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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. lila

    Cheering isn't my thing, but this guy was a mass murderer who would have killed more if given the chance. It my be tacky that people celebrating, but it's hard to get upset about it.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Thomas Howard

      I agree. After seeing pictures of Pakistanis dancing in the street after 9/11 and similar acts, it's nice for Americans to have a reason to do the same.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • sleepytime

      @Thomas Howard: They were Palestinians not Pakistanis.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • dusars1

      So that justifies what, that we are just as low as they were. Thats comforting...

      May 2, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  2. jimmerz

    Danielle Tumminio must be a psychopath. a nonviolent one but the point i say this is because she doesn't connect the pain and suffering caused to thousands, by ONE cold blooded person who did this in the name of Islam. I don't celebrate anyone's death but in this case, where the person who was assassinated wasn't even worthy of being called a human being, is closure. We celebrate a huge score, a feeling of poetic justice, and a restored confidence in our beleaguered attempts to find him. The fact that she's lost neighbors in this and still feels the sadness of a death...only reveals her inability to show and feel emotion.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  3. steve

    na na na na, na na na na , hey hey hey , gooooood bye!

    "the Quran also teaches reverence for every life, even the most repugnant ones" Is that why his people killed, burned, and dragged americans through the street?

    Cheer on.
    '

    May 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  4. NB

    Party like it's 1999! The death of OBL was a GREAT event!

    May 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  5. Spock

    Darn right I'm celebrating with a coupla beers.... huraaah!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  6. cguest2

    Mr. Blake writes "Jubilance, exaltation, revulsion – all those emotions mingled as people of faith struggled to find an appropriate response to bin Laden’s death." Are only the faithful struggling with an appropriate response? I am an atheist and I too found it very hard to see people celebrating and being joyus about Bin Laden's death. Just because you do not believe in God or in organized religion does not make you any less human. I do not find joy in the death of anyone. For me you only have this one life and when it ends, that's it, so life to me is very precious. I believe Bin Laden was a mad man and monster, but I won't celebrate his death. I will say that I agree with the Vatican when it said that his death should give us pause to think about how we can grow in peace and not in hatred.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Joyce

      I just have to respond to your post, because, while I am not an atheist, you express morals and ethics and values that do not depend on the belief in a Higher Power, Christianity, or any other organized religion. I find it quite interesting, but no surprise, that an atheist shares this commonality with those of faith. Something we have in common, that does not depend on 'belief'. We are all human. No death should be celebrated....only lives that have been well lived. I can't celebrate bin Ladens death, only mourn the fact that a man with such leadership skills led so many on a mission of hate and destruction.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  7. KNM

    I feel as though I celebrated more so the fact that a terrorist icon was taken down, not so much the death of him. I would never wish death on anyone – even some monster who killed our people.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  8. Keith Stone

    Weigh the loss of one life against being in constant fear of a monster who masterminded the loss of over 3,000 in one event (second attempt), increased the threat of terror world-wide for more than a decade, and left MILLIONS of people gripped in fear for long enough to change the way the world works, literally, in an extremely sad and negative way, and I think you have a no-brainer. No man since Hitler has commanded the fear and hatred of the world for so long (in this case longer), and the relief of this monster's death is indeed cause for celebration. To bring this man to trial or a Military Tribunal would cause mass riots in the streets to have his head. That this was done in a military mission fashion, and his body, after testing, humanely given a burial suited to his religion was too good for this evil. Rot in Hell is too good of a headline, in many American's opinions I think.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "No man since Hitler has commanded the fear and hatred of the world for so long (in this case longer), and the relief of this monster's death is indeed cause for celebration"

      There were others that came after Hitler that killed many man times more than Hitler.

      Funny, Hitler's death was another ending that will forever be in doubt.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Keith Stone

      Many man times more than Hitler. I suppose you're referring to 6,000,000 plus. But my point was that Hitler's foul stench was not smelled for two decades.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Keith Stone

      And enlighten me as to who in the world commanded the WORLD's fear between Hitler and Bin Laden? Kim Jong Il? Achmedenajad? Milosevic? Stalin? Or even Gorbachev? Yes, Gorbachev was part of the machine that kept the WORLD in fear, but we were equally reponsible. No one man has done this for longer than Bin Laden.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  9. fireybuddha

    Morality and religion don't always go together, and nonreligious folks can be as or more moral. I resent the fact that this article focused on faith-based morality.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      If resent such an article than I will say that we can add your resentment to the pile of positive things within the last 24 hours. 🙂

      If you can muster up anger about it and possibly rage or tears...that would be the icing on the cake.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Elon

      You know this is article is from a belief/faith blog, right? No one attacked atheists or agnostics in the blog. The author simply cited examples from major religions that support the idea that rejoicing in anyone's death is a little off. There are far more offensive things in the world for you to be justifiably resentful over, but this blog is not one of them.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  10. John

    Bin Laden was not a human ( man ) he was a demon . So therfore I have no trouble celebrating his death just as those who were celebrating after 9/11 . Seems some of us have very short memories when it comes to these kind of things . May the demon rot in hell !!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • wasolly

      last time i checked he looked like a man.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  11. cliff

    I don't mourn his death, but I do not cheer any killing. I suppose he got exactly what he deserved, maybe it was even too clean, considering all the "terror" he's been responsible for creating. It's all horrible business.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  12. Fiona

    This kind of thing brings out the worst in people. It's shameful.

    In the midst of all that disgusting blood lust on display in the wee hours of this morning - in DC and NYC - one thing did make me laugh. An African American woman in NYC was rattling on to the reporter about why she was celebrating. When she named the deceased, she said "Obama" instead of "Osama," and then slowly backtracked (with a startled look) and corrected herself. Funny on so many levels.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  13. Meshal

    The fact that people are cheering over the death of a man truly shows how humanity has taken an ugly turn. I'm glad he died instead of being alive and having to see this for himself. Sure, he was depicted as an evil person, but what actual evidence do we have? All we know is what the media feeds us. My faith in humanity is a lost cause at this point. Revenge is not the answer and this is not justice.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  14. Nabeel

    "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" MLK Jr.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Sweetkarma

      Amen.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Lovin'Life

      wonderful words. thank you for posting.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  15. diana

    This is exactly what I've been trying to tell people all day. The Americans celebrating look just as bad as the foreigners who celebrate after killing a captured American. We look like horrible people right now.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  16. John Goodman

    Have to say, I agree with most here... I feel really bad about cheering. I also am glad he is gone, but cannot cheer any death. Weird to be in the middle.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  17. Rick

    Morality has nothing to do with it. This man's actions lead, directly and indirectly, to the deaths of thousands of Americans. I would place him in the same category as Hitler. Some things just have to be killed.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • vasechek

      that thing had to be killed, but it's no great victory and no great cause for joy. this is akin to clearing the guts of a suicide bomber off the street.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  18. DG

    Millions would have rejoiced if Hitler, STalin, Pol Pot,Mao etc would have been taken out before they finished killing their millions! These murderous fiends deserve no mourning! They had plenty of chances to choose the right thing to do but instead chose to kill millions for no reason except for their own paranoid lack of self-esteem!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • vasechek

      no one is talking about it being wrong to go get a man like this. the article is talking about what the reaction of a civilized person should be. those celebrating this death are misguided on several levels, morals/ethics only one of them.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  19. Katie

    It's one of those things where at first, you think WA HOO!!!!!! Because your hatred for him initially outweighs your sense of rationality. Because isn't that what hate is, irrational? But when you really think about it, even if you're still glad about the outcome, you realize cheering will do nothing, because it won't undo any of the damage, it won't heal wars that are going on now, and all the celebration really is just about revenge. Yes I'm happy he's gone, but you won't see me celebrating in the streets.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Nabeel

      Totally agree with you on this.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  20. Bjamil

    From his declaration of war aginst the U.S in 1985, I have agreed with 90% of OBL has stood for. I dont agree with Sharia. I am glad he is gone and that he was not captured. I don't see any of us rebutting the number of deaths Israel committs with our weapons or the number of deaths a drones mistakenly kills, 17 or 20 individuals. Whats the difference. We have killed more in Iraq and Aghanistan than all the were killed on 9/11. I rejoice at no ones death. I knew this day would come but I am glad he was not captured. I see no difference in Muslim rejoicing at 9/11 and us today. Remember an Eye for an Eye. Its not over. I grew up Pentacostal and still hold their beliefs and conservitism as well as Islam which I embraced. I am not Muslim though, I just understand the conflict a lot more than the average.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Rob

      I think you are just average like the rest of us and while your opinion counts...most of us (Americans)... completely disagree with most of what you just wrote.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:51 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.