Flowers in Boston

A Traveler’s Perspective On The Death Of Osama

Derek Perspectives 59 Comments

Flowers in Boston

When I first heard the announcement, I simply stared at the television screen and thought, “Okay, he’s finally dead.” Then, for a few minutes, I sat in silence, able to do nothing but think about all of the people who have died, both on 9/11 and during the years since, as a result of the wars that have followed.

When Obama’s speech reached its end, I started to wonder what the eventual outcome would be of this undeniably historic day, hoping that somehow the announcement I just heard would lead to a more unified and peaceful planet.

At this point, the crowds began to form. Outside of the White House and on the streets of New York City, people of all races, religions and walks of life began to gather. Within minutes, photo and video images of these gatherings filled the television screen.

I must admit that I felt a strong sense of unity with my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, masses of whom had gathered in the middle of the night in order to reflect together on what has been a trying decade.

And then I saw the Bud Light bottles. It turned out that the crowds of people on the television screen were not so much reflecting on the loss of life that has occurred, but were instead, celebrating….with beer. Shouts of “USA, USA, USA!” rang out, smiling faces screamed with joy, and people climbed onto the shoulders of friends as if they were at a Guns & Roses concert (sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a concert).

Here in Mexico, I too suddenly felt like cracking open a bottle of beer, or better yet, a bottle of gin. I needed something to dull the disbelief at what I was now watching and more importantly, to dull the fear that began to grow, fear that this behavior just might lead to some severe consequences.

As most of you know, for 11 years now I’ve been wandering around this planet of ours. For 11 years I’ve been trying my damn hardest to play a small role in eliminating misunderstandings and in creating even the tiniest bridge (which is all one lone traveler can hope for) between fellow human beings, regardless of the differences between us.

Throughout my travels, whether I’ve been in Vietnam, Indonesia, Egypt, Argentina, Italy, Croatia, Syria, Samoa or anywhere in between, I’ve encounter good people, people who want nothing more than to live a peaceful, happy life. And I’ve wanted these people to see that I too, am no different than any of them.

So, as soon as I saw those celebrations on the television the other night, my first thought was of all those I’ve met during my adventures, those who live in cities, towns and villages, along coastlines, high up in the mountains, in the middle of deserts and even in Abbottabad, which I happened to pass through myself at the end of 2005 while en route from Islamabad to Gilgit. I tried to imagine how these people were reacting to the cheering and to the drinking of beer, to the contrast between this behavior and my efforts as a traveler to demonstrate that Americans were peace-loving individuals as well.

For some reason, upon hearing the news of Osama’s demise, we chose to celebrate bloodshed and death, to run around the streets as happy as humanly possible, in the exact same manner that certain people in other parts of the world often do when our own people are killed (and for which we furiously condemn them).

The world noticed our cheering. They noticed that instead of separating ourselves from the cycle of violence and war, we enthusiastically embraced it, equating death with victory and demonstrating that we believe killing is acceptable, as long as we are the ones doing the killing.

Yes, we have a reason to feel relief. There is now some closure for 9/11 and the mastermind behind many vicious attacks is no longer able to plan and plot more attacks against innocent people. For that we can all be thankful.

But I personally am not filled with joy at the thought of a human being, any human being, having their brain blown away by a bullet. Osama was a terribly cruel man, but let us not celebrate his death in the streets. Let us use our energy instead to reflect on how we, as a world community, can move forward as one, with less hatred and with less violence towards each other.

And then we can dance, together as friends, with our fellow human beings around the globe. What a better alternative this would be than to continue taking turns rejoicing over the bloodshed of those we label as enemies.


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Comments 59

  1. Earl, I stumbled upon this article today. I couldn’t agree with you more – celebrating death on the streets only fuels hatred. It’s this kind of mentality that keeps conflicting & hostility between different groups growing. A tooth for a tooth & an eye for an eye doesn’t stop until one party is at least willing to back down and get over the ego fueled desire for revenge.

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  3. This is beautiful. So well written and so true. I was so moved by this and the comments of others that share my same views on the death of Osama.

  4. I completely understand where you are getting these feelings, but I have to disagree with your opinion on American’s celebrating the death of Osama. Being an American, who watched the second plane fly into the WTC on live tv, I feel the celebration was more of a like a going away party for Osama. For my generation, Osama is our Hitler. Yes, Osama’s actions have in no way reached the extent of Hitler’s, but the pain, suffering, and hatred he projected towards everybody who did not follow his beliefs stacks up against the same beliefs of Hitler. My point is I do not believe death was to celebrate, but rather a book has been closed that we wish was never opened.

    1. Hey James – Thank you for commenting and I understand completely your thoughts. And I also agree to an extent that a good portion of the celebrations were not aimed at celebrating death. My goal, as a traveler who spends most of his time overseas, was to try and show how people in many parts of the world would have interpreted our celebrations. To many, and this is regardless of our actual intentions, the dancing in the streets and claims of victory, appeared as hypocritical and premature.

      Like I said in other comments, I too am thankful that this chapter has ended. I’m just worried that our reaction might lead to more chapters that we don’t want to face.

      Again, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

  5. These were my feelings exactly. Thank you for writing this. At first I was hesitant to share my feelings and although there were people that didn’t quite agree with me, I found that most of the people I talked to felt the same. It’s nice to think we might be evolving just a little bit.

  6. I was also in Mexico during this announcement. At an expat bar and it came on the TV. I hadn’t seen any U.S. news in a week and it was startling and humbling. I experienced many of the same emotions as you did. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thank you for this post. I have really mixed feelings on the subject. My roommates and I were sitting in our room, trying to study for finals, when we heard the news. We were all extremely happy. As with others commenting here, we we happy that OBL was dead — he was a terrorist who was responsible for the deaths of thousands — but, more than that, we were more celebrating the end of a long ten years. We were all in fifth grade when 9/11 happened, and all remember that day like it was yesterday. I didn’t realize how much we needed some closure until OBL’s death was announced. I know that the death of one man changes nothing, but I feel like some sort of weight has been lifted. Now we can start to move on and truly heal. I was saddened, however, to see some of the responses of others, such as the frat boys who were shooting off fireworks down the street from us. Like others, I have some confused feelings about the situation, but I agree that the way people celebrated the news of OBL’s death was almost shameful.

  8. Thank you Earl.

    When I received the news I was filled with a sense of confusion. While I understood that people had a sense of closure, I didn’t understand why we would celebrate – so vociferously, the death of another human being in context to the thousands who have died to get to that point.

    I am always trying to be an ambassador when we travel.

  9. Thanks for this piece! You did a great job of putting into words what I was thinking and feeling throughout the first couple of days after bin Laden’s death. I think this is something non-travelers can read and hopefully relate to.

    1. Hey David – That certainly is an excellent post by Meg. And I think that final quote by Michael Franti is something we should never forget. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  10. Former military here, so I realize my opinion won’t match many who have already posted. That being said, I tend to take a rather pragmatic view of this whole situation.

    OBL was a bad person who has killed thousands and he’s paid for that. Yes, we helped create him and we’ve paid for that, too. I may not feel joy, but I feel no remorse for him being put down like a rabid dog.

    The bulk of those people celebrating in front of the White House were college students. Many of them are too young to really understand what it was like on 9/11 and have even less knowledge of who OBL really was. They’ve spent the last 10 years being taught that OBL’s continued existence is an affront to the US. I don’t think they’re “celebrating death”. I think they’re just celebrating a US success. Sort of like a kid cheering for his father’s favorite team when they win the super bowl. Is it in poor taste? Maybe, but there’s no evil behind it.

    I tried to keep such things in mind when I saw ignorant people in the middle east dancing in the streets after 9/11. Most of them had no clue why they were celebrating, only that they’ve been told they should.. that their team had struck a blow against the evil US.

    I guess the moral of the story is to have a mind of your own. Know why you hold certain beliefs and be able to justify them. Don’t be a sheep.

    1. Hey Justin – I think you have definitely brought up some excellent points and I really appreciate you adding your thoughts. I’ll admit that much of my beliefs stem from my 11 years of constant travel as I’ve become quite conscious of how the rest of the world views the US. I know that people in the US are good people, just like the majority of people on this planet, but because we are always on the big stage, our actions are always being dissected. And quite often our actions are interpreted by parts of the world community in ways that result in anger, leading to a continued negative view of our country.

      Of course, everyone has a reason for the way they react and like you said, it is important that whatever views we do hold, we know why we hold them.

      Thank you again for adding so much to this discussion.

    2. “The bulk of those people celebrating in front of the White House were college students. Many of them are too young to really understand what it was like on 9/11…”

      Hi Justin,

      I’m currently a college student, and I respectfully disagree with this statement. I, and every person my age whom I’ve ever talked to, remember that day in vivid detail. I was in fifth grade in 2001 — my dad explained what had happened when my sister and I got home from school that afternoon, as the teachers never let on that anything bad was happening while we were in school (which is absolutely absolutely amazing, when I look back on it now. They all knew what was happened, and I remember them going out into the halls to have multiple “teacher conferences” throughout the morning, but they never showed their worry or fear to any of us (I should also add here that I live in central Ohio, and the Defense Supply Center — which was pretty much just down the road — was supposedly decently high up on lists of targets, so they had a LOT to worry about)). I still remember every word he used. Most of us (I won’t say all, of course) understood really well what had happened. We’re the generation that grew up with 9/11 and its consequences. I remember pre-9/11 as well. We would go meet my father at the airport gates when he got back form trips, and he would tell us stories about sitting in the first row and watching the pilots, as they sometimes left the cockpit doors open during flights. So I would say that this is a pretty unfair assessment of us college students.

      “…and have even less knowledge of who OBL really was. They’ve spent the last 10 years being taught that OBL’s continued existence is an affront to the US.”

      This, however, I COMPLETELY agree with.

      “Is it in poor taste? Maybe, but there’s no evil behind it.”

      And this as well. You pretty much summed up my view of the entire situation in just a few words.

      1. Hi Jessica,

        Fair enough points there. I truly wasn’t trying to disparage the young people in front of the White House with that statement; I was merely trying to provide a possible explanation for their behavior. I offer my apologies to mature college students everywhere. 🙂

  11. You and your readers sound like true outsiders who didn’t lose a loved one during 9/11. Me? My wife (carrying my unborn son) and my aunt. I celebrated right infront of ground zero with others who lost loved ones. Almost 10 years of closure for me. Anybody else here lose a loved one during the attacks?? Anyone??? Nuff said…

    1. Hey Brian – Thank you so much for sharing your comment and of course it goes without saying that I too am relieved and happy that there has been closure for all of those who were directly affected by 9/11. A terrible man was finally brought to justice and for that I am certainly most thankful.

      The point of my post was simply to say that the open celebrations, which resemble those celebrations that others around the world partake in upon hearing the news of American deaths, leaves us somewhat stuck in a cycle of violence. Celebrating bloodshed leads to more bloodshed and potentially, even more innocent Americans dying. I don’t want more Americans to die. I personally want nothing more than to see this cycle of violence come to an end and I believe that the only way to accomplish this is to have only peaceful intentions dictate our actions.

  12. I’ve taken my time responding to this cause I have seen many of these types of posts and the exact opposite since it happened. I have to doesn’t really change anything. We are still going to be fighting. I’m shipping out for basic training soon, that’s still happening. Traveling is not going to be easier or more difficult than it already is (maybe if you are an American and going to the middle east it might be harder to not be harassed). For me I was to lazy to go party just cause we killed one more person (but for a lot of people both in the military and out I can see why they did – I understand their point of view. And this has to be a MAJOR tension breaker for a mass number people and when that tension finally broke they really let loose and could finally enjoy themselves again after 10 long years. For them I say go for it, enjoy yourself, have fun, and don’t let anyone tell you not to enjoy this – that does not include the normal American who sits on his couch and whom this has not effected in any way, shape, or form). If this was say the end of the war I would have a much different attitude and be all for celebration up and down the board and screw anyone who says different. Seeing as how it is not, I’m choosing to stay indifferent on the matter as a whole.


  13. I couldn’t agree with you more. I thought I was the only one to feel this way. We watch veiled faces cheering while burning our flag and condemn them for it. But we have just done the same thing. I thought it was because I am not from NY or I didn’t have a family member or friend die on 9/11 or I just wasn’t patriotic enough. But no, I quietly and reverently felt for those people. I second guessed myself because of the media coverage. Thank you for making me feel I’m not alone.

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  15. I just want to thank you all for leaving your comments and sharing your thoughts on this post. Instead of replying to each comment individually, as I normally do and as I will continue to do, in this case I could only think of a few things to say.

    It is incredibly encouraging to read comments from so many of you who also believe that celebrating violence and bloodshed does not lead to a more peaceful, respectful world and that such behavior only encourages more hatred. And as some of you mentioned, it all starts with the individual, by taking the time to think before we act so that our actions end up promoting a more unified world instead of giving people a reason to create even more divisions between us.

    It’s wonderful to know that so many of us, travelers and non-travelers alike, share a similar mindset in this regard…

  16. I have some questions lingering on my mind. What about the lives of the civilians that got killed in the hunt for wanted men? Saddam, Gaddafi….. Don’t their lives count? Is it what they conveniently call collateral damage?

  17. Well written Earl. If we were all a bit better at seeing situations through other people’s eyes, the world would be a much better place.

    Sadly, tunnel vision is the norm.

  18. I didn’t see the celebrations in America but it reminds me of the reports from 2001 that a small group of Palestinians (I think) susposedly celebrated the 9/11 attacks. This was rightly condemned in the US at the time and I assume the reaction will be the same in this case from Palestine and elsewhere in the world.

    ==============The sad part about this comment is that the images Shane is referring to were taken before 9/11 and used by major news media to soldiify the western position about arabs.
    The reality is the US has no official authority to condem anyone for anything anymore after running rogue for the last 11 years and starting more shit than they’ve stopped.

    Great post Earl

  19. I didn’t see the celebrations in America but it reminds me of the reports from 2001 that a small group of Palestinians (I think) susposedly celebrated the 9/11 attacks. This was rightly condemned in the US at the time and I assume the reaction will be the same in this case from Palestine and elsewhere in the world.

  20. Well said Earl. Many over here in Europe were appalled by the celebrations we saw on the streets in the US. You’ve summed up out sentiments exactly. The outrightly callous celebrations of ANY mans death like that, no matter what he has done, is a terrible, inhumane way of acting, and something I think many should be ashamed of.

  21. It is a sad reality, unfortunately. I, too, am not too proud of what I have seen on the television as people’s reaction to what had happened to Osama bin Laden. I know how much grief he has caused many people, but anybody’s death is not something we should be rejoicing. Relief would be a good feeling, but in my humble opinion, rejoice is not. We are not in any way growing when we do that. We just succumb ourselves to narrower perceptions of life, and it is going to kill us all eventually. We have to live and learn, not just live. 🙂

    By the way, I have written a blog post on this issue as well:

  22. Couldn’t agree more. Yes, I’m glad that Osama is dead–but I think the victory there is more symbolic than actual. Terrorism is still very alive in the world, we still have two wars to fight. In no way does this end anything. And Americans just look ridiculous celebrating in such an obvious way–I honestly felt a little bit embarassed when I saw the coverage in the USA. Thanks for sharing your thoughts–you said it much more eloquently than I could have.

  23. Moving post. You highlight the fact we all have a long way to go. We, in the West, tend to think of “underdeveloped” countries as being remote and “unsophisticated”, but we have plenty of people within our own borders who have a narrow worldview, and would benefit from getting out there to find out how the rest of the world lives, and what is it that inspires them, keeps them putting one foot in front of the other each day. Almost always it comes down to the same thing, as you say, wanting a decent life for one’s family. I know we can’t all travel, but how sad that we can’t at least TRY to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

  24. Very nicely said Earl. Agree with your thoughts here.

    “And then we can dance, together as friends, with our fellow human beings around the globe. What a better alternative this would be than to continue taking turns rejoicing over the bloodshed of those we label as enemies.”

  25. Exactly, Earl. I only wrote 4 sentences about Bin Laden’s death and people’s reactions to it on my Facebook page, but it was exactly what you’ve written here (only instead of comparing the celebrations to Guns n’ Roses, I compared it to winning a football game). This is a time for somber reflection, not for partying. The hatred and the exultation in someone’s death (anyone’s death) is something that strikes me as being even more dangerous than terrorism itself.

  26. My husband and I discussed this as it happened and we watched the scenes unfold on the TV. There was a lot of ifs and buts such as would we feel the same way if one of our relative had died in the twin towers.

    Having just read a comment by Matt above, I think it explains the reactions. The USA has made a lot of mistakes and their overall confidence as a nation edged down to nothing. The celebrations were their way of trying to boost that confidence back up. Natural human reaction which can be applied to many situations both globally and personally.

    BTW – on the day of his death, hits to one of my posts on safety in Turkey increased ten fold. Stumped me that one!

  27. Earl, you and I had similar feelings on this one. No matter how people feel, it has definitely stirred up feelings on all sides about Osama’s death. Are we safer? Have we started to defeat terrorism? I don’t know. But without a doubt, it has at least rallied the spirits of morale of many in the US regardless of how people feel about the death itself. Maybe it isn’t so much death people are happy for but justice.

  28. Yes! yes! yes! yes! yes! You’ve said exactly what I have been feeling. It was so horrifying to watch the celebrations in the streets. To celebrate a killing! It felt so, so wrong deep inside of my core. Let us use our energy to move forward in peace, not to celebrate a murder, even the murder of a bad man.

  29. One of the best posts I have read on this topic. My own second reaction (the first was ‘well, that’s over, at least’) was shock at how acceptable it seems to have become for the US to send hit squads into other countries to murder people.

    No one in the media seems to be raising the questions as to the limits of proper behaviour on the part of governments. Or is this now seen as proper?

    I’m a UK citizen living in Japan and right now the US scares me more than any other country or group, not because it is worse than others (it is not), but because there are in effect no limits on its range of action.

  30. Thanks for expressing so well what many of us are feeling. Like you, I felt a bit of relief that there was a closure of some sort for 9/11 and surviving families and friends. But, I never expected people to start partying to celebrate Bin Laden’s death. Very sad. And in the conversations we’ve heard with people of different nationalities this past week, the world took notice…and not in a good way.

    Here’s to a day when we all dance together to rejoice.

  31. I think so many ppl find Osama’s death exciting and dramatic, just like viewing a car accident. Of course, it’s good that he’s dead, but it’s no reason to celebrate like New Years either.

  32. I tend to agree with your sentiment. From my perspective a time of solemn reflection was more appropriate than public cheering. Living in Virginia Beach, the home of Seal Team 6, that carried out the mission. The response is still surreal. Local radio stations are thanking the seal team, they have given them celebrity status. I know the seals don’t want this attention, and I wish it would go away.

  33. I share many of your same sentiments Earl. The chants and celebrations seemed no different than those in certain parts of the world after September 11th. Much like terrorism it all depends on perspective.

    Sure, Osama was a bad person but let’s not forget that we (the US) created him, trained him and financed him during the Afghanistan War with Russia. We’ve sided with a lot of bad people in the world when it suited us. We trained the dog to bite and then are surprised when he turns on us.

    And as long as the US maintains it’s exploitative foreign policies the idealism that Osama embraced will continue to flourish in certain areas around the world.

    You make excellent points that we need to separate ourselves from the cycle of war, violence and exploitation and move forward with more love and compassion for each other. And this is where I think the individual must make a huge effort in breaking that cycle.

  34. So beautifully put Earl and speaks straight from my heart. I, too, felt very strange in celebrating Osama’s death as I don’t think that is a great thing to do no matter how cruel the person is.
    My only thought was “Thank God, they have got him because now we can end the war and put this mess behind us. And maybe get back to peace and getting along.”
    And then I realized that is probably a far way off from happening, as revenge is a vicious cycle. That makes me so sad. 9/11, Iraq War, Afghnasitan, all of it made me sad because innocent people were dying no matter what their nationality and we had too much violence and hatred in our world instead of love and peace. Something I discovered living in the hearts of people all around the world

  35. Terrific post. Sadly many of those people celebrating with beer are just looking for an excuse to party. I too am thankful this evil mastermind is gone. But I am also cautious as some of his followers will be quick to take his place. Travel safe all!

  36. While I appreciate the sentiment, and I agree the celebrations in the US this week have been distasteful, I disagree with the comparison of radicals cheering the deaths of innocent civilians to people cheering the death of the world’s most-wanted terrorist. OBL was a blight on humanity. Yes, I agree we shouldn’t celebrate death, but you make a false comparison. I hope the good people of Pakistan and Afghanistan understand and appreciate this symbolic victory against terrorism.

    1. Hey Sue – Thank you for commenting. I understand that some people feel this is a false comparison, but I believe it is only a false comparison in our eyes, those who view OBL as the enemy. What we have to realize is that there are people around the world who view the US as the enemy, as the aggressor who has attacked nations and killed innocent people, so this is why I made that comparison. Unfortunately, a terrorist to us is a hero to others and the enemy to others are innocent people to us. Taking this into account, our celebrations seem quite similar to those we tend to condemn.

  37. Hear, hear!

    Thank you for your fantastic words, I feel the same way.

    Michel (Netherlands)

  38. I remember being at the last opening game of the Giants at Candlestick when a group of air force jets buzzed the stadium. I’d just returned from working with refugees in Albania where the sound of low flying jets meant someone was getting bombed very likely were dying. I stood there as the crowd roared around me with tears streaming down my face. It was such a lonely feeling, to be surrounded by my own, but seeing the world it a totally different way.

    I appreciate your perspective on this issue. I lived for almost two years just up the road from Abbotabad.

  39. Well said Earl. Those celebrating seem a bit blind to a number of ironies that have made this whole event something to shake your head sadly at rather than rejoice over. I hope you can continue to show people you meet in your travels the great possibilities for goodwill, trade and cooperation on an individual level despite the damaged caused by state actors and politically motivated violence (whether by governments or other violent groups).

  40. I can understand the very human, in-the-moment, celebratory response so many in the U.S. had to bin Laden’s death. It was visceral, reflexive.

    At the same time, I appreciate the many thoughtful responses, such as yours, that so many exhibited after there was time to take a few breaths and let the brain catch up.

  41. Thank you for a thoughtful & eloquent post, Earl. My thoughts:

    1. Is it okay to kill a person for killing people?

    2. I can understand the sense of peace in knowing that a terrorist is dead. Yet, I can not understand the celebration, the joy.

    3. “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

  42. We are in the US at the moment and you’ve just put into words what I’ve been feeling about all the celebrations. Thank you.

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