The Thinking 
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Dancing on Bin Laden’s Grave

May 2, 2011

 

SAGE McLAUGHLIN writes:

Is there something wrong with me, or is there something wrong with the world? I just cannot jump for joy and light cigars and drink champagne and chant “USA” the way the rest of the country seems to be doing over the death of bin Laden. It strikes me as unseemly. Not that there is not cause for some relief, and even a healthy measure of satisfaction. But the lack of sobriety and basic Christian restraint on display makes me queasy. 

I read a while back that, “Baseball is what we were. Football is what we are.” I was reminded of that this morning. The trash-talking victory dance over a slain and defeated enemy, even one as wicked as that satanic creature bin Laden, does not become us. 

Again, though, I can’t help wondering if it isn’t something wrong in me that leads me to react this way. One can’t help asking the question when he’s all alone in a crowd. You’ve demonstrated good judgment in such matters, so what are your thoughts?

Laura writes:

I agree. First of all, it denies the seriousness of the event. After all, it’s not like the cause is defeated. Islam is thriving. The motto of the Pakistani Army, as Diana West reports, is “Faith in Allah, fear of Allah, and jihad in the path of Allah.” The movement led by Osama bin Laden is very much alive and may be further invigorated by his death. On a military level, does this really represent a significant turn in events? It seems some serious examination of that issue is in order before we wildly celebrate. 

Secondly, it’s just unseemly, as you say. We are not blood-thirsty savages who want the death of an enemy purely out of revenge. We want his death to ensure our own safety.

Bin Laden was a sworn enemy and military commander so it’s not the same as Palestinians rejoicing at the deaths of innocent civilians in the streets. Still, it’s uncivilized and oblivious.

 

                                          — Comments —

Art writes:

Is it really out of our character? We used to give public whippings, and throw rotten things at people in the stocks. I don’t see a need to maintain Victorian reserve amongst all of our people. There is room to be medieval.

Laura writes:

I’m not concerned whether it’s in character or not, but whether wild celebrating is good.

Youngfogey writes:

The jubilation about the death of OBL has been bizarre to my mind as well. I hadn’t expected it.

I find it hard to believe all those partying hard today have spent the last decade in constant anxiety because of OBL remained alive. Had they lived in terror all these years, this kind of celebration would make sense perhaps. But, these people have mostly spent the last ten years watching sit-coms and buying trinkets at the mall.

What their reaction tells us is just how much our population are willing to allow their reactions to events to be dictated by the subtle cues they pick up from the media. The event, beginning with Mr. Obama’s speech, has been framed by the media as a momentous occasion for our nation. Because most people do not question the narrative presented to them by the media, they celebrate when told to do so. They do not pause for reflection let alone a moment of refreshing skepticism.

Given the OBL’s body was disposed of at sea, it is not clear how we really even know that he is dead. We also don’t know that if he is dead that he was indeed killed in the last 24 hours. There is no proof save the word of the Obama administration. Given this lack of evidence, the general gleeful reaction seems even more unwarranted.

Laura writes:

I find it hard to believe all those partying hard today have spent the last decade in constant anxiety because of OBL remained alive. Had they lived in terror all these years, this kind of celebration would make sense perhaps. But, these people have mostly spent the last ten years watching sit-coms and buying trinkets at the mall.

And they have overlooked the constant over-extension of our mission in the Middle East. So are we supposed to suddenly feel better about the ongoing loss of our soldiers in Afghanistan and our fruitless efforts to reform a country that largely approves of bin Laden?

Imagine if the announcement had come from George W. Bush. There would not be such enthusiasm in the press. This is a political event, not just a military one. The lack of reasonable skepticism you mention is embarrassing. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that his body was reportedly disposed of at sea so quickly. It is disturbing and further cause for restrained reaction.

I’m not suggesting that it’s bad that bin Laden is dead at all, but that less jubilation may be in order.

Karen I. writes:

News reports stated that Bin Laden was buried so quickly because Muslim religion dictates that bodies be buried within 24 hours. The news reports also stated that Bin Laden has family in Syria that could have taken the body but the country of Syria wanted nothing to do with it. In light of the fact the man was a monster who masterminded a plot that killed approximately 3,000 innocent American civilians, and would have continued killing Americans if possible, it was very decent of America to be observant of his religious practices and dispose of his body in a dignified manner. In contrast, I have seen the bodies of young American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Muslim countries on the news several times in my life. And, the “celebrating” Americans are doing is nothing compared to the bloodthirsty celebrations held by Palestinians on 9/11, where even children danced in the streets at the news Americans were killed. The images are easily found online for those that need a reminder. 

I think Americans are tired of being at war with an unseen enemy. Bin Laden was the face of the evil we are fighting. It is an evil that would destroy every single man, woman and child in American without hesitation if it could. The mostly unseen but very real enemy would not hesitate to commit heinous acts to kill us all and they have made that clear by their actions on 9/11. They lurk in the shadows and plot our deaths. It may be “unseemly” to celebrate the death of a sworn enemy in the streets, but let’s remember who and what we are talking about here. Perhaps the news should start running clips from 9/11, such as the ones that showed innocent victims jumping from windows to their deaths or perhaps we should recall the terror the passengers on the planes must have felt. Some of them were small children, as young as two years old. I am sending their names and ages along here, to give some perspective: Christine Lee Hanson, 2, Groton, Mass., David Brandhorst, 3, Los Angeles, Calif., Juliana McCourt, 4, New London, Conn.

Bernard Brown II, 11, Washington, D.C., Asia Cottom, 11, Washington, D.C., Rodney Dickens, 11, Washington, D.C., Dana Falkenberg, 3, University Park, Md., Zoe Falkenberg, 8, University Park, Md. If not for Bin Laden, those little ones and all the others who died that day might still be with us. 

New Yorkers who are going to the site of the 9/11 disaster to “celebrate” should not be judged harshly. Their city is considered a number one target for terrorists and they live with that fact day after day. Some lost relatives, friends or co-workers on 9/11. They saw hundreds of their firemen killed running into the buildings trying to save others. There is something to celebrate when evil is eradicated from Earth. 

What we should be celebrating the most is the courage of the brave, unnamed men who carried out the mission and killed Bin Laden. They are true heroes and we should all be very grateful for them. They were willing to sacrifice themselves to save innocent Americans.

Laura writes:

As quoted at VFR, here are observations  by John R. Guardiano from the American Spectator on the significance of this death:

[T]he psychological effects of bin Laden’s confirmed death cannot be overstated. He loomed large in the Islamist imagination. And the fact that the United States seemed unable to kill or capture him for so long emboldened our enemies and instilled fear and apprehension in our friends and allies.

I saw this firsthand while serving as a Marine in Iraq in 2003. Not infrequently, Iraqis would ask me about bin Laden. “Where was he?” they asked. “Why couldn’t the mighty United States of America defeat him?”

A. writes:

Can’t agree with you more. Dancing and partying in the streets over his death is akin to the Muslims rejoicing over 9-11. It is un-American, un-Christian and un-civilized.

Laura writes:

It’s not equivalent to Muslims rejoicing over 9/11 because that involved the death of innocents. However, I agree it’s uncivilized.

Fred Owens writes:

A bit of “medieval” whooping and hollering is allowable, in my view. Our ancestors once flocked into town for a good hanging and we are not past that same sentiment. He’s dead, we killed him, and it was done well. Our men came back alive and civilian casualties were few. You have to call that a success and that’s a good feeling.

But there can be no official jubilation. No public officer may even put a grin on his face at this time. That’s why I say it’s a matter of good manners.

Most of us feel a grim satisfaction and we just get on with it.

Roger G. writes:

Sage McLaughlin is spot on. All day I was thinking along the same line, though nowhere near as astutely.

Our hero Fred Owens (“grim satisfaction”) also has a point.

We Jews deal with such situations in what I feel is a very appropriate manner No jubilation, no wishing the monster to hell. Our reaction is: may his memory be erased (yimach shmo ve-zichro).

Tony S. writes:

Youngfogey wrote:

What [the reaction of those dancing] tells us is just how much our population are willing to allow their reactions to events to be dictated by the subtle cues they pick up from the media. The event, beginning with Mr. Obama’s speech, has been framed by the media as a momentous occasion for our nation. Because most people do not question the narrative presented to them by the media, they celebrate when told to do so.

“Subtle cues” are among the causes of the dancers’ reaction but I do not think, in this case, that they were first given in “the narrative presented by the media.” (Unless, of course, the reporting of the event itself already counts as narrative.) Jeffrey Polet, writing at the Front Porch Republic, has a better insight into the source of those cues:

More and more we seem to be ruled by largely interchangeable bureaucrats who constantly do stuff that may implicate or affect me in some fashion, but over which I have no knowledge and no control. To me, this provided further evidence of how remote our politics has become. To put it crassly: is my life really any different or better today because bin Laden is dead? Is any Americans’?

Polet goes on to argue that the reaction of the public is an instance of Rene Girard’s “theories of mimetic desire and rivalry”:

The identification of a common enemy creates a “victim” whose elimination, usually in a mimetic act of violence, lessens the conflict and emergent violence between the mimetic rivals. The “victim,” transformed then into a myth, serves the dual purpose of representing the cause of the crisis generated by mimetic conflict, and solves the crisis through its sacrificial death. By defusing the crisis and introducing peace through its sacrifice the victim becomes “sacred.” The act of violence, then, restores the community to its original equilibrium, reinvigorating its shared identity and purpose.

Again, I think this bit of over-articulation misses the point. This sort of explanation — “the violent death of the scapegoat is meant to serve the purpose of restoring the community to a peaceful equilibrium” — may appear compelling in hindsight, especially when it finds its way into the elites/masses narrative. But, like media “framing,” it is not immediately the cause of spontaneous “dancing” or “partying” — or of chants of “USA” at a baseball game (re: Sage McLaughlin). These “paroxysms of celebration” are not really characterized, as Polet claims, by “orgiastic bloodlust.” Americans are not “mimicking the very people we mock and disdain.”

What makes these events stand out is the fact that the revelers did not, as Youngfogey pointed out, “spen[d] the last decade in constant anxiety” over Osama bin Laden.

“Subtle cues” are given by habituation. The time spent not worrying about bin Laden was also spent “watching sit-coms and buying trinkets at the mall” and obsessively texting and checking Facebook. These ways of passing the time teach us how to react when the remoteness of “our politics” is exposed just as they teach us when to cry, kiss, or act shocked in the absence of inherited social traditions: (1) We find out that bin Laden is dead via text message and Facebook; (2) We look around (physically and digitally) to see how other people are reacting; (3) We feel a kind of peer pressure which increases as the number of people who choose to respond increases; (4) We respond along with everyone else in the most readily available easy way; (5) In a post-response attempt to reclaim some semblance of originality, we start doing all those things that pass for social creativity these days: photoshopped images, YouTube videos, chain emails, pundit self-analysis, watching The View, etc.; (6) We look around again to figure out when we can stop.

Similarly, Karen I.’s claim that “Americans are tired of being at war with an unseen enemy” does not really ring true. As many have argued, an impoverished sense of citizenship coupled with a professional, all-volunteer military means that “being at war” is not actually experienced by most Americans. And, anyway, we will not stop being at war and “the enemy” at issue is now even less likely to be seen.

 

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