Throwing Shoes at Osama

I woke up yesterday to the news that Osama Bin Laden had finally been tracked and assassinated. My initial reaction: “Wow. Took ten years, but they got ‘im.” Then I read about the spontaneous celebrations that broke out on some of America’s streets – it didn’t sit well.

From the hinterlands of Bratislava’s cafés, I needed to “chat.” So, I conducted a social-media experiment with my Facebook “friends.” The result is a fascinating mini-oral history of the milestone day: support, skepticism, ambivalence. Flowed below is my request and their comments, in the order of their arrival. Yet the comments are not closed! Want to add your two cents’ worth? Please do! ...

Celebrating outside the White House, May 2, 2011. (Photo: Robb Hill, www.robbhill.com)

Greetings, my fellow Americans! And anyone else living in the motherland!

I have a made-for-social-media kinda request. I, like you, have been captivated by the momentous kill of Osama bin Laden, ten years in the making. Seeing as I’m not among you, stateside, could you please report to me: a) where you are currently stationed in life; b) roughly how many people “celebrated with jubilation” on the streets of your town – according to your very own eyes, local media, and citizen journalists; and finally, c) any reaction or analysis of your own you might want to add.

To me, I find it curious to learn of crowds (disproportionately small – or large?) out “celebrating” a state execution. Even one as utterly justifiable as Osama’s. I wonder if it might have been more meaningful for society to seize upon this rare opportunity to remind ourselves – and the world watching us – of the three thousand people who Osama murdered on 9/11. What was lost. Instead, whooping it up like your town just won the college-basketball championship?

How isolated was this phenomenon? How should the world interpret such reaction? Bloodlust, perhaps? Please, tell me your thoughts. I’m all ears!

Wait. Come to think of it, I’d also like to ask all my non-American friends living beyond our shores: how do you interpret the American response you’ve seen, heard and read? Why do you see it that way? Lastly, I shouldn’t ignore my compatriots who comprise the American diaspora: Feel free to weigh in! Sincerely, Michael

Donald Allport Bird (American): ‎"Greetings My Fellow Americans"!!!! Are you running for President, too?

Scott Goldman (American): My initial reaction to seeing those crowds in NYC and DC was the age of the participants. They were mostly college age people and it struck me that these were 9, 10 and 11 year olds on 9/11. Their joy came from a deep place on what must have been an extremely frightening day from a child's perspective. Now grown up, those fears are exorcised to some extent. Very, very powerful.

Michael Jordan: whoa, what a take on it. did you read that, or is that fresh from your mouth?

Michael Jordan: spoken like a parent, as well.

Scott Goldman: Good day to BE in the USA.

Mike Roberts (American): I can say that while I am a supporter of Obama it sickens me that something like this (or any other single event or stance) will eventually be a cornerstone in a political campaign or end up being why someone will vote for one person or another. I can hear it now... "He killed that som'bitch so he gets my vote!"

On your other note, I'm not a fan of the high-fiving and chest bumping shown outside the White House last night. Don't know what the alternative would be but I feel like we should project a less "savage" portrait of ourselves when someone is killed (regardless of their offense). It's a little WWE for me and I don't think violence should be celebrated.

We will be lucky if there is zero-net gain of hatred of America because of this. My guess is it will fuel more enthusiasm for Al Qaida and as Craig Ferguson or The Late Late Show said, "Everyone in Al Qaida just got a promotion."

Robb Hill (American): Michael, woke up at about 2am because Melisa was on the phone with her people at NPR, she was manning the NPR website. I got dressed and headed to the White House. When I arrived there were still hundreds of people - mostly college age - there whooping it up. There were chants of U-S-A, Hey Hey Goodbye, and even America Fuck Yeah!  The crowd was rowdy but not over the top – until a TV camera was turned on. When Geraldo showed up, people flocked to him like moths to the hot light on this camera. The focus of the celebration didn’t stay on Bin Laden or the meaning of the whole thing too long. When a woman was lifted on a man’s shoulders the chants turned to “show us your tits,” and other Mardi Gras stuff. It really left more like a March Madness (please explain reference to your European friends) whoop-up more than a world moment.

[MJJ note: one of Robb Hill's photos appears above.]

Robb Hill: On the way home I was listening to the BBC, they had a reporter in the crowd at the White House interviewing the same people I was just photographing. The answer I heard didn't quite match what I was seeing. The people in the crowd was telling the reporter that even though they are happy for Bin Laden's death not much is really going to change on the world stage. But everyone interviewed was happy for Bin Laden’s death. I think we Americans want justice – will be happy with revenge – and will personally ponder the meaning of the very justifiable death of one man and continue to heal the wounds of 9/11 publicly.

Michael Jordan: thanks so much for taking the time, robb. one more: since these are now the dominant images -- or at least many of the dominant images now being beamed around the world, would you also explain it this same way to the outside world?

Robb Hill: Hard to say how this is coming across outside the US. It's my understanding that in much of the world Bin Laden didn't have too many friends. But no one can deny there's a lot of tension between Muslims and the West (America and much of Europe). Does Bin Laden’s death lower this tension? Probably some. I’m not saying all Muslims are/were behind Bin Laden. All of the Muslims I know personally feel Bin Laden is as evil as they come and has distorted the faith beyond all reason.ope). Does Bin Laden's death lower this tension? Probably some. I'm not saying all Muslims are/were behind Bin Laden. All of the Muslims I know personally feel Bin Laden is as evil as they come and has distorted the faith beyond all reason.

Robb Hill: But America does and has come across in the world as a Labrador puppy chasing a Frisbee. It's going to happily chase it's goal with little regard of what's in the way. Killing Bin Laden and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Robb Hill: ‎(dam the return key) go a long way to helping that outlook. But I imagine the majority of the world views our actions as justified.

Edward Hancox (American): Well a) I'm glad the bastard's dead. b) yeah, thought the celebrating was a little odd, esp. the singing of "We Are The Champions" outside the White House. Perhaps it's b/c war is one of those things we're still really good at. Or perhaps that unlike the end of WWII there's no state to be defeated (and there were wild celebrations on V-E and V-J day), so OBL's death is the proxy for the surrender of Germany/Japan.

Michael Jordan: ‎"war ... we're still really good at" -- are we? now that's a topic for another blog! i suppose it's no conflict to quote a fellow Mantler?

Edward Hancox: A post could be good. But nobody blows stuff up like we do.

Christina Kiel (German living in U.S.): Hi Michael, Where to begin. I am in New Orleans, and there were no wild celebrations going on last night - at least no different ones than your usual Sunday night. I am still trying to figure out my own reaction. I was in New York on 9/11 and felt personally attacked - so shouldn't I feel happy now that the bastard is dead? Maybe some relief (I always found it embarrassing that it took so long to find UBL). I seem to leap over that first moment of joy straight to "it's not going to end the war on terror - or any other war". What the FT called "frat parties" left a bad taste in my mouth, too. So "we" really showed "them"? I don't know. Many questions still: did the operation recover any intel on future attacks? Did we throw the Pakistani government to the wolves (not that I necessarily mind; a million dollar villa? come on!)? Will UBL be even more of a symbol now to jihadists? In short: I don't feel safer, but at least it's one - a very important one - down, with thousands to go. And while USA chants are silly, I bleeding heart liberal personally do not mind a bump in the polls for Obama.

Andrea Palatnik (Brazilian): This American reaction was very bizarre indeed, and I saw very few people even commenting on it. In one word, I'd guess it's all a big collective catharsis. Looking forward to see how it will evolve.

Justin Grant (American): I think the country was in need of a moment like this. Iraq and Afghanistan have been disastrous for the nation's morale. This so-called blood lust is 10 years in the making.

Andras Laufer (Hungarian living in U.S.): My coworkers expressed their joy and happiness they felt on this man's demise. They are all strong members of their church. Is this what they learn there? Applause on someone's violent death?

Craig S. Redler (American): Which would you prefer, Bin Laden Dead or a Basketball championship? Hmm, now that is a topic for another blog.

Heidi Hauschild (American): The celebrations leave me unsettled and a little embarrassed. Seems like bad taste- like gloating and just doesn't seem like a good idea under the circumstances. (Yes I KNOW he was evil and a totally inhumane murderer. Reminds of me of how I felt about the execution of Saddam Hussein.) I think it reduces us to their bloodlust and revenge level and is that what we want? That said, I can appreciate that it was a very gutsy move on Obama’s part and I’m glad more weren’t killed … A day for very mixed feelings.

Stary Jazvec (Brit in Slovakia): Big killer offed a little killer. Extra-judicial killing + the usual collateral civilian deaths in revenge for the slaughter of civilians. The cycle of violence continues. Up to 2,290 deaths from US drone attacks to date in Pakistan, jeez not far to go till they equal the number in the twin towers.

Michael Jordan: my, how un-american of you, chris. can't fool me with that british accent!

Osama bin Laden, Terrorism, United States