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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. Mike Wiedl

    "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." – Martin Luther King, Jr
    It' never right to celebrate the death of another. Isn't that part of what put us in this position in the first place?

    May 3, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Mike, Mike, Martin Luther King was a sane man fighting for equality of life for everyone. Bin Laden was a deplorable megalomaniac. Opposite mind sets and most definitely opposite fights.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  2. Deb

    Let God be the judge. And I'll just take my chances... i'm celebrating! WOOT!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  3. Seyi

    I am in the christian faith, In a situation like this , I asked myself what will Jesus say about Osama's death, definately not to rejoice. becuase God does not want a sinner to perish but to be saved and enjoy eternal life . I belive we shall have respect for humanity. I pray that all the Osama's still remaining out there will turn there heart to God, and be saved through our Lord Jesus christ, so we can all enjoy a peaceful life.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • HeavenSent

      ALL WILL BE JUDGED

      "God. . .commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead."

      Acts 17:30-31

      ". . .who 'will render to each one according to his deeds': eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but unrighteousness-indignation and wrath.

      Romans 2:6-7
      John 5:28-29
      2 Corinthians 5:10

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  4. Crudahfi

    I think one reason to be glad he's dead instead of captured is that he can't be made a martyr of by al Qaeda if he had been taken prisoner. Honestly, a trial would have been a miserable circus, and a non-trial would have been cowardly on our part. We all know he's a mass murderer but because he's been remote our chances at bringing him to justice had become small. I don't think anybody's saying that when we finally got our chance to capture or kill we shot the wrong guy by mistake. This was a very lopsided situation because nobody doubted who the criminal was, he had committed huge, society-wide atrocities, access to get him was extremely difficult to come by and he remained a world-wide menace. Think about it: If Hitler and the German high command had all been assassinated in 1943 at one of their strategy meetings, are you saying you wouldn't be dancing in the streets?

    May 3, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Remember, 9/11 was on our turf, bin Laden wreaked his evil globally.

      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  5. Aaron

    It is not evil to kill the killers. You can, in fact, fight fire with fire. It's like a simple math equation. If you subtract something which has been subtracting 10 things, your act of subtraction is a net positive. Bin Laden has been subtracted. The killer has been killed. This is good. And we celebrate that which is good.

    It's no different than being intolerant of racial intolerance. That is not a catch-22. Your act of being intolerant of the views of the racially intolerant is a morally acceptable form of intolerance. Likewise, the act of killing those who are guilty of killing the innocent is a morally acceptable form of killing. The mistake is in claiming that all killing is equal, which it isn't – just as all forms of intolerance aren't equal.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  6. Nick

    Some of you people are out of your mind. Think about the men, women, and children who did nothing to be killed on 9/11. I would have shot him dead, then shot him again to enjoy the sound of a bullet hitting him. He's a useless piece of trash, and didn't even deserve the courtesy of a few words before being tossed off the carrier. Moral? Where was your God, when those planes hit? What did those people do, to deserve their fate? Moral. Get off your high horse and smell the roses. Even if there IS a God, "He" doesn't give a rat's furry behind what becomes of us. "He" is off creating a better galaxy, by now. One where he has learned from "His" mistakes.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • human

      Ahhh, Nick. This isn't about God. This is about being better humans. Two year olds aren't developmentally capable of moderating emotions. Part of being an adult is understanding that life is complex, and realizing that actions have consequence.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  7. PRISM 1234

    Yes, it is morally wrong to cheer and dance in the streets because of Ben-Laden's death. But it is NOT wrong to catch him and execute him... Death penalty is supported by the Bible, but it is not right to be glad having to implement it.... I believe U.S. will do wisely by not boasting to the high heavens about this accomplishment...
    There is something that grieves my spirit to see the gloating about how much we accomplish, and how mighty we are! ..... I remember when at the beginning of Iraq war, they went in, and they called their mission "Shock and Awe" I've seen the red flag right then, because no man, or no country should even ascribe the Awe to itself.... It belongs to the Lord. There was spirit of pride present, and we know that pride comes before the fall. .. We had a very bitter experience as outcome of this ordeal, and we know the rest of the story.....
    The best and most wise thing for America to do is declare what happened, bring some facts out, saying mission is accomplished, and leave it be! By all means, the Media clowns who are bored to death, and want to tabloid-ise what ever they get theirr hands on, they need to be told to shut up! They do shut up when the corporate mafia lords tell them to do so, to protect their interests.... so if our Government has any authority left, they need to enforce it, or else we may see unwanted results....

    May 3, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  8. iklindo

    What was the reaction to Hitlers death? Pol Pot? Milosevic? Idi Amin? No I don't think it is wrong morally to celebrate the death of Bin Laden. People have lived in fear and in sorrow for so long thanks to this one man. Why would you not celebrate this mans removal from the planet? And if you want to site morals here, then we have to understand what moral code you're bringing up. My morals would not tolerate a celebration at the funeral of my neighbors grandmother, but she probably did not cause the dramatic alteration in human history.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  9. NJSurfer

    Yes, Absolutely. I couldn't be happier! Simple fact is that osama was a mass murderer of thousands of innocent people and is no longer here walking the earth. Instead, his lifeless body will spend eternity in the deep, dark depths of the ocean all alone. osama lost. I was so happy to see that he was thrown out like the garbage he was and hope that his death provides some comfort to all those that lost loved ones in his senseless thoughts and actions. God bless our Troops and You are all True Heroes!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  10. Lisa Bedell

    Secularists struggle with feeling ambivalent about the celebrations too. Just sayin'

    May 3, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  11. IdontpretendImGod

    I am human. I am not God or God like. I have not yet achieved a level of enlightenment that allows me to forgive an enemy that has never met me but feels jubilation in killing my neighbors. Perhaps one day I will get there but in the meantime do not raise your soapbox to the level of Gods pulpit and condemn me for owning my very human feelings.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • SP

      I don't think people are saying you can't feel. We all feel something towards this event. Maybe even happy, or at the very least, relieved. However, celebrating in the streets makes us no better than they were after 9/11. We are better than that. Or, at least, I thought we were.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • human

      human response, perhaps. But it is the lowest of human responses: smug, gloating, revenge. Compassion, humility and remembrance are also human qualities. To give in to those basest of human responses is the definition of immaturity. There is a reason that pride is a deadly sin. Grow up.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • IdontpretendImGod

      SP, Human.
      No we are not better than that and neither are you. We are human. We are not better than anyone else we are all human with the same frailties. Do not place yourself above everyone else and judge. That is pride. Focusing on your own faults is "being grown up".

      May 3, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  12. Paolo

    Celebrating death is what OBL was doing ... so if we do the same, we prove that he has won.
    Celebrating freedom, that is celebrating the end of what OBL symbolizes, sanctioned by his death, is instead very much fine, as long as it is not hate that drives the celebration but rather the feeling of rebirth and renewal that comes from ending a time of darkness.
    In the end however ... people shall look in the mirror and find what they really believe for their own ... if what they will see is hatred, then so be it ... you need to figure out who you are and own it.
    I personally don't hate OBL, but sure I am very happy he is gone for good. Now I can move on to a better world, one where I do exist and he does not. Very simple.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  13. Crudahfi

    There is some missing link to me here when people say they don't have an issue with shooting Bin Laden but don't want to celebrate it. Look: captured or killed, we did the right thing by carrying out the raid, didn't we? And it was significant that Bin Laden was removed from terrorist activity, wasn't it? I think what Americans are celebrating are those results and less that this person is dead. I have a hard time with fighting back joy that something very evil is gone. Why shouldn't you feel great about that?

    May 3, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  14. Chevygal

    I too am an athiest and also a Canadian.I can remember watching the people in Muslim countries celebrating after 9/11 and feeling appalled but also feeling a sense of smugness at how much better we Westerners are.I lost that sense of smugness today watching people celebrating in the streets because Osama bin Laden had been killed.I do understand the relief that must be felt and that justice may have been served,but to celebrate and cheer because people have been killed takes away our humanity

    May 3, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Jimmy K

      The trouble is that when 911 hits, it was every late afternoon and the sun has descended, at the middle east it is +10 to +12 hours, it was an old clip that was being played as a propaganda to feed the animosity. The muslims DID not celebrate 9-11 demise, it was a hoax. And i thought it was debunked by factcheck.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Mark

      @Jimmy. What FactCheck are you reading or watching? The attacks happened in the morning around 8am meaning it would be 6pm over there.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  15. Lenny

    Yes

    May 3, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  16. Cranky68

    An emphatic, NO! I served during Desert Storm and am a patriot to the core but the disgusting display the media displayed last night (Sunday 5/1) was embarrassing. The US used to be a proud Country with great heritage. That US would have spit on the behavior displayed last night.

    All that being said, it is a bit of closure Osama is not walking this dirt rock. Don't think for a minute there is not a herd of worse creatures waiting to be the next Osama. Celebrate, yes, but, by doing so, do not lower yourself to the level the animals that swung first reside. Chanting "USA" should be reserved for moments of National pride not retaliatory justice.

    Semper Fi.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Tmad

      Thank you, thank you. This national end-zone dance is troubling even if the deed was our moral duty.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • M

      I agree. While I'm glad that Osama's death may bring some closure, I was mortified to see people celebrating in the streets with such arrogance and the media for focusing on it. I believe that many more people were receiving the news in a more somber, reflective manner, but we were at home. I only hope that people in other countries who saw this were able to understand that the people shown celebrating with such abandon do not represent all of us. Cranky68, thank you for serving our country.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  17. San San

    Thank you for mentioning Martin Luther King Jr's speech. We all need to teach our childern this speech. "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."

    Thank you again,

    May 3, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  18. Mark

    So, you are equating the gloating of hateful extremists over an event of mass manslaughter with the celebration of justice served by Americans who were wrongly attacked? What kind of logic are you operating with? This is a reprehensible and irrational comparison. To make it is to concede that bin Laden was in fact "a Muslim leader," in contrast to the President's remarks. When justice is done, rejoicing is called for. When wickedness is done, and persons rejoice over it, they participate in the wickedness.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Maggie

      It is the blatant, in-your-face public celebration that is reprehensible. It is OK to feel whatever joy you feel, but it should be restrained, even if he was an evil man who deserved death or worse. To celebrate publicly not only is morally wrong, it is dangerous. Al Qaeda still exists, and their members watch our newscasts. This will p!ss them off.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Mark

      @Maggie. Slaying Osama is the closing of a chapter in this book of terrorism and I will definitely celebrate it. When the time comes to worry about the next lunatic, I will worry. In the meantime, I will celebrate that this mad man is gone. Thank you very much.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  19. Reality

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims without spending a dime to track down the terrorists associated with this "peaceful religion":

    There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians:

    There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity

    Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:

    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    Added details upon request.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • HeavenSent

      This scripture belongs to you reality not ...

      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 3, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  20. Shifty

    ‎"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 11:59 pm |
    • kate

      Excellent quote. Very appropriate. While I believe Bin Laden's death was justified it should not be celebrated. Many people go down the wrong path in life. He was not a devil but a man who became corrupted.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Charlotte

      Dancing in the streets is a bit over the top – cheering about it is crass, childish, puerile and so typically of trashy American gingoism. No class whatsoever. On the other hand, unlike others I have seen talk about the "tragedy" of any loss of life, I say hogwash. This was necessary and it was the correct thing to do. When the snake is poised to bite and kill as many of your friends, children and neighbors as it can, you don't try to 'love' it into a change of heart. You kill it. Then you move on. I am glad they got him, I see no reason to mourn his death in any fashion. He isn't worth it. Nor is he worth a celebration. Next?

      May 3, 2011 at 12:20 am |
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