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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. John

    By pure coincidence, there was a report yesterday evening on a CBS reporter who was brutalized by a jubilant-crowd-turned-mob in Egypt. Watching some of the crowds in front of the White House going crazy made me feel uncomfortable. A crowd like that is inherently unstable and less than cool-headed. I don't think it gives a fitting tribute to the hard work of our intelligence community and the military.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  2. david Hart

    I agree and write about it here:

    http://sightlikeaconstructionworker.blogspot.com/2011/05/wheres-patriotism-in.html

    May 2, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  3. Vernie

    One of the most shocking memories other than the planes on 9/11, I have is that other countries were rejoicing and burning our flag that day. Yes they were singing praises and I was offended and saddened by their reactions. As a Proud American, I hold myself and my country to a higher level than the terroristic states that supported him, so when I saw Americans rejoicing in the streets I was shocked. Really we are rejoicing at this man's death, but when his followers rejoiced at our loved ones we were offended. They were raised to hate Americans and Americans hated Bin Laden and both reacted the same when the object of their hate was destroyed. I guess that is just basic human instinct, but it doesn’t make it right. Don't get me wrong I am glad he can no longer hurt innocent people but the truth is I'm not gonna sleep any different than before because for 10 years he has been able to train other people to do what he did. I hope it does bring some relief to the families of his victims but his death doesn't change the fact that on 9/11 we all realized what racism and terrorism are. We were all targeted simply because we were Americans and unfortunately there are many others out there that believe the way he did.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  4. stewart in Portland

    My hope is that shortly we collectively take a step back and say "How did all of this happen" and more importantly, "How do we choose another path?"

    Granted, there will always be disturbed people doing horrific things in the world, but there is a way to keep less fortunate people from following the truly mentally disturbed. The people that follow a Bin Laden type are weak and disadvantaged in many ways. Mostly through lack of education and poverty. People want to belong to something that empowers them or part of something that feels bigger than themselves. It makes them vulnerable to being led to dark and devious deeds. Example: the Germans of WWI were so suppressed and punished by the opposing world, it opened a door for Hitler.

    The solution? Education – it is empowerment. The ability to make choices for individuals rather than someone make decisions for them. Opportunity is a great distraction from being deviant. Look at the US – kids living at poverty level or lower have one book for every 300 kids on average. And people are surprised when they end up in jail, or worse as teenagers? If we treated their neighborhood schools as if they were professional sports teams built to compete with others, kids would be attracted in droves – too busy to join gangs, commit crimes, take a bad path, or follow a self proclaimed deviant leader. Less people would be available to corrupt, and become terrorists of tomorrow. I hope one day we collectively see that and choose a new path.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  5. Rico

    Celebrating one's death shows how poor spirited others can be. That is what they did when killed Americans. Americans shouldn't do the same. It only puts them on the same level.
    Justice was made, world is somehow safer, thanks you soldiers, please keep up the good work, period; lets get back on with our lives.
    Serenity, sense of morality and high human values show how elevated and civilized a society is.
    That is not the reaction I woukd like to see.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  6. John

    I am glad I read this article. I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt saddened by the celebrations. Although, I agree he was an evil tyrrant and breath a sigh of relief knowing he will no longer threaten innocent American lives; that which has seperated us throughout history, from the animals, has always been our ability to act with dignity during times such as this. Our celebrations over his death prove we too can become animals and I felt sick. Let us not forget, We are Americans. We are better than that. We are the example the rest of the world should want to follow. What happened to American pride? We as an American society need to re-group.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  7. mark

    the idea that we r responsible for al quadas killing of innocent civilians because we support israel is ridiculous, because al quada never cared about the Palestinians just like most of the Muslims don’t care about the Palestinians they just use it as an excuse to hate the Jewish people, just like al quada uses it as an excuse, when is the last time al quada cared about other Muslims they are killing innocent Muslims every day, they just hate Jews and we have to defend the Jewish against this from of hatred

    May 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Lola

    @ 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.

    Let me get this straight to you, you bleeding liberal, do you think that quote from our beloved MLK was referencing to the death of an enemy to the like of Bin Laden? I have the feeling he was referencing to racists because that was the big issue at that time. The same degree of evilness, they are not. And you should be ashamed of using his quote to defend your position. If you still don't get that, then I feel sorry for you.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  9. Sean

    It's not just people of faith. I consider myself an agnostic (at best) and I still have great trouble with the idea of celebrating someone's death. I do not feel sad about his death, nor do I think it was inappropriate what we did. In a perfect world, perhaps there would never be a reason for major powers to plot and carry out assassinations, but let's face it, that is not where we live.

    That said, it is a dangerous slippery slope when you start cheering on someone's death. Where do you draw the line? Who decides who it is ok to kill? Would we cheer Gaddafi's demise? How about the NATO strike that left his son and grandchildren dead, but not him? Osama attacked US, so it feels morally right to seek venegeance. But the latter has not. As much as I wish I could say that is the line in the sand we would not cross over, I certainly do not believe that to be true. And once you start cheering on such actions, it only makes it easier to do it in the future.

    Celebrating someone's assassination is wrong. It is the exultation of a dark inner self, which is best left uncovered.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Alina

      Couldn't have said it better myself 🙂

      May 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • DC

      I could not agree more! Thank you for being a voice of reason.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  10. person

    I;m glad he can't hurt anyone anymore, but I still can't celebrate his death. I don't care who anyone was... I just can't celebrate the death of someone. I don't mean he didn't deserve it... he deserved to be found, and be punished somehow (not necessarily by killing him though),but celebrating his death feels kind of barbaric. Why can't people just celebrate peace and the fact that he isn't a threat to anyone anymore?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  11. Curious

    It does seem wrong to celebrate anyone's death, as deserved as it might be. Didn't we used to deny it when the CIA assassinated a foreign enemy? Maybe that's the more civilized way to react, even if the reality is the same.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  12. AGuest9

    John Paul II getting credit for the raid???

    May 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  13. mark

    I as a non Jewish American is proud to support israel against the 400 million Muslims and terrorists that want to annihilate the Jewish people and throw them out of the middle east , I don’t need any reasons to support israel against these Muslim animals that have no problem slicing ur throat or burning u if they don’t like u and ur Jewish. .

    May 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  14. Steve

    Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  15. theotormon

    No, not morally right to cheer his death. But I still do.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  16. jamesnyc

    I don't think this death should be celebrated but observed. Proper respect could go a long way to undermining the recruitment of more muslims that think we hate all of Islam.
    We have killed a serial killer in a way. He was a clear and present danger to kill again and so the sentence was death. The sentence has been carried out and now that has been done show dignity for yourself.
    Al – Qaeda still exists. We still have work to do...

    May 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  17. Tom

    If cheering this animal's death is wrong, I don't want to be right. I sincerely hope that his son died first and that Osama wore copious amounts of his viscera and gray matter in the final minutes of his worthless life.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  18. mark

    herbys ur comments are disgusting implying that israel and Jews existence in the middle east caused al quadas existence.
    why are the Israeli Jews responsible for blood thirsty Muslims that hate to have any Jews in the middle east, ur speaking like the liberal anti Semites that blame the victim the Jews in the middle east and and accepts their excuse that they are just killing innocent people around the world because the Israelis, if u buy this excuse ur just encouraging more terrorism .

    May 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  19. Alina

    I completely agree with everything about this article except for the fact that they seem to imply that it is only religious people who are feeling this. I am not religious and I still don't believe it is right to kill anyone or rejoice in death. I, too, am feeling this mixture of emotions about this.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  20. Steven

    “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.”

    Really? Are we THAT far away from 9/11 that you don't rememeber the celebrations that were had in every Musilm country for the 3000 Americans that were killed? Those celebrations weren't for ONE person but rather 3000. I think the brushstrokes that you paint are very rosy, but not too realistic.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Alina

      This is one of the most ridiculous things I have read. The Muslim faith is one of peace. The only people celebrating were religious extremists, NOT whole Muslim countries. This is what makes me so angry about our culture today. The Islamaphobia is so heartbreaking. There were Muslim people killed in the attacks. How do you think it makes their families feel to hear such ugly, ignorant statements coming from other Americans?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Bill

      Glad he's dead, but not thrilled with the way people were celebrating. I kind of get it, but I can't help but think that it's not much different than when all the "radical" muslims were cheering when the towers collapsed. They were cheering because people they hated(americans) were dead, and let's be honest, we were not thrilled at all to see them cheering. I can't help but think that this is not too different. Think American's could have "classed" it up a little.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Joyce

      It seems to me that if the majority of Muslims have peaceful intents, particularly after 9/11, we would embrace and continue to embrace and encourage any and all efforts they make to express that. I looked for that. I wanted that. I still want that. Is it because they do not know how to express that? Could we suggest they hold a pancake breakfast open to the public? Perhaps a traditional dinner to which their non-Muslim neighbors were invited? Could they think of ways for non-Muslims to become familiar with their peaceful beliefs?

      I would absolutely love to become more familiar with Muslim customs....not to convert, but to be able to say we have some commonality, that we can coexist because of some kind of fundamental realization that we, as Americans honor the right to religious freedom, and respect each others right to believe what they want.

      And that is the privilege of living in America.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • I'm OK with killing Osama, but we better not water-boatf anyone

      I am soooo glad we killed Osama, but man nothing gets me madder when we water board someone to try to get critical information form them. I heard that the US learned some of their informatoin on Osama's whereabouts from water boarding one of the Gitmo prisoners. Now that's just wrong. See how warped the Liberal mind is??

      May 2, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • David Amerson

      I really take exception to the use of the word "assassination". From all accounts he was given the opportunity to surrender and be arrested by the Navy SEALs and instead he chose to fight back and was killed in the process. In an assassination the victim is never given an opportunity to surrender. Clearly the writer is just trolling for emotional responses.

      This is a bad artible on CNN's part (in my opinion) and never should have seen print even on the web. It only serves to make the U.S. look bad in to those who read it and assume that as a news piece it must be accurate to call it an assassination.

      And yes, it is patriotic and acceptable to celebrate a significant victory by our troops and intelligence agencies!!!!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Cronus

      This is for Alina, I respect what you are saying and hate towards a people is wrong, but try living as a Christian in a Muslim country. You'll experience that the religion of peace is not so peaceful. Additionally Steven is correct, Muslim celebration was not isolated but pretty widespread.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:15 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.