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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. observer

    You have a right to rejoice at Ben Laden's death as long as you do not call yourself a Christian or a follower of Jesus. Because if you do, you know that it would be contrary to what He taught and practiced. Besides loving one's enemy, He taught us that God rejoices when a sinner repents, not when he perishes in his sin .So you might feel like rejoicing at first but on second thoughts, you do know better.

    Unfortunately there are a lot of virtual Christians those days who harm the cause of true Christianity!

    May 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Nothing UnChistian about serving a felon warrant. It is done every day in every state of the union and in every country in the world. It's justice.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  2. Mike

    Ten years, 400 billion dollars, 2,441 coalition deaths, ~50,000 Afghani civilians... All gone to hunt down one coward. We've finally answered the question of how much one human being is worth. Better get those life insurance policies updated. So it goes...

    May 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  3. joe

    If you need permission for your emotions, I hereby give you permission to celebrate.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  4. Uhmerican

    This fight was brought to us. It would have been better hif we hadn't had to go to the Middle East occupying countries under the guise of "bin Laden hunting", but we did bring justice to the person who brought his fight to US soil. The manner of which he was killed should be how we operate in the future. Well planned and surgical. Bravo to those who took part in this operation and all those who've made immeasurable sacrifices in the pursuit of justice.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  5. jenn

    Yea I mean really. What kind of world are we living in. Its no different than in medieval history books when people watched public killings and cheered. Its one thing to initally register joy, its another thing to see a whole generation of youth not have to ability to compose themselves, become self aware, and use some discretion. I think this is a wake up call that some of these kids need some kind of lessons or something. Does anyone else think its a little scary people banded together like a mob without stopping to think without excerising some prudence and sobriety. Well, maybe I'm the one who doesn't know any better about people. Granted I do think this was a necessary task. But also, how many of these celebrants were the critiques of Bush. That would be really scary – if the celebrants were the same people criticizing Bush. Anyway I'm grateful but was disturbed last night to see people partying like we won the Superbowl

    May 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Do you think this was medieval http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkEt2Fr1kZg Bin Laden and his gang of criminals came to our country and committed a horrendous felony killing thousands of our citizens for the joy of killing them. THEN he bragged about it on global TV and laughed .. and he was a WANTED man .. warrants on file, multiple counts of felony murder. He was tracked down and resisted and .. he was killed resisting. The same would happen to you or anyone else.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  6. Kristin

    There will be something that will come back to us, this is for certain. All of the intelligence will not protect us forever. Who will take his place? Is it someone who is darker than Osama bin Laden? Celebrating his death in the way that we are will only pour gasoline onto the fire of hatred that they have for us. So, instead of celebrating like this, why don't we go on with our lives and be productive citizens and get ready for what comes next?

    May 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  7. Julie

    My thoughts....

    http://headed4shore.blogspot.com/2011/05/thoughts-on-death-of-bin-laden.html

    May 2, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  8. Kevin

    Thank you voice of reason. I'm an atheist and I'm really disturbed at people celebrating this. Last night, I thought the same thing that the Amnesty International guy said. We find it abhorrent when Arabs celebrate that an American dies, yet we celebrate when an Arab dies. Surely we both have good reasons.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • joe

      arabs celebrating the death of an american do it because the person was american, not because he personally did anything that offended them.
      So no, killing someone becuase of their race or nationality is not equivalent to killing a mass murderer, nor is celebrating someone being killed because of their nationality equivalent to celebrating someone being killed for being a mass murderer.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      They did not go out and murder any old Arab .. this guy bragged about his leadership role in hijacking 5 airliners and killing everyone on board and 6,000 more people in buildings in Manhattan .. there was a warrant for his arrest and trial and then a world-wide man hunt ... The guy who shot him was serving a warrant and the perp resisted... the perp maded a bad choice and got killed resisting ... the same thing happened to two (dips) at the B of A on Laurel Canyon Road about 10 years ago .. and 100 years ago at the OK Corral ... it's an old story..

      May 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  9. a

    why state the "people of faith" have a moral conundrum? there should be no qualification here, people without faith are also capable of questioning the behavior of those who carry on like animals.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Francesco Simone Savi

      Agreed.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  10. shyamr

    Bogus CNN , bin laden dead in 2005 itself. U mean to say Tiger(Bin laden) came from forest to city for better life??
    hahahahh what a silly story? Anyways Now america count down started! world bank BALANCE becomes ZERO. then u will see ,great american life

    May 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • basha

      ur correct Mr.Shayam

      May 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  11. kw

    I have been looking at the news footage of people celebrating in the streets. For some reason I just am not over joyed. I am glad he won't be able to commit anymore terrorist acts. But, that could have been accomplished if he stood trial. Where is the trial? Something just seems to be missing. Also, they sure did get rid of the body quickly. What, they just dump it overboard? And yes, I know it has something to do with religious beliefs. Hope some sort of proof is published. It just seems to me to be some kind of political move by Obama to improve his polls. I never did buy into the white house explaination of 9/11, first its one thing then another. They have told so many stories I get them all tangled up.

    But, regardless ... personally I can not celebrate the death of another human being.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Well you have not lived very long. There will be many you will celebrate. In this case .. the death was while serving an arrest warrant .. like you rant a 10-28/10-29 and it came back hot .. and the perp decided to resist. Well you have probably watched the rest on "Cops.." (don't tell me you don't watch that .. ) Hypocrisy only goes so far .. (you know?)

      May 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  12. Phillypsu

    Please don't tell me how I should feel CNN.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Brent

      Obviously this article was written for us compassionate readers, apparently of which you are not.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      If you want to feel great use a feeler gauge. It's within .001 in

      May 2, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  13. Francesco Simone Savi

    By reading this article one could deduct that America is split in two: on one side the pious and on the other side the cheerful. No one else is represented. I am an atheist and still I found the crowd celebrating in the streets gross and I felt slightly uncomfortable. Like me, I guess many other people. Just saying.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      You have no idea how relieved the entire city of Chicago was when they captured Richard Speck (who murdered seven nurses). When a threat is finally removed there is great joy. But when it comes to celebrating deaths the Sioux on the Little Big Hirn were jubilant when they realized they had killed Yellow Hair. It is all relative. (as in brother-in-law) (or even mother-in-law)

      May 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  14. slg

    A thoughtful alternate position eloquently presented by another Rabbi: http://joshfeigelson.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/letter-to-a-student-about-osama-bin-laden/

    May 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  15. bret

    any excitment in the death of someone probably stems from the unevolved part of our brains but none the less AMERICA HELL YEA

    May 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  16. JamminCanadian

    "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 10:58 pm |
    • 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 opinion I think. Take off 'eh.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Oh this was not hate ... it was just a gubmint man serving a warrant .. like Rooster Cogburn ..

      May 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • jonathan

      rightturnclyde what world are you living in? Are you aware that Rooster Cogburn is a fictional character played by the actor John Wayne? Maybe if we didn't form our moral compass based on outdated fictional films we could finally put ignorant violence and war behind us

      May 2, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      I am also aware that I have served felony warrants in my day and I only had a .357 magnum and a tin badge. We did not have body armor in those days so I was NEVER intending to shoot it out with a perp. I am alive today and was never injured and the perps went to the nearest magistrate to be held and arraigned and ALL of them seemed to sense "don't even try it." I could fire 12 rounds into the black part of the silhouette in 10 seconds (easily) and that was my armor. [it makes a "believer" out of you] The guy who shot Bin Laden was merely serving a warrant on a felon (who resisted).

      May 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  17. Visnovsky56

    It is so ironic to see CNN celebrating over the death of a terrorist when not even last year CNN was protesting over the methods that we used to extract the information that we need to kill the terrorist. President Obama is no different than President Bush in the methods that he has been using to deal with terrorism. So, why was President Bush so bad to CNN? Make up your mind because if we don't fix the budget then we won't have to worry about terrorist because there won't be any country to protect.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  18. Jim

    Ben Laden lived the by sword and he died by the sword.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • mrtoad98

      I am a 2-tour Vietnam vet. The loss of life, be it human, animal or a bug, bothers me deeply to this day. Life is precious to all species. That being said, death to those who brought it to us is retribution. I believe WE made Osama what he was in the fight against the Russians and he paid us back for pulling out on him. I may have facts wrong, but I have been told that is what radicalized him. That is not forgiveness, just what I have been told.

      I respect Islam but he was an unclean person by any religious standards. A man who pursued ruin on humanity. Talk with me about "The People of the Book".

      May 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  19. Ye

    Obama 1 : Osama 0
    Like ball went in to the back of the net , bullet went through the back of the head of that monster . Game over!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Richard

      You have this all wrong Ye
      America-1
      osama – Thousands
      One life does not absolve the thousands of lives lost on 9-11-01 or the fight against terrorism suffed by the worlds nations over the last 20 years that bin laden has ruled al quida. It is a good start though! Don't kid yourself the "Americans" have been looking for this guy for over 15 years. Obama just got real lucky the "Americans" found him while he was in office. Remember this jerbil just won the "Nobel Peace Prize" Now he is ordering bin ladin's death. That having your cake and eating too! It is the first time in obama's career that he heard the people's (Americas) voice and acted on our wishes.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  20. Judy

    Does anyone remember the day 2 American contractors were killed, their bodies dragged through the streets, hung, then burned? Why shouldn't we cheer at his death? Everyone in this country should watch the 9/11 videos and "REMEMBER".

    May 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Dawn Wilcox

      Because if we behave like them, we are no better than them. That is why.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Mike

      i do remember this. We don't do that. We're better than that. That's why seeing a bunch of college kids dancing in the streets destroyed any hope I have for our country in the short term. The cognitive dissonance of our country is almost unbelievable.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      I don't see Bin Laden's death as an assassination. I loo at it like Bonnie & Clyde or Machine Gun Kelly .. he got killed resisting arrest. He's the worst felon ever .. killed of our 6,000 people not including who got killed trying to catch him for the last ten years. He killed people in the US embassy and in Mogadishu. (So he puts Bonnie & Clyde to shame). I just see it as an attempt to arrest a wanted felon who resisted arrest. Plain and simple. Happens every day in NYC, LA, Chicago, D/FW ...

      May 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Albert

      Word

      May 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • David

      we can legitimize what happened all we want but at the end of the day, it's still the loss of a human life... why do we think we are right to respond in euphoria?

      we can respond in relief, but no one has a right to be ecstatic that someone died.
      that is just sick and inhuman and it makes us no better than the person(s) we are hating on.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • jonathan

      i remember being disgusted by the footage of them celebrating the deaths of our people so why is it any less disgusting when we do it? The entire situation is a sad moment in our history and deserves no celebration. I think its disrespectful to all of the innocent people killed in the twin towers to be cheering in the streets. Instead this should serve us as a reminder of how hatred and blood lust has degraded our global society and has resulted in so many pointless deaths

      May 2, 2011 at 11:29 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.