Bin Laden’s Death: Why I Can’t Celebrate

Bin Laden’s Death: Why I Can’t Celebrate

Osama bin Laden’s face is all over the television.  People are flooding the streets waving American flags.  The President speaks of our unity and resolve as a nation.  And 9/11 is on everyone’s mind.  This has all happened before.

Except this time, ten years after 9/11, we are not grieving death; we are celebrating death.  We have slain Osama bin Laden – the one who first slayed us.  And we are singing and laughing and high-fiving.  As if this is the end.  As if violence can end a cycle of retaliation.  As if retribution can bring the dead back.  As if the troops are coming home tomorrow.

Even if I wanted to celebrate, I’m too busy worrying.  Today, many Sikh, Muslim, and Arab American families, brace for violence, concerned that Americans will target those who “look like” the Osama bin Laden we just destroyed. We didn’t bring Osama bin Laden to trial, after all.  We killed him before we captured his body.  So why would vigilante Americans wait for the law to take care of the “terrorists” in their midst?

The last time a sudden burst of nationalism rallied us against America’s turbaned and bearded enemy, an epidemic of hate crimes swept the country.  In the yearlong aftermath of 9/11, the FBI reported a 1700 percent increase in anti-Muslim violence. At least 19 people were killed in hate murders. In the last decade, we have seen resurgences of hate violence whenever anti-Muslim rhetoric reaches a fever pitch, as it has since the firestorm around the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” last election season confirmed to politicians that they can use anti-Muslim sentiment to win political points.

In the last few months alone, Congressman Peter King held controversial congressional hearings investigating “radicalization” in the Muslim community, Tea Party protesters yelled “Terrorist!” and “Remember 9/11″ at Muslim families at a fundraiser, legislators proposed a flurry of bills banning sharia in more than a dozen states, and Arizona tried to pass a bill that would remove the name of a victim of post-9/11 hate murders from its 9/11 memorial. It was only a matter of time before we heard news of violence.  Just a few days before the congressional hearings, two turbaned Sikhs were gunned down in likely hate crimes in Elk Grove, CA.  Another was murdered in Las Vegas.

Today, the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing does not bring an end to the hate; it refuels it.  In a decade-long “war” against terror, each time our government decides that some people are so bad that they must be placed outside the reach of law, our national imagination shrinks.  Human beings, in their fullness and complexity, become one-dimensional enemies.  It’s hard to kill people; it’s easy to kill enemies.  Frightened by Islamic fanaticism, we turned Osama bin Laden from a frail sick human being into a mythic super-criminal who embodied pure evil. So, no wonder people are celebrating his destruction.

We would never celebrate the murder of a person.  But thousands are pouring into the streets to rejoice in the death of evil incarnate. And those who “look like” him — especially Sikh men and boys with turbans and beards who have endured a decade of “hey bin Laden!” on our city streets — are waiting and hoping that Americans might change how they see.

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Update: Breaking News —  5/2/11 at 1PM PST

A Portland mosque was vandalized just hours after President Obama announced that the U.S. had killed bin Laden.  The graffiti reads: OSAMA TODAY, ISLAM TOMORROW.




25 thoughts on “Bin Laden’s Death: Why I Can’t Celebrate”

  • Thank you for these wise words. I landed in Boston at midnight last night and the plane started buzzing with the news. Surprisingly, no one shouted or clapped. I expected the celebration of death, of murder to explode. None did. Perhaps we are not completely insane?

    May we all mourn the dead and organize for the living.

  • I completely understand and to a degree I agree with you.
    I am not a person that is celebrating the death of another human being. There is no joy in this. Only a sense of relief that an individual that was so bent on murder and destruction is no longer a threat. It is like having to put down a rabid wild animal that is a threat. There is no joy in that act.
    I hope that sensible people can now put aside their hates and fears and realize that an individual that hate a dangerous agenda was stopped. I look upon people wearing kufis, scarves and turbans as interesting people from a culture different from mine and as potential friends and people of possible great worth. I pray that we can all put aside the insanity of the past decades and live in peace. This will require forgiveness on all sides of the issue.

    • Very well said. I do not celebrate his death but I am Very glad he is gone. He was consumed with hate and evil and I am not afraid to say so. I will not mourn him. Or Hitler, or Amin or any of them.

  • I completely agree– celebrating his death is dehumanizing Osama bin Laden the way he and the Al Quaeda have dehumanized so many. If we cannot think of him as a person but an idea that the United States is trying to put an end to, how can we ever move away from such violence?

  • Thank you for this post, I felt ill seeing all the photos of crowds celebrating and waving American flags this morning. In my Christian faith we are told not to rejoice over anyone’s downfall, even an enemy, something I think is important.

  • I for one am glad there are people able to act in defense of human life, rather than sit around and philosophize why stopping such and individual from killing thousands of more people is either right or wrong. Perhaps if we had done so sooner, the 2,977 victims of Sept. 11th would still be alive today, all the victims of hate crimes from that moment of history would not have suffered or been lost and the growing sentiments of hate on both sides of the fence would not have risen so high. However, I share your fear of retaliation by those sympathetic to Al-Qaeda’s cause, and as well from those ignorant and unenlightened enough to lash out towards people that are innocent. The theory of a positive feedback loop from violence is correct in a sense, but I feel it’s often used incorrectly. If someone beats your child and you in turn beat theirs, the theory holds true. Although, if that same person begins beating everyone’s children in your neighborhood, would you not step in to stop them? Would you just stand idly by and watch the innocent and defenseless suffer? There are times when action or violence is needed to stop a greater evil from perpetuating. It is how you direct those actions to stopping those evils that separate us from those that initiate it senselessly. Now you wouldn’t have seen me out in the streets cheering and chanting either, but this action needed to be taken to spare others in the future from the same grief and sorrow that evil man caused thousands of others. Thank you for your opinion and for taking the time to read mine.

  • I understand what you’re saying, and while it does make sense I have some issues… First, I believe this is much more a celebration of the fact that America has finally accomplished what it set out to do in 2001, which is bringing justice to a mass murderer. Like Jeff said, people are relieved that Bin Laden is no longer out there set on killing more innocent people.

    Second, I can’t speak for everyone obviously but I really don’t think the majority of people believe we have somehow defeated all terrorism. We’re not celebrating the end of fear and violence, but there have been few enough opportunities for hope when it comes to this fight that it is natural for people to come together at this time, when we finally have a reason to celebrate something.

  • Your deeply felt words ring true. May these words help build a bridge; connecting our hearts in oneness.
    Thank you.

  • While death of a human life is a serious matter, the death of Osama bin Laden is welcomed news. This is a man that would kill many more innocent lives if only he had the opportunity. I am very pleased with what happened today.

  • blessings and peace to you for expressing beautifully how these events trouble you.
    blessings and peace belong in our hearts to give whenever we see lack in the world.
    bless the americans who celebrate death because they are only responding with the resources they have available to them. they will not heal the world of anger hate and war, but you might.
    with love

  • I read this as meaning people are assuming, based on the actions of a few people, that large numbers of Americans will now target anyone who looks like bin Laden. Isn’t that employing the same logic you’re condemning?

  • These are my thoughts exactly! In fact I was so surprised that no one talked about this on the news that I googled it this morning and found your article. We are acting as if every problem the US has right now has been solved.

  • I so agree. Thank you so much for this article. Over the past two days I have feared a backlash in my community, my school, etc… None has come yet, but the Portland mosque is proof that violence could happen any time.

    I am in no way a religious person, but I found this particular verse perfect:

    ‎”As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people” – Ezekiel 33:11

  • Thank you. Heard you on CBC today and agreed with everything you said. I found your site after I got to my destination but sat in the car listening. I especially love that you differentiate between nationalism and patriotism at a time when it feels like most people can’t tell the difference. I wish more Americans were like you. Maybe the silent majority is. I hope so.

  • All violence or killing is wrong, and there should be none in on this beautiful Planet…The fact there is and most is ‘Religious’ and ‘Political’ is an indictment to both… Guru Nanak rejected all institutionalized Religion over 500 Years ago and his timeless words whenever used against these dogmas, silence them in embarrsssment like they did 5 centuries ago… These so called ‘Faiths’ based on stories which have no basis want world domination through numerical supremacy and military conquest and believe they have a monopoly on ‘Salvation’ which Guru Nanak says will not happen.The clergy of these Religions is criticised as being frauds who instigate their ‘flocks’ to take over the world by numerical supremacy and violence. Until we replace these divisive ideologies of tribalism and racism with Universal values and morality, the chaos will continue…We need Sikhism and it’s extraordinary universality to save our Humanity and the Planet.

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