The Politics of Celebrating Assassination

A Strange Society

The outbursts of jubilation in the U.S. prompted by the death of Osama Bin Laden present a worthy topic of study for sociologists and psychologists alike. Thousands of people celebrated their newfound ‘freedom’ from the specter of Bin Laden roaming unchecked, planning and perpetrating new terrorist attacks. On the surface it appears to have been a natural expression of relief, though it seems a bit strange to celebrate the death of someone with such excitement. As the mother of a man who perished in the attack on the twin towers put it, “the death of Bin Laden doesn’t change the fact that my son is dead—there is nothing to celebrate.”

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this situation has been its effect on Americans’ perception of President Obama. As indicated by recent opinion polls, the battered image of Obama received a shot in the arm from his delivery of ‘revenge’ for which Americans had waited nearly a decade. For many of those polled, Obama finally deserves the title ‘Commander in Chief’. It’s easy enough to understand this newfound faith in Obama as a military leader. However, one can’t help but ponder the fact that someone’s death—however odious that individual might have been—has bolstered voters’ approval of the president much more than, for example, his health care reform plan, through which over thirty million people will gain access to much needed medical services.

Even if the planning and execution of the operation against Bin Laden represents a resounding military success, wouldn’t it be more sensible to base the popularity of the president, or of anyone for that matter, on actions that they take to promote life rather than death? Unfortunately, within many sectors of society the equation of ‘life’ with the ‘survival of the fittest’ persists with as much force as ever. Hollywood overwhelms us with images of superheroes singlehandedly saving the world and of ‘self-made’ men accumulating fabulous riches through their individual ‘effort and genius’. The problem with this messianic vision of heroic individualism is that it minimizes or wholly passes over the fact that, more often than not, it’s the day-to-day acts of unheralded generosity and solidarity that fundamentally change the lives of human beings for the better.

I hope that the thousands of young women and men who gathered to celebrate the death of Bin Laden can somehow find the motivation to demonstrate in support of the solidarity that we owe ourselves as living beings. It would be marvelous if we were able, along with these thousands of young men and women, to rescue some semblance of the respect for life that we’ve left behind.

  • Translated by Sean Dinces. This op-ed originally appeared in La Jornada on 9 May 2011.
  • Arturo Balderas is a writer who can be contacted at: Read other articles by Arturo.