In the hours after President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden in a US Special Forces raid near Islamabad, Pakistan, spontaneous celebrations occurred at universities around the United States. The campus of Iowa State University in Ames was one of these locations, although Drake University was not. As I looked at photographs and video at students brandishing American flags, parading down the streets, and singing the national anthem, I felt a sense of ambivalence at this outpouring of emotion. I understand, and to an extent share, the relief and feelings of justice done that President Obama described in his speech on Sunday night. On the other hand, it is difficult for me to celebrate an act of violence that, when put in the context of the wars of the last ten years, and the probability of ongoing conflicts in the years to come, is only one part of a larger, and grimmer, picture. Many observers have pointed out that Mr. Bin Laden’s death is unlikely to mark the end of this violent period. Nor is it likely to make the United States a safer place to live in any straightforward way. It certainly will not return to life those who died in the attacks of 9/11 and the wars that followed. The celebrations contrasted with the disposal at sea of Mr. Bin Laden’s remains by the US military, which involved washing to body according to Muslim tradition and reading religious rites in Arabic. These rituals displayed a solemnity and cultural sensitivity that was more fitting to the event and more heartening for those who look forward to an end to this cycle of conflict.
Michael Haedicke, Assistant Professor of Sociology