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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. Rebel

    I am a peaceful man, but if an intruder came into my home home with the intent of harming my family and me, I would have no issue whatsoever of extracting his last breath while looking him straight in the eyes in mockery while doing it. If I encountered him ten years later, I would have no issue doing the same.

    Now, Multiply that by 3000+. There is reason to rejoice in snuffing this animal.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  2. DP

    There is a big difference in between Americans celebrating bin laden's death, and anyone those who celebrated when those 3,000 people died on 9/11: the victims of 9/11 were innocent people, bin laden was not in the least innocent

    May 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  3. naeer

    who said israel is a democratic state. Israel is the most undemocratic, and most brutal and repressive theology based thugocratic aprthied state.
    you peoples brains are washed constantly , day and night feeding of lies from israel controlled media so at the end of the day you people have no clue to distinguish between the facts and lies.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  4. tiernan

    it's between him and god now. i don't regret his death. i regret his life. (the way he chose to live his faith) that said, and i don't claim to be riteous, i was very happy to dedicate "one way or another" by blondie to the military on my facebook page tonight! 🙂

    May 2, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  5. Rick

    The article (and I'm guessing 99.9%, including Christians, of the people reading this article) assumed Bin Laden was human. It was not. Indeed we have expunged a Demon like Hitler. Casting out Demon's IS a cause for celebration.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Zak

      No apostrophe Rick, it's just "demons".

      Credibility's hard enough to come by as it is when you talk like a stark raving loon...

      May 3, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Rick, these evil folks, or what you said, demons love and follow satan. They hate Jesus' truth.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  6. naseer

    where is justice served? is extra judicial killing is justice served?? If this is so, the world is so beautiful.
    if binladen is living in house in Pakistan, USA government should have informed government of Pakistan to arrest him and provide him a fair trial.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      You need to do your homework on psychopaths, sociopaths, anti-social personalities disorders. They have no remorse and there is no cure for them. They are every where in every society. Every minute of every day is the same to them. A life devoid of emotions is beyond your wildest imagination” by Alexander Lowen in his book Narcissism: Denial of the True Self. Another must read is The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, M.D.

      When you comprehend these predators then you will comprehend pure EVIL.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  7. Thomas

    As much as you might want to believe that OBL was not a human soul, that is impossible. There is no human being walking on this planet who does not have a soul. He was a human being, even though his actions put him pretty low on the totem pole of human beings. And animals do not act with malice or master-mind violent acts so in that regard, he also does not qualify for the animal category. But he did live and die by the sword so I shed no tears over his death–just some reflection about the hatred that lies at the source of all human violence and how we might strive to change that. (I know that sounds like wishful thinking but to ignore it will only be surrendering to it. Humans do evolve and have over a very long period of time. We might someday just finally evolve beyond the desire for violence and hatred.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The plowing of the wicked is sin.

      Proverbs 21:4

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  8. Lauren Schiller

    I wrote President Obama an email, that sums up how I feel about the situation:

    Dear Mr. President,

    When I crawled out of my bed last night to listen to you deliver the news of Osama Bin Laden's death, I thought it may have been your best speech. I especially liked how you said, "The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to." I thought, "Wow! This is constantly what I'm trying to tell my students. You can do anything you set your mind to. You can always keep trying to better yourself." I liked how you asked God to bless us all and I thought, "Wow! I guess we are allowed to say the word, 'God' in public."

    However, I suddenly felt sad when I realized that yesterday happened to be the day that Pope John Paul II was beatified. A man of tremendous strength and goodwill was overshadowed by a man of evil. It also happened to be the day that Pope John Paul II declared "Divine Mercy Sunday."

    While I saw the smoke from the Twin Towers with my own naked eyes and held my crying friend whose father passed away on 9/11, I couldn't bring myself to feel happy at the death of an individual.

    Today, I couldn't feel happy when I heard 12 year old kids persist in calling each other cruel names and almost rising to violence during my math class. They literally went back and forth always trying to one-up the other in cruelty. They did not try to resolve anything. They just persisted in perpetuating hate. I tried to talk to them about how hatred doesn't end hatred. I started to talk to them about how I was a little afraid that we might be retaliated against because we celebrated the death of an individual last night. I almost cried when they said, "But you feel better when you're mean to someone. Revenge is good."

    I worry that I am the only one who feels the way Martin Luther King Jr. felt when he said, "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."

    PLEASE say something to the American people about trying to celebrate love and peace. I worry that the youth of America may not understand that "hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." As Gandhi said, we need to be working to "BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the WORLD."

    Thanks,

    Lauren Schiller

    May 2, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Peter F

      A very well written e-mail to be sure. The wisdom you speak is priceless

      May 3, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Sorry to burst the little bubble you live in, but evil, pure evil does exist and it will continue to exist until Jesus comes back and rids the world of evil.

      The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

      Psalm 58:3

      It would be perfect if we had world peace today, but we don't. Read the Bible and learn about Jesus' truth and satan's evil. Satan's kingdom is the world and many follow him.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  9. Bluto

    When did Osama Bin Laden become a BAD GUY??
    Osama was a fine person back in the 1980's when the Reagan administration was supporting Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan as they terrorized fellow Afghans in their jihad against the SECULAR government of Aghanistan.

    The US government armed these Islamic terrorists with all kinds of advanced weapons, including surface to air rockets.
    According to the US government, it is OK to arm and support Islamic terrorists if they claim to be the enemy of your enemy.

    According to the US government, it is also OK to allow Islamic terrorists to plunge a country (like Afghanistan) into devastating civil war that would eventually kill hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

    And who is the evil guy here? Osama? Really?

    May 2, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • 411

      Thank You!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  10. april

    The mom of a soldier in Afghanistan, told a radio station this morning, that the tensions were very high where he was stationed,as news of Bin Laden's death spread. He asked her" to pray harder" for him, and the troops. Their risk of danger may have just increased tremendously . So regardless of your joy, disgust, mixed emotion, etc, can we just commit to a united front, to pray constantly for our military, their families, and those leading our nation? I still believe in the character of Americans. We've just forgotten what makes us the BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. It's not too late. Cover a brother and sister in prayer.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      April, this is the prayer we say every day until our men and women come home.

      Psalms 144

      1 Blessed [be] the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, [and] my fingers to fight:

      2 My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and [he] in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.

      3 LORD, what [is] man, that thou takest knowledge of him! [or] the son of man, that thou makest account of him!

      4 Man is like to vanity: his days [are] as a shadow that passeth away.

      5 Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.

      6 Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them.

      7 Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children;

      8 Whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand [is] a right hand of falsehood.

      9 I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery [and] an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee.

      10 [It is he] that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword.

      11 Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand [is] a right hand of falsehood:

      12 That our sons [may be] as plants grown up in their youth; [that] our daughters [may be] as corner stones, polished [after] the similitude of a palace:

      13 [That] our garners [may be] full, affording all manner of store: [that] our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets:

      14 [That] our oxen [may be] strong to labour; [that there be] no breaking in, nor going out; that [there be] no complaining in our streets.

      15 Happy [is that] people, that is in such a case: [yea], happy [is that] people, whose God [is] the LORD.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  11. a slozomby

    "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.”"

    this is the same god who flooded the earth killing everything, ordered abraham to sacrifice his own son, ordered the annihilation of the midianites and philistines , laid plague after plague upon the egyptians, burned sodom and gomorrah to the ground and then turned lots wife to salt for daring to look at the devastation.

    he might not want us to rejoice in the devastation but he sure seems to have a good time doing it himself.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The Talmud is the most vile and wicked book in existence. So much for the Rabbi you sought wisdom (not) from.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  12. Crudahfi

    I don't agree that the best reaction to Bin Laden's death is only "somber reflection," though it should include that. Justice demanded that he be captured, or stopped by potentially lethal force if he attempted to flee or fight back. A soldier legitimately shot him during a fire fight. Thus, we followed justice and did a good job. That's worth celebrating. By following justice, we hampered a powerful and vile force in the world, al Qaeda. That's worth celebrating, too. Of all the countries in thw world, we had the best capability to stop this monster's menace, which we used and succeeded, and that is the third thing worth celebrating. None of that is vindictive, and I saw only a few people in news coverage at the White House fence act vindictively. Moreover, think of what we HAVEN'T done, like spreading pictures of Bin Laden's corpse all over the Internet. By and large we've been restrained and showing national pride. We haven't been gloating.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • a slozomby

      i'll disagree w/ one thing. the pakistanis were in a much better position to stop him, after all the harbored him for years.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  13. Mike

    Ok can all the news agencies keep us fixed on this story yet there are thousands of US citizens out of work with no hope of finding a job and gas prices climbing over $4.00? The man is DEAD lets move on to the real problems this country has. I haven't heard any of our politicians addressing those two topics.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  14. Thomas

    It is understandable that people, especially those who either lost a friend, loved one, or knew others who suffered losses on 9/11 would be inclined to express some kind of celebration. Perhaps it is just relief that the one who master-minded such a horrible act has finally had to pay for his crime. I know that I won't stand in judgment of anyone's reaction in that regard, even as I reflect upon that fact that it was an ideology of hatred that led to the events of 9/11. Ultimately, if there is ever to be a time of true peace in the world, it will only evolve as we move farther from hatred, for hatred is the fuel of violence and war...

    May 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  15. Jester

    these celebrating baboons are no different than the bearded jerks who were celebrating on 9/11

    May 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Observer

      I felt relief and hope to hear that he can no longer be, but to witness all that dancing and chanting - it made us Americans seem to the rest of the world no better than the very people than bin Laden led and inspired. For shame.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  16. binny22

    I was relieved to hear of Osama's death, but not happy he was dead. I have never celebrated another's death, and he will not be an exception. I will not let him change my humanity into something less, no matter how I felt about him. My love of life is more important than his disregard for it.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • San San

      I agree with your comment "I have never celebrated another person's death".

      Thank you,

      May 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Go tell you whiny baloney to all our brave men and women who have been fighting this war.

      You folks are beyond ridiculous for the freedoms you take for granted. Go over there and be all lovey dovey. I'm sure you wouldn't get a word out of your mouths before a nice sharp sword came across the back of your heads. Leave us your home address so we can send our sympathies to your family for your stupidity.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  17. Kim Hansen

    10 years, 2 wars, 919,967 deaths, and $1,188,263,000,000 later, you managed to kill one person, good job guys! To my knowledge the streets have been filled with crackpots today with nothing more than revenge in their eyes and their minds, celebrating the fall of a symbol.......a symbol completely without any real value left. Have you gone completely nuts or are you still mourning the deaths of the 3000 people in the Twin Towers. Man it´s pathetic!

    May 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      You're disgusting. You have no respect who fights for your rights to post your silly nonsense. You should be ashamed of yourself. Men and women are fighting a war for you to continue being a BIMBO.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Kim Hansen

      Well, if you have come to the conclusion, that you are fighting for me, then get the finger out of your gaschamber and find another way to deal with it. In my eyes, you are not wanted. I have to accept that you are here, but don´t ever go to war for my sake. Do it for yourself and stop blaming others for your silly perspective

      May 3, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • FordGirl

      Wow, you sure need to grow up and come back from whatever planet you have been living on. You are missing the whole point, and if you have to ask what that point is, forget it, you would never understand the answer.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  18. adamziggied

    I will not feel guilty for celebrating the death of not a human soul, but an animal responsible and cheered for the massacre close to 3,000 lives not to mention the thousands of lives he is responsible for overseas. An eye for an eye. My only regret is I didn't get to pull the trigger. And although I understand why he was given the respect of an Islamic death, he didn't deserve it. The animal never practiced Islam; he was an aberration to those who do. Yes, I cheered; no, I will not apologize for it.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Kim Hansen

      an eye for an eye will eventually make everyone blind, if you are about to forget the formula?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Kim, we'll your generation snap out of it. There is evil in the world and there is good.

      Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

      Isaiah 5:20

      Get your priorities straight. Not everything is beautiful. Some times we have to clear the garbage out to see the beauty again.

      I personally have faced evil. Have you?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Kim Hansen

      I´ve seen it all. Worked with Oprah, worked with Gaddfi, worked with Mrs. Obama. What more woudl you like to know?

      You´re just a little pittyfull man filled with revenge, trying to back it up by religion. You´re no different than the infamous bats flying out of the cave now, and you don´t even know who the are? Tell me, who´s next?. And what do you know about my generation, by the way?

      May 3, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  19. Ryan

    We're not celebrating because he's dead you morons. We're all going to die!!! We're celebrating because no longer do we have a man who stole so much, and ruined so much, out there living without paying the consequences for his actions.

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

      He paid the ultimate price yesterday.

      Amen.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  20. Keith C.

    What a shame that you frame this article as "people of faith" struggling with the morality of cheering. Most of the people I know who cheered *are* people of faith. Yet I, an atheist, was one of the few lone voices of dissent in my group of friends. Interestingly, not a single person of faith did dissent. You know why? Because they're all Republicans and their faith is wrapped up in their policital party and in what they see as a war with Isalam. *I* was the one asking how wise, how right, how much sense it made to cheer death. How much sense it made for us to act like the very people we condemned when we saw them doing it after 9/11. Don't you DARE act like the relgious are the only ones who have a moral compass. Not only are they not, many of those "of faith" don't seem to have one at all. Perhaps you should frame this article as "thinking Americans".

    May 2, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Keith, you do realize that bin Laden was a psychopath. All psychopaths are predators that prey on innocents.

      Amen.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Keith C.

      Heaven Sent, I have no problem with his execution. I have issues with us celebrating his death. Death is not something to celebrate, no matter what. To do that makes us exactly 0% better than him and those who celebrated our countrymen's deaths on 9/11.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Andy

      I had the same reaction. The idea that only those who see the world through a religious lens employ the concepts of right and wrong is simpleminded, insulting, and false.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Keith,

      Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

      Isaiah 5:20

      Amen.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • PSKROB

      as a conservative Atheist i disagree...i may only agree with republicans on issues involving the economy...to group atheist in one group is wrong...atheist are not liberal by default..some of us just hate spending money we DONT have..u sir are the idiot...i dislike the President for his spending habits..not religious or birther rights as the crazies do...AMERICA IS GREAT...WE ARE ALL EQUAL..just with different opinions on how the country should be run

      May 2, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Sarah

      We weren't celebrating his death. We were celebrating the end of *his* reign of terror. I would've cheered just as loudly if he'd merely been captured.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:02 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.