Bin Laden’s death: the morality of celebrating

Gathering to celebrate death – © AFP/File Chris Kleponis


WASHINGTON (AFP) – Amid the public revelry, flag waving and cries of joy, some Americans are standing back and questioning the propriety of the raucous celebrations which followed the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“It’s awkward to celebrate anyone’s death, but it is impossible to feel remorse for one who has caused so much pain and needless suffering in the world,” explained the Republican representative from the state of Utah, Rob Bishop.

Late Sunday evening, after President Barack Obama announced the death of the Al Qaeda chief, there was an explosion of emotion across the country. Thousands of younger Americans, mostly students, gathered in front of the White House to shout and cheer.

“I never felt such emotions,” said John Kelley, 19. “In my town, we lost a lot of loved ones. It’s something they have been waiting for, for so long.”

Kelley, who is originally from New Jersey, where many of the victims of the World Trade Center bombing lived, said when he heard the news, “My knee started shaking. I called my best friend. He lost his brother in 9/11. He was overcome with joy. ‘It’s too good to be true,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to believe.'”

Celebrations broke out not only in the middle of Washington, but all around the region, from Rockville to Silver Spring in Maryland.

“I’m very glad he’s gone, and I hope that it results in a resurgence of optimism in this country,” said a jubilant Robert Wood, a student at Washington’s Georgetown University.

New Yorkers gravitated to midtown Times Square and downtown, to the site of Ground Zero, where many brandished copies of the New York Daily News tabloid whose headline read: “Rot in Hell!”

“Today I’m just proud to be an American,” said James Vigiatura, 51, and a waiter. “I’m here to celebrate his death.”

But once the initial reaction to bin Laden’s death had passed, a number of blogs, newspapers, and religious leaders starting raising questions. “Is it morally right to celebrate bin Laden’s death ?” wondered a CNN blog during Obama’s Thursday visit to Ground Zero where the president, quietly and without speaking publicly, marked the operation.

Two days earlier, an influential Catholic priest, Edward Beck, had criticized the cheering demonstrations. “We cannot judge who is evil and good… only God can,” he said while interviewed on the popular talk show ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’ which airs on the conservative Fox network. We must “love and forgive our enemies,” he added.

Episcopal priest and university professor Danielle Tumminio agreed: “I think people have a right to celebrate,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with holding up American flags. But I don’t think we should celebrate the taking of life.”

It was the same sentiment expressed by an Imam in Saint Louis, Missouri, Muhammad Hasic. “I don’t think it’s possible to control the celebrating,” he said. “It’s a natural reaction, especially for people who’ve felt the consequences of his actions.” But nonetheless, Hasic said, “I cannot think of any example in sacred texts suggesting that it’s okay to celebrate someone’s death”.

For Tom Pyszczynski, however, a psychologist and specialist in the “theory of terror management,” the reactions were entirely predictable and “natural.”

“I would say that the rejoicing about bin Laden’s killing was a very natural human reaction to a serious trauma,” he said. “Much like a rape victim who is satisfied when her attacker is punished, or perhaps how Europeans — and people the world over — felt when Hitler died.

“The basic idea is that when people experience something together like bin Laden’s death, it makes it more real,” said Pyszczynski. “Human beings need to know that their experiences and feelings are shared by others.”

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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