Moving beyond Bin Laden

September 11 memorial construction

I happened to be on vacation in New York City when news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Brent and I had gone out for a musical and dinner, and as we were walking past Times Square toward the subway station, Brent got a text message saying Bin Laden was reportedly dead. People were gathering down the street.

We headed back to the hotel and flipped on the TV to watch President Obama’s speech. B-roll footage showed crowds gathering outside the White House and all over New York City, singing, shouting, and waving flags as they celebrated.

On my laptop, I followed the Facebook and Twitter updates as my friends struggled to make sense of how to respond. Is it right to celebrate death—even when it’s a terrorist? How can we pursue peace and justice? Share a quote from Jesus or another famous theologian?

TV crews crowding Church Street near Ground Zero

The next morning, we went to the World Trade Center site (which we’d already been planning to do before the news broke). Church Street was clogged with TV crews and satellite trucks. Security personnel were everywhere, and tourists held up the day’s newspaper as they took pictures in front of Ground Zero.

News media madness near the World Trade Center site

We went on the Tribute Tour and heard the powerful stories of courage, loss, and hope from that autumn day nearly ten years ago.

And it got me thinking about another journey I was on exactly a year ago.

I was traveling in Israel and Palestine with a small group of young adults, meeting people of faith who are working across religious and cultural lines in the Holy Land.

For the last ten years, we’ve let Osama Bin Laden influence interactions between Christians, Jews, and Muslisms. At times, we’ve let his representation of Islam become an excuse to shut down interfaith dialogue and work toward peace.

I still don’t think I can celebrate Bin Laden’s assassination. But I do pray that we move past letting his image define Islam and instead see hope in the change that’s rippling through the Middle East. Through the voices of young people in Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, and Libya who are trying to shift the conversation.

For that, I can pray and hope and celebrate.

Banner from the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem, Palestine

6 thoughts on “Moving beyond Bin Laden”

  1. great thoughts Bethany
    glad you had a chance to visit NYC and see Ground Zero
    these types of experiences offer different perspectives and reflection

  2. As a Christian, don’t you think it’s a little silly to say you can’t celebrate a person’s death when we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection every time we take communion? (Yes, I know it’s more complicated than that, but taken down to its essentials that’s what we do.)

    I celebrated when I heard the news of OBL’s death. Not because I had any personal animus toward the man–I never knew him personally–but because of what his death represented: a concrete step toward peace. The single most recognizable figurehead for international terrorists was eliminated, hopefully disrupting plans and putting Al Qaeda off their game. For that matter, his was a voice actively engaged in promoting violence toward all who disagreed with his narrow, extreme interpretation of Islam. There is no negotiating with such hate.

    So I guess there’s no need to celebrate the death per se. Celebrate the removal of a cancer, without which the body can heal. I certainly do.

  3. Bethany… this link through Penny. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My feelings as I saw the media showing wild cheering was one of shame. How do we walk humbly as we pursue peace and justice?

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