Last night, hundreds of excited Harvard students gathered outside my window in Matthews. Chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and singing “God Bless America” and “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard,” these joyous, debatably sober, vuvuzela-carrying Harvard students celebrated the death of America’s most-hated enemy: Osama bin Laden.
The ralliers in the Yard mimicked those outside the White House by singing, among other songs, “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.” Harvard Yard’s ralliers added in the Mexican Hat Dance. They gave each other hugs, danced jigs, and screamed in joy. And today, students across America have donned patriotic red, white, and blue.
Now, I dislike attacks on American soil just as much as the next person. However, to me, celebrating someone’s death seems not only distressing but also hypocritical and decidedly anti-American. I have never studied the Bible, but one line from Proverbs 24:17 instructs, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” I could not agree more.
Yes, Osama bin Laden had an important role in multiple horrifying events. Maybe he was indeed a “horrible person,” although I hesitate to label humans as “evil.” However, as someone who strongly affirms the preeminence of life, I shudder to imagine employing the death penalty against anyone.
Some might say that a terrorist such as Osama bin Laden “deserved” death. However, Osama receive no fair trial: he was killed in a firefight. And no matter what the situation, the death of a human being should inspire contemplation and reflection. I understand the intense emotion and symbolism of this event, but nonetheless, it seems wildly inappropriate to celebrate a person’s death.
In fact, this sort of celebration seems to be just what would reaffirm negative prejudices about Americans held by those involved with terrorist groups. After all, people join al Qaeda because of fear—the fear of an unfamiliar people, or the fear of an uncertain future. These groups give people the assurance of organized and effective action against their terrors.
In truth, our excessively patriotic celebrations undoubtedly confirm that Americans are unfeeling and inconsiderate. They fuel the anger and resentment of those civilians who are even moderately sympathetic to al Qaeda. Celebrating Osama’s death does absolutely nothing to earn America the respect of the Afghani people.
Furthermore, Americans must treat our own emotions with extreme caution. The large display of patriotism demonstrated in Harvard Yard today terrified me in a way I could not explain. My friend Joshua Hernandez ’
14 articulated this concern in a poignant Facebook status: “I’m scared–of what America will do next, what Americans will feel privileged to say, and who we will target next. I worry for our humility.”
And in the end, was this actually such a great victory? As far as I can tell, Osama bin Laden has done very little in the past ten years. Instead, America has engaged in multiple wars in the name of “fighting terrorism.” Hundreds of thousands have died, including almost 6000 American soldiers and many more Iraqi and Afghani civilians. Searching for Osama bin Laden has taken an extraordinary amount of money and an unacceptable number of lives.
Of course, a few good things may come out of Osama’s death. Many have suggested that this “epochal” victory has cemented Obama’s chances for 2012. (If only I, too, could kill someone famous and then be elected president!) More importantly, this will pressure the US government to withdraw its remaining troops from Afghanistan—after all, the hundred thousand men and women there have succeeded in their objective of capturing Osama. A dramatic reduction in defense spending would allow the US government to pay for important social programs instead of funding military contractors. Unfortunately, I fear that this “victory” might inspire an opposite reaction.
President Obama declared in last night’s address to the nation that “this demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.” I certainly believe in peace—and thus I don’t believe in multinational firefights in foreign countries. I certainly believe in human dignity—and thus I don’t do the Mexican Hat Dance when someone dies.
In fact, rejoicing at someone’s death, even if that person killed others, is reprehensible and abhorrent. I am ashamed that Harvard students took place in extremist patriotism, and I am ashamed at America for reveling in death. America must not accept Osama’s death as a victory without considering the huge loss of life that search entailed, and we must not perpetuate stereotypes of American unfeeling. After all, it should never, ever be patriotic to celebrate death.