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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. rafa

    Do you remember those Palestinians rejoicing and chanting after the collapse of the Twin Towers and the killing of thousands of innocents?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • dustl

      Are you saying we're like the Palestinians. Oh wait, you're saying we should act like Palestinians. I got you.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • rafa

      No, we should not act like the Palestinians. One should not rejoice for someone's death even if that was our enemy.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • rafa

      Probably, the problem is in the reason of the rejoice. Quoting the opinion in posted in the link below:

      "If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care."

      Source: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1507393/jewish/Is-It-Okay-to-Celebrate-Bin-Ladens-Death.htm

      May 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  2. roseternal

    Oh yeah, now we have some dead guy floating around in the ocean in a sheet. I hope a storm doesn't come and wash him back up to land. EEEWWWW.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Thank God the Witch is Dead!

      I hate the fact that Ben Laden has entered the food chain via the sea. Don't eat any sushi close to Afganistan.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  3. I_Concur

    So, how do we explain the Death Penalty? Should we celebrate some's death then because we got "justice"?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  4. Kat

    Give any country $5 billions in aid and they would be better allies than Israel who spies on us and sells our secrets to our enemies (Jonathan Pollard case) and who gives America bad name, and who does not listen to us when we ask it to stop building colonies for the sake of peace, and who hides important intelligence from us.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  5. Dave

    Americans cheering for his death = Their enemies cheering when the WTC towers came down.

    Bin Laden was the "enemy" to Americans, but Americans are the enemy to Al'Queda's allies. Does that give them the right to celebrate their "victories"?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  6. Konstantine

    America! You have every right to celebrate. He showed no mercy to families, women, children why should you have any compassion for his family. They should have perished with him. With every extremist's death there should be a celebration. NEXT, the Libyan ruler and next time don't miss.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  7. roseternal

    I don't think any death should be celebrated. Yes, he did evil things, but the wages that sin pays is death. We are acting just like they did on their side when they attacked us. It is the same thing. We are all just human beings fighting over beliefs and land. Wow, and how everyone suffers.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Kate

      We killed one man. A man who killed many, many, people. We did it without killing a large number of civilians, we did it without bombing the surrounding areas. How is this operation comparable to 9/11 and therefore celebrating it comparable to certain factions celebrating 9/11?

      May 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  8. D

    Yeah, the whole thing about not celebrating the death of a human is great. But honestly when you consider that 99.99% of the world does not share his views or bloodthirstiness, statistically he's an anomaly in the world population (as are other terrorist extremists, serial killers, etc). By nature, humans pursue happiness and support the survival of the human race. Killing 3000+ people – does that really seem human? Bin Laden and terrorists in general indiscriminately kill large groups of people, and their terrorist cells infect the host population before attacking it. Sounds more like a virus to me.

    So, celebrating the destruction of a virus? Nothing morally wrong about it at all.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  9. Fred

    Party on Dudes!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  10. The Half Baked Lunatic

    I'm not celebrating becuase I'm an American – but because I'm a human being. Bin Laden isn't much worse than the terrorists that released the sarin gas on the Tokyo subway or members of the more radical christian sects. Human society can flourish or it can wither and die. If we want to flourish, we need to take a firm stance with those who want to destroy human society.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  11. TonyB

    I can give you 3000 plus reasons to cheer. Knock off this political correctness crap. The world is a better place.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • I_Concur

      "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."

      – Martin Luther King Jr.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  12. Charles

    I agree with the point made towards the end of the article – as Americans, we're repulsed to see pictures or videos of Muslims celebrating the deaths/demise of fellow Americans. But we react that way because we identify with those who have died. They're Americans, like we're Americans. They did nothing to incur the ill-will of those who wish them harm. And they gave their lives in a very noble sacrifice.

    Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, is not identified with by either American or Muslim communities. He was disowned by his family, and forsaken by the Muslim community because he advocated the murder of soldiers and civilians, Americans and Muslims. Is it wrong to be happy when a monster is killed? Certainly, his death can't erase the pain of those who have lost someone dear to them, but it will prevent others from experiencing that pain in the future.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Kate

      someone said on facebook today that if they had been alive during Hitler's day, they would not have celebrated his death. Hitler killed himself, so obviously it was a different situation. But it is wrong to feel some relief (which yes, I agree that some people expressed too jubilantly) that someone is gone that caused suffering to (in Hitler's case) millions, or thousands, or hundreds? A relief that may express itself in the form of joy? I consider myself a moral person, a respectful person, and yet I felt some emotion last night and would have been happy to celebrate with the crowds in front of the white house. This coming from someone who (in middle school) refused to say the pledge of alleigance because I was against the war in Iraq. Someone who, for a decade, wavered between being slightly embarassed to outright ashamed to be American? I want to believe in the America that Obama believes in, and I believe this death was a step towards peace in our world. Something to celebrate?

      May 2, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  13. john

    let's just take the moral highway and be more subtle in our celebrations

    May 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Robert

      I think the "moral highway" is a little subjective isnt it? I think we are all best if stick to our street and leave everyone else to theirs...

      May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  14. ApocalpseNOW

    Doesn't matter, I'm celebrating anyways...

    Remember, he started it. We ended it.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Did he? and also "have" we?

      May 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • ArijanDibran

      Ended it? The war isnt over

      May 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Mark from Middle River

      In response to the statement: "Remember, he started it. We ended it."

      You asked: "Did he? and also "have" we?"

      Good and evil are relative and subjective. From bin Laden's perspective, the U.S. was evil and started it. From our perspective, bin Laden was evil and started it. Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes. We were right.

      We did not end it. Plenty more where bin Laden came from. I think it is their benefits package i.e. 70 virgins, eternal bliss etc.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  15. Rich

    I heard Bin Laden ran when he saw his US. Reminds me of the rats hiding near my shed. They run too when I come around. Dogs don't run. Rats do.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Thank God the Witch is Dead!

      That's because dogs are a higher species than Ben Laden. This made my decade. Thanks Navy Seals!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  16. Lola

    I am sickened of hearing people that our celebration for killing an evil man is comparable to Al-Qaida's celebration after 9/11. You are the same people who do not know the difference between good and evil. It is people like you who would defend your own child's molester, your mother's murderer, your father's abuser...I think you get the idea. You people are so f***ing blind!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • I_Concur

      ‎"When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood, it is hard to shake hands with her.”
      –Oscar Wilde

      "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."

      – Martin Luther King Jr.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  17. Chris

    Yes it's OK to cheer. Hell, I want to throw a party. I'm proud to be an American and happy to know that a fellow American had dispatched a true monster that walked the earth. Our freedoms are based on the blood of countless Americans that have given their lives so that I can type this message today. People believe that we can live in a world without blood but I know for a fact it's not within our human nature and will never be.
    We must defend our nation and show these terrorist that America will not forgive these mass murderers.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Kevin

      As a fellow American, I totally agree with you and am proud to be an American. Today, I will celebrate bin Laden's death, as he hurt so many innocent people on that day. And let's not forget the Madrid and London subway bombings, too. He was a monster, and you are right, our country and all good countries and peoples are better off without him. God bless America! 🙂

      May 2, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • StandFast

      You fight evil with good. You take the high road. You face situations like this with honor and dignity. Did America put a bullet in Hirohito's head at the end of WWII? Did Lincoln dance in the streets like a drunken frat boy at the end of the civil war? Its not a basketball game: its war.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • chindokae

      @StandFast – We did however put a bunch of bullets into General Masaharu Homma for his role in the Bataan Death March. Sometimes you have to fight evil in a more direct way. This is about the best outcome we could hope for in this mess.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • StandFast

      @chindokae Yes (for Homma) but only after a TRIAL.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  18. Rodel

    I understand people's feelings of being happy that he is gone... but to dance in the streets as if this is a party well i reject that. it was not the winning it was the celebrating of death... this did not end a war, it was a blow yes there have been other blows and other deaths ( i.e. his children) but there wasn't people on the streets waving flags and chanting like something positive had happened a man was killed some would call him evil ( that opinion among others is not the debate) but he was still a man and you don't celebrate killing unless you are ok with being called a "KILLER"... maybe thats extreme to call it that or to label what those men did to him that... my personal opinion i would have rather seen him face his accusers even if he would have just died later... but to celebrate well something about that just doesn't sit right

    May 2, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Lola

    @I_Concur...if that so called enemy happens to be the most evil human being that ever walked on this earth during my lifetime, as an American who watched the horrors of 9/11, then you can't fault me for a little celebration. There is a difference in defeating evil vs. an enemy who does not share my values...huge difference.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • I_Concur

      ‎"When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood, it is hard to shake hands with her.”
      –Oscar Wilde

      May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  20. Kim

    When I heard Americans were celebrating after his death, no matter how bad someone can be, it's wrong. Osama bin Laden likely celebrated after 9/11. And now, Americans are doing the same thing. It's identical. So, you are all no better than him, and look how much you hate him; you should hate yourselves as well. The loss of a life–any life–is nothing to cheer about for anyone.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Tom

      You're joking right?

      May 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Carol A

      I think it is more of what he represented. He was the face of terrorism.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Kim, were you in New York or Washington on 9/11? If not, then I might be able to understand (sort of?) why you are asking that question. When your world becomes a warzone and thousands of people die because of some misguided cretin, you demand his blood. We have poured our sons and daughters lives and trillions of dollars, nearly bankrupting this country to find this creep. Now we get to bring our warfighters home and rebuild our country and our economy.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • veggiedude

      I'm atheist and it never fails to amuse me to see how unchristian christians behave and yet they hold themselves in such high regard over the unfaithful.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Stacey

      As a Muslim myself, I'd like to say that he did not represent my faith and is in fact, a poster boy for what NOT to do as a Muslim. I am celebrating that there is a small measure of relief for at least a short time, which is different from celebrating his death.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • christopher koch

      SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. I THINK YOU AND YOUR PASSIVE IDEALS ARE LESS THAN WEAK. BY THE WAY, I HATE YOUR INABILITY TO COMPREHEND SELF PRESERVATION. I DO NOT HATE MYSELF. : )

      May 2, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Kevin

      It's not nearly identical or the same. This man sent thousands of souls to their creator in one day, and maybe a hundred thousand others. He is one man who can no longer decide when thousands are called. One soul for thousands. The heavens will sort it out.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • ArijanDibran

      I agree with you 100% i watched these people on the news. They looked barbaric and it was embarrassing. No wonder the world has our citizens a step lower than them. You don't celebrate anyones death, and the core idea is that terrorism isnt going to stop. He was one person, it doesn't matter. His ideology continues and all the terrorism will continue with it. Theres no reason to celebrate people are still being killed everyday over there.

      And Kim I was here. You clearly have no idea what a "war zone" is. You people look lunatic and retarded. He's dead but the everyday life of fearing of being killed and blown up over there is still going to continue. Terrorism will always be here. And we didn't spend all that money to find him. Thats a whole other story.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Robert

      The view from your soapbox must be fantastic....

      May 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • mgreen

      I was thinking the same thing. I do not like what the man did or what he is portrayed as. He was a horrible person. Let's not sink to his level by dancing on his grave.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • salvatore

      OBL said he'd rather die than be in US custody. The SEALS obliged him.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Kim

      You said: "When I heard Americans were celebrating after his death, no matter how bad someone can be, it's wrong. Osama bin Laden likely celebrated after 9/11. And now, Americans are doing the same thing. It's identical. So, you are all no better than him, and look how much you hate him; you should hate yourselves as well. The loss of a life–any life–is nothing to cheer about for anyone."

      Morality is relative and subjective. If Hitler had won the war, we wouldn't be using him as an example of evil.
      Osama bin Laden killed people from our tribe. He believed America was evil. We killed bin Laden, because we believe he was evil. Turns out, we were right.

      Cheers!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • nuklhed

      It is morally wrong to celebrate, but the situations are not the same.

      Osama bin Laden celebrated mass murder of those who did nothing to provoke it (as if there is much one can do to provoke murder). And there is no evidence to support his rehabilitation (understatement of a lifetime). He would drop the a-bomb if he had it.

      We celebrate death only of the murderer and those who facilitated his plans.

      The context is entirely different.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • A Person

      I agree with Kim. No death should be celebrated – it does not matter that Bin Laden was a cruel person, he was still a human being. And, the American crowds cheering in front of the White House are no different from Arabs cheering after acts of terror. I can't understand how can some people say that the news about his death made them happy. Once again, he was a human being. A loss of life is a loss of life.
      What is ironic about the the events of these days that on May 1, Pope John Paul II was beatified. Probably many of the people who cheered for Bin Laden's death, cried a few years ago when the Pope was dying. The Pope taught us to forgive even our enemy, he himself forgave the person who attempted to kill him. And what are we doing? We are turning into coldblooded terrorists.
      To tell you the true, I hope Bin Laden has found peace. Each human being should find this after death, no matter what type of life they had. This is all I have to say.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Dave

      There is nothing wrong with celebrating osama's death unless you are a Christian.Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
      And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or the LORD will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him. Proverbs 24:17-18 And Jesus told us:But I say to you who hear, (AD)love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28

      May 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • brian

      I'm a former US army officer with friends still serving our country. Nonetheless, I did not celebrate Osama's demise, because (as a Buddhist), I never think it's okay to celebrate the death of a human being. On the other hand, celebrating OBL's death is NOT the same as AQ celebrating the destruction of the WTC. Obama and his brethren celebrated the death of innocents. Americans celebrated the death of a mass-murderer.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • mrgakozak

      Osama bin-Laden had forfeited any claim to humanity. He had become so possessed with, so consumed by evil that he no longer qualified as a human with a soul. He had become a sub-human wretch, devoid of anything truly human. We celebrate not the death of a human being, but the destruction of a servant of pure evil. I savor the thought that he is gone from this earth.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Dan

      I dont think it is the same thing. Killing thousands of innocent people versus killing a horrible individual are not equal. Granted I dont agree with celebrating death, but I think you are completely out of line in comparing this celebration to what bin Laden may have done after killing innocent civilians.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:29 am |
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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.