think that, right or wrong, bin Laden was just too dangerous to keep alive. I really am glad he’s gone. AND, I want to continue to work for peace. This is a complicated business!

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