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Is it morally right to celebrate bin Laden's death?
Thousands celebrated at Times Square in New York City early Monday after Osama bin Laden's death was announced.
May 2nd, 2011
04:11 PM ET

Is it morally right to celebrate bin Laden's death?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - Festive crowds gathered to cheer his assassination.

One newspaper headline eulogy read, “Rot in Hell.” Televised chants echoed:
“U.S.A.! U.S.A!”

Americans spilled into the streets for spontaneous celebrations after news spread that Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had been assassinated.

Yet another reaction took place in more sober moments as people of faith watched the giddy celebrations with a tangled mix of emotions.

Is it morally wrong to celebrate the assassination of bin Laden in such a festive, patriotic way?

That’s the question that troubled Danielle Tumminio, an Episcopal priest, who fought back tears as she digested the news that bin Laden had been killed.

Tumminio was in New York on September 11, 2001. Her Long Island neighborhood, filled with lawyers, stockbrokers and firefighters, lost scores of people in the attacks.

“I remember coming home and smelling the smoke, seeing the debris and going to the funerals,” Tumminio says. “I actually studied abroad because I wanted to get away from feeling unsafe.”

But when Tumminio saw images of Americans celebrating, she felt something else: moral ambivalence.

Osama bin Laden's death: How should we feel?

“My first reaction was, ‘I wish I was with them,’” Tumminio says. “My second reaction was, ‘This is disgusting. We shouldn’t be celebrating the death of anybody.’ It felt gross.”

Jubilance, exaltation, revulsion - all those emotions mingled as people of faith struggled to find an appropriate response to bin Laden’s death.

No one we interviewed for this story denied the importance of bin Laden’s death; the heroism of the American soldiers; the importance of serving justice.

But religious leaders of different faiths say no one should rejoice in the death of a person, even a hated enemy.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld says that when people hear about the downfall of an enemy, rabbis often remind them of a verse from Proverbs: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

Herzfeld - who is the rabbi of Ohev Sholom, The National Synagogue, the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C. - says that according to the Talmud, “God does not rejoice with the fall of the wicked.”

“As the rabbinic teaching goes, as the children of Israel were crossing the sea and the army of Pharaoh was drowning, God rebuked the angels for showing excessive joy,” Herzfeld says.

Emad El-Din Shahin, a professor of religion at the University of Notre Dame, says the Quran also teaches reverence for every life, even the most repugnant ones.

He says Islam stresses that the death of a person should be observed in a respectful and solemn way for all people, not just Muslims.

He told a story from Islam to illustrate his point.

The Prophet Mohammad was sitting by a road one day when a funeral procession came by. The prophet stood up out of respect, says Shahin.

“The people with him told him, ‘But he’s not a Muslim.’

“The Prophet Mohammad said, ‘Isn’t it a human soul?’”

Shahin says most Muslims reject the notion that bin Laden was a Muslim leader.

“Bin Laden did not represent Islam or Muslims,” Shahin says. “He was an aberration. Most of the teachings and practices of al Qaeda were condemned by the majority of Muslim scholars and populations.”

One Christian leader pointed to a biblical story from the life of Jesus. Scott Appleby, a history professor who studies the roots of religious violence at Notre Dame, said that when Jesus was surrounded by guards near the end of his life, one of his disciples picked up a sword.

Jesus rebuked the disciple, saying, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”

“Certainly Osama bin Laden, who lived by the sword, received the world’s form of justice,” says Appleby. “But do we really think that violence, even a ‘justified’ act of violence, has the capacity to heal the wounds inflicted by violence - or to end the cycle of violence?”

Some leaders say that dancing on bin Laden’s grave is wrong from an ethical point of view as well.

“Killing someone should never be a cause for celebration or joy,” says Rick Halperin, past chairman of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA.

“We as a nation are repulsed when we see Muslims dancing over the death of
Americans. Why would we think our reaction would not be seen as disgusting behavior to them?”

The best reaction would be “somber reflection,” says Halperin, who is also director of Southern Methodist University’s Embrey Human Rights Program.

Tumminio, the Episcopal priest, has already arrived at that place. She says she plans to preach a sermon about the appropriate reaction to bin Laden’s death. She’s still sorting through what she will say.

“I think people have a right to celebrate. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with holding up American flags. But I don’t think we should celebrate the taking of life.”

There’s at least one sentiment she feels no ambivalence about.

Bin Laden’s death should give the United States something else its citizens have craved since September 11, 2001.

“I think this is going to be unifying for us,” she says. “Very few things have been unifying for us in the past 10 years.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: 9/11 • Christianity • Death • Islam • Judaism • Muslim • New York • Osama bin Laden

soundoff (1,195 Responses)
  1. Tim Liao

    I do wonder if we interpet Christianity correctly when a man who murdered thousands deserves the same kind of love as the innocent children that were on the plane that hit the World Trade Center that day? I am a Sinner but my sins are stuff like lying, lusting, anger, and so on. It makes no rational sense to equate my moral flaws with those who are pure evil. We need to stop lying to ourselves and realize we are NOT all capable of that type of evil and therefore liberal Christians that try to equate us with Bin Laden or McVeigh or Manson are clearly wrong.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Choconet

      The religious scholars responding to this article are not liberal Christians they are in fact conservative Christians. Some would even liken them to the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time. He called them "religious" because they thought everything had to go by the book. These “religious” people are the same ones that killed Jesus.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  2. cptmike

    This coward killed thousands in cold blood and you are telling me that it is immoral to celebrate his death?! Really?

    God bless the President, God bless this country – you are next Moammar...

    May 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  3. TXt

    Only a person with morals would ponder this. The fact is America lives in a culture of death and so celebrates death as well as revenge. A culture that respects life would NOT celebrate a death, -even the death of a murderer. So clearly it falls to the secular realm of popular egotism and narcisim that celebrates this death. Plain and simple: if you can not look to something greater than yourself in this univers, then by all means celebrate your eternal death.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Gary

    Mussolini Italy, Catholics... All I'm going to say.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  5. RHHaith, Houston, TX

    No, it isn't morally right to cheer, however it is one of a long list of things that have marked this country's decline into moral insolvency. We used to be a beacon of light and hope in the world, now we are no better than those people that danced in the street after 911. Was earthy justice served in the killing of bin laden? Yes, but for our countymen to celebrate in the streets is appalling.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • jhon

      I come from a catholic family, i am 16 years of age, i do not believe in my parents ideologies and their beliefs. They are verry conservative and were clebrating his death. I believe in god but not in religion, and i think by celebrating this death is justt weird and inhumane. However i think most americans are inhumane so it really doesnt matter.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  6. lettie0305

    I struggled with this issue when I first heard the news. As a mom/Christian/member of the human race, I do not think people should celebrate the death of a human being...HOWEVER, I do not think of Osama as human. I truly believe that he was evil personified, so I have made my peace with the happiness I feel over his extermination. If I am wrong to be in such a celebratory mood, I hope and pray God will forgive me. But I feel joy that we are seeing an end to a particular reign of terror felt across the world. I do not kid myself thinking that the war and terrorism are over, but Osama's death DOES mark the end of a certain brand of terror. So I say let us all celebrate however we wish to!

    May 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Baruch

    For the people who believe this latest fiction from the neocons running the gov't...I feel sorry for you, honestly. You are duped, again, continuously.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  8. martin

    do we similarly celebrate when a criminal murderer is put to death lethally ?- does his immediate families who suffered loss celebrate and dance around in jubilation.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  9. megr

    Bin Laden, like Hitler, is not only reponsible for the deaths under his watch he is also responsible for spilling hatred into the world. He created a culture of hate. He perverted a religion to justify his actions. He spent his life driving wedges between people. And the sad truth is his message will continue on for generations causing more death, pain, and mistrust. There is little anyone can do but remove a man like this from the world and hope there is some divine justice to handle it all. The bottom line is his death will not bring back one person who has died. The families of the victims will have to continue to live with the pain. Killing Bin Laden only means we stopped him from planning more attacks and spreading more hate. That is something to happy about.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  10. And the winner is ...

    Bin Laden may have helped orchestrate the killing of a number of people but how many more did we inadvertently kill while chasing him. He is dead and the USA celebrates, does this mean we can bring our men and women in uniform home? Has anyone taken a minute to realize the irony and the implications of the situation: We stormed Iraq looking for WMD; there weren't any. We have invaded, bombed and occupied Afghanistan; bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. If this is really mission accomplished, bring our troops home. Give them a ticker tape parade down Times Square and let them get on with their lives, with their families. But how will this be any different than before, we have not left S. Korea, we have not Iraq and we continue to find reasons to occupy other countries. Bin Laden's death just means the USA needs a new poster boy for its continue occupation of foreign lands and increased limitations of freedom and privacy on its citizens.
    Bin Laden's death was not worth what we have spent trying to kill him. And the death of a human being with evidence of something atrocious i.e. the Nuremberg trial, is a crime against humanity. No one will ever know the truth of 9/11 but were the lives lost vindicated by this one death. Since his supposed involvement in 9/11 what has he actually done? Spew hate-filled messages? Many Americans do the same and yet we call it freedom, a freedom we are apparently no willing to grant to others.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Dave

    Maybe not OK to cheer his death. Cheer the death of al Qaeda when it comes. Osama bin Laden was just one man. The real thing to cheer for is when bigotry has ended on our planet.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Mary

      Bigotry will not end on this planet when any country has people celebrating in the streets at the killing of another human being. The people of this country who are celebrating are no better than the Muslims who celebrated American deaths on 9/11. I can't believe how many people think it's all right to do the very thing for which they despise others.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  12. Fiona

    I've been sickened by the sight of people cheering, dancing around, and chanting "USA"...as if it's a soccer match or something. It is never morally "okay" to cheer the death of a living being. It's human to feel some measure of vindication in his death, but to celebrate in such a fashion is barbaric.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • David Stone

      Weakling....how pathetic

      May 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • And the winner is ...

      It is in our 'greatest' moments we show our true character. This country is black and hypocritical to its core. If they celebrate something we are insulted, we call them crude and immoral. And yet look at our jubilation. Mr. Stone you prove this wonderfully.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • epiphany

      No, it's not barbaric! You've gotten too soft! There's a time for peace and a time for war, and this was war. bin Laden chose to die this way. We cut off the head of their giant and it is cause for celebration. American's are compassionate, and we don't desire people to perish. But there are times when we have to get the job done, and we did! Victories should be celebrated! No one can even dare compare our celebrating with the sadistic dancing in the streets that happened in the middle east when towers went down. American's have a totally different ideology than that of the middle eastern Muslim.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  13. clockmann

    Emad El-Din Shahin, a professor of religion at the University of Notre Dame, says the Quran also teaches reverence for every life, even the most repugnant ones.
    He says Islam stresses that the death of a person should be observed in a respectful and solemn way for all people, not just Muslims......

    As I recall millions of Muslims around the world were jumping with joy on 9/11 after this monster murdered thousands but we shoudnt celebrate... F***ing hypocrites

    May 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • TXt

      they teach religion at UND? who knew?? ;-]

      May 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • ItsMe2003

      Um...so you stopped reading right after that line apparently. Look over the whole article before making comments (positive or negative).

      May 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Mary

      So we should act like their evil twin?

      May 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  14. Bob

    Only a complete weiner would ask this question.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Fiona

      Takes one...etc.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • wow

      love it

      May 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  15. SadieSadie

    I have actually been pondering this all day. I feel a sense of relief that he is dead and that justice has been served for those that lost their lives due to osamas machinations but I don't feel like dancing. I almost feel anticipation at what the next move will be and from whom.
    I do feel that we should congratulate our troops for a job well done.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • susansocal

      DITTO. t

      hat's how I would describe how I felt about the news.. I was disappointed to see a jubilee state of celebration, it's like when they show the lunatics burning our flagsa and celebrating the deaths of Americans.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • dude

      Ditto, ditto.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • mary

      Very well said. I am glad that justice was served, but don't exactly feel it is appropriate to "party". Dancing in the street is just a low class thing for us Americans to do. Lets behave in a civil fashion and not stoop to the level if those that celebrated our 9/11 attack.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  16. N Henry

    Who is this Halperin guy to tell people what the best reaction would be? I'm willing to have a conversation with my God about how to reconcile my humanity with my feeling pretty darn happy about bin Laden's death. And I'm confident that's not the worst thing I've done – spiritually – in my life. This article is toilet paper for the loos in the Ivory Tower.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  17. Colin

    I feel as guilty about celebrating his death as he did about killing 3,000 on 9/11.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Marc

      Using OBL has a moral standard seems like a poor choice. Should we feel guilt/remorse/trepidation for things he doesn't? I would hope so. His ability to remove humanity from other humans was scary, it doesn't feel right to even begin walking down that road. I can understand feeling happy this particular chapter is over, but that's more relief than anything.

      To celebrate his death I think dishonors 9/11 victims and returns us to the callous, egotistical USA that started this whole "feud" in the first place.

      I'm content with how this happened, but celebrating and chanting "USA" makes me feel like my country is a country of apes. Whatever happened to being a "good winner?" or "acting like you've been there before?" He's dead...ok? Reflect, remember why we're here and why 9/11 happened in the first place. Removing humanity from other people is a bad, bad place to go.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • northernwarrior

      Well Colin You are an ediot. We are having a party this Saturday to celebrate. a pig on a spit, with a Bin ladden face ...wanna come we could use you for fuel...

      May 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  18. Rogue

    It obviously depends on what moral guidelines a person is following. On one hand, Osama Bin Laden was a human being with all the imperfections that entails and so one might regret that he was never healed of his insanity.
    On the other hand, it's party time! 😀

    May 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Nancy

      Agreed. Let these lame bleeding hearts sob for poor osma. He would have cut their heads off as soon as look at them!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  19. GSA

    Celebrate if you want, I say if it makes you happy then let the world know it. Sadly BL's death means nothing at all and the world is the same today as it was yesterday...same dangers, same wonders and everything in between.
    Good job US, we salute you. Now move on to the next one on the list and we can have this celebration again in 10 years. Cheers.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Gorki Sworki

      Oh, it means something alright.

      It's not like terrorism will magically go away, but it is revenge, and good revenge. It means we planted the stake in AQ's charisma.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Wayshower

      Gorki Sworki said – "It's not like terrorism will magically go away, but it is revenge, and good revenge."

      There is a very wise saying from Ghandi......"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

      Violence, revenge, hate, and intolerence just lead into a vicious cycle. The only way to break that cycle is to not repeat it when your side has a victory. The world CLEARLY has not learned this yet, which is why the cycle of War continues without end EVERYWHERE.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • epiphany

      Oh fiddlesticks! His death means a lot. If it means nothing to you, then you're dead yourself.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Keith B

      it meant alot to a lot of Americans, people are not in jubilation without reason. It meant something that Allah was never protecting OBL only Pakistan

      May 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  20. Nonimus

    I realize that the author may be targeting people of faith, but it seems like the implication is that only people of faith are "pondering" this.
    "Yet another reaction took place in more sober moments as people of faith watched the giddy celebrations with a tangled mix of emotions."
    "Jubilance, exaltation, revulsion – all those emotions mingled as people of faith struggled to find an appropriate response to bin Laden’s death."

    So people of non-faith had no reaction?

    Apparently, not...
    "Some leaders say that dancing on bin Laden’s grave is wrong from an ethical point of view as well."

    May 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Mike Rotch

      You cannot dance on a water burial. Also, maybe your viewpoint is different. And maybe what he ment to say was people with faith. You can never know. Don't attack people if you have no idea of their viewpoint. P.S. I don't agree with the celebration of Osama's death, but that doesn't mean that a burden has been lifeted either. We have just buried ourselves in deeper S**T because of this. Have Fun U. S. of A

      May 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Fiona

      You do not need to be a person 'of faith" to have morals, Nominus. I am a Pantheist, and I am repelled by the frantic celebrations that broke out on the news on BL's death.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • mdupuis

      Nonimus. I agree competely! I find that the premise that people of "faith" in particular are struggling pretty insulting. I think many without "faith" think about this. By the way, those of "faith" can remember through history many, many people have been killed in the name of GOD. Organized religion causes quite a bit of conflict and devisive thoughts.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • standingwave

      I'm not a fan of revenge but I like justice.Bin Laden has much innocent blood on his hands and would gladly have shed more.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.