Why I Celebrate Death

May 3, 2011

Back in college, a kid got into a fight with me because I said I was against world peace. It seemed that he wasn’t quite 100% behind peace either if there was someone who disagreed with him.

I seem to be getting into fights again, because I really feel uncomfortable with all the people taking a stand, saying that Bin Laden’s death was absolutely a bad thing, that it is always wrong to want someone to die. The fight would usually start with me being conflicted, which would somehow evolve into me practically dancing on Bin Laden’s grave.

I am happy he’s dead. I’m happy he’s dead much in the way he’s happy he’s dead. Ten years ago, he started a fight that we didn’t want to be in, and the logical conclusion to that fight was us killing him. He continued to plot attacks against the west, but he didn’t really seem to have much direction in his attacks. He evaded capture, but he wasn’t in some underground bunker as we envisioned him, but instead in a million-dollar compound that he had built right in the middle of a tourist town. There’s a picture of his compound online where you can see store signs just outside written in English. I have no doubt that he loved knowing there were Westerners just outside his door, oblivious to his existence.

Because that was the metaphor for this entire battle between Al-Qaeda and the West. Obliviousness. Bush wasn’t far off when he said “they hate us for our freedom.” Where he made his mistake was that they weren’t jealous of our freedom— they hated that we were completely oblivious of what the rest of the world had to pay so that we could be free. Here we were, the world’s lone superpower, rich beyond belief because we strolled in and declared ourselves the winners of World War I after it had bankrupted the rest of Europe. And what was the reward for the side we took? Europe divided out the entire world in their name. You can imagine that some of the European installments sounded familiar to Bin Laden: Iraq. Israel. Syria. Lebanon.

The same thing happened in World War II. Then, as the Middle East started falling apart, the U.S. started shouldering in and taking a bit for themselves. In the world where Bin Laden grew up, Arabs worked their entire lives pulling oil out of the territory that they lived in and handed that oil to an American company, who sold it for profits that the Arabs would only share if they were themselves Westernized. Bin Laden himself worked for America, and you can bet that was where the seed was sown. America didn’t care about him. America didn’t care about his people. America was so powerful that they could just walk in and take whatever they wanted. No war needed; they could buy entire countries.

So of course Americans were against war. Of course they didn’t want any bloodshed. Because war and bloodshed were the only hope that people like Bin Laden had, and America didn’t need it anymore.

Of course, the Bin Laden family didn’t walk away with nothing. They were, and are, filthy rich and incredibly popular. Nonetheless, 99% of Americans neither knew nor cared who they were. Imagine that for an up and coming megalomaniac— from where he stood, Americans owed him everything and gave him nothing.

So he took to terrorism. Most of his projects were good enough to be on the news for a few days, maybe even a month. Then, on 9/11, everything went his way. Suddenly, his name was known by every single person on the planet. Can you imagine what a rush that would be? He knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans got to him, but it didn’t matter anymore. He was a hero and a messiah.

He probably never guessed he would last another 10 years. There seems to be some indication that he was even getting a bit lazy—maybe he was growing impatient himself? He wouldn’t give up, and he would continue to try to cause more terrorist attacks, but he had already completed his masterpiece. (From a completely historical perspective, one of my favorite interviews of all time was Osama Bin Laden talking to Al-Jazeera about the attack, discussing it as you’d expect Matthew McConaughey to discuss the making of his most recent film.)

Then, on Sunday, the time came. The helicopters descended. I’m sure that if Bin Laden could do it over again, he wouldn’t have gone down shooting random bullets into the air while using his wife as a human shield, but otherwise, it was an end fitting for a martyr.

The Muslim world is celebrating Bin Laden’s death, whether they hated him or loved him. In the Middle-Eastern Muslim culture, death is not the horrible tragedy that it is here. It’s the triumphant end to a great story. It’s the climax to the film. For Bin Laden to have died of kidney complications—THAT would have been tragic.

Here, we celebrate his death for a similar reason. It’s the end of the story. The funny thing is, both sides think they won. And both sides are at least partially right. But for us it’s the final narrative to the 9/11 saga. There are a few of us who feel that our own deaths have been avenged, but I’m reluctant to believe that for most of us, we’ve been losing much sleep over him still being alive. Mostly, it’s just been that sense of knowing that the story was unfinished (and, if the story is unfinished, it means by default that we, the protagonists, have lost).

Which brings me back to the people who have taken today as an opportunity to be angry that we celebrate Bin Laden’s death. I don’t doubt that your feelings are sincere, and I know for a fact that many of you feel very, very strongly about it. But the question is: why? What’s wrong with Bin Laden dying? What makes you so angry?

The general line seems to be that it’s only the bad guys who solve their problems by killing the other side. What did you think was going to happen? Were we going to capture Bin Laden and try him in a fair court? Was Bin Laden going to come to our point of view? Were we going to come to his? Were we just never going to have resolution? This idea, that we were somehow the pure, enlightened souls who had finally realized that war is bad and death is wrong, is exactly what Osama Bin Laden hated about this country. We are somehow capable of strolling through our lives, honestly believing that oppression, aggression, and violence are not the backbone of our existence. It was this obliviousness that made us target number one, and why he wanted us to be the evil ones who martyred him.

And that was part of our punishment. What transpired Sunday night was not retribution for 9/11. It was Act III of the story. From the moment the twin towers went down, it was our burden to find Bin Laden and kill him. Believe it or not, very few of us wanted to be the ones who solved things through murder. We would have loved for the end of the story to be that Bin Laden was found guilty by his peers and lived out the rest of his days atoning for his deeds. Of course we would.

And that’s just how naive we are. We think that we get to make that choice. We should have got to come out the good guys in this, because gosh, we’re always the good guys. We’re the peaceful ones, who solve things through justice and democracy.

No, we aren’t, and as long as you reap the benefits of our aggression, you don’t get to live in that reality. Face the facts: we are not better than that. We are not always the good guys, and we don’t get to suddenly say that we are. If we were the good guys, 9/11 never would have happened. It’s terrible, but it’s true. Are we to blame for 9/11? God, no. We may take some blame for the state the Middle East is in, but Osama Bin Laden takes full blame, and full credit, for the destruction 2001. And we, in turn, were left with no choice but to take all the credit, and all the blame, for killing him in return. Because that’s the burden we bear for our prosperity, and price we pay for our freedom.