Bin Laden’s death met with fanfare, sobriety at U of C

Students were divided in their reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden. Scores met in common rooms to watch the news and hundreds celebrated, while others criticized the merriment. Some even pointed to anti-Islamic sentiment appearing on campus.

By Christina Pillsbury

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Following the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday night, only a few students took to the streets for celebration–most kept their opinions to Facebook status updates.

Members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) fraternity set off to Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap after President Barack Obama’s address, expecting to be met with a stars-and-stripes celebration.

Instead, they marched, chanting and singing patriotic songs, into a nearly empty bar. Meanwhile, others were criticizing celebratory reactions to bin Laden’s slaying, and some brought attention to the possibility of anti-Muslim actions.

The fraternity brothers were disappointed while watching national news showing flash crowds gathering at Ground Zero, the White House, and at other college campuses. They quickly planned a party for the next day, titled “America!!! F*CK YEAH!!!” on Facebook.

Sunday night, fifteen miles north, around 100 Northwestern University students paraded around campus playing instruments and singing with flags waving, according to The Daily Northwestern. At Harvard, 200 students congregated on campus chanting “U.S.A.,” while Obama’s speech was blasted from speakers in a student's apartment, according to The Harvard Crimson.

SigEp brothers were disappointed as they walked from their house at East 62nd Street and South Ellis Avenue to Jimmy’s at East 55th Street and South Woodlawn Avenue. “We thought we would see flash mobs. We were really disappointed by how mild the reaction was,” third-year SigEp brother Jim Murray said.

However, some are disappointed with how rowdy the national reaction has been.

Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) student Dustin Hedmark said, “It is particularly tasteless to celebrate when somebody dies.”

Second-year Etan Heller said that he thought much of the exuberance he observed, even on Facebook, was in poor taste. “I’m not very into nationalism,” he said, adding that a more appropriate response on campus would be one that sparked conversation about the September 11 attacks, about American foreign policy, and about terrorism.

SigEp Vice President of Programming and Event Planning Chris Kingdon said they’re “not throwing a party to celebrate Osama’s death; we’re celebrating the U.S.’s ability to get the job done no matter how long it takes.”

Second-year Alex Read was training all weekend to enter the Marines upon graduating. He said although he would gladly go fight in the Middle East, he did have doubts about the purpose of the current war until Sunday.

“I had the feeling of, 'why are we still [at war]?'” said Read, SigEp Vice President of Recruitment. “People were thinking it was a mistake of the previous administration. [Bin Laden’s death] seemed to remind people of why we were there. It completed the mission.”

“I think that [celebration] is a reasonable reaction,” said first-year Seung Hwan Lee, who is not an American citizen. “Because of the terror of 9/11, I assume a lot of U.S. citizens have hatred toward Osama bin Laden. The expression seems quite normal.”

At 11 p.m. last night, 70 students dressed in plaid shirts, cowboy hats, and red, white, and blue partied at the SigEp house, which had a flag flying from the window, “Home of the Brave” written in chalk on the walls, and country music blaring from the speakers.

Instead of partying, the RSO Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) adjusted their monthly open meeting to talk about the future of Middle Eastern politics in a post-bin Laden world.

And at last night’s Graduate Council meeting, representatives talked about increasing awareness regarding the possibility of anti-Islam sentiments, according to Law School Representative Lubna R. Malik. In the wake of the death of the man behind the 9/11 tragedies, she said, “We don’t want to have these bad feelings [toward Muslims]. We want to talk about these events in a respectful and tolerant manner.”

Malik said she reported an incident of mild verbal harassment by a member of the community yesterday at Ratner Athletic Center, and that raising awareness about this type of action is important. She said she hopes students will feel comfortable reporting incidents of bias to the University.

But in accordance with Obama’s reaffirmation Sunday night that America is not at war with Islam, Read was quick to state, “By no means is [the celebration] anti-Muslim, I hope that no one is seeing it that way. . . Tonight I will be celebrating that we achieved this goal after working for 10 years collectively towards it. And that is extremely noteworthy.”

—Additional reporting by Harunobu Coryne