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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. Wayshower

    No one anywhere should ever celebrate the death of anyone. Doing so sends out a message of disrespect instead of one of diplomacy to the enemy. Instead of creating bridges for friendship, people enrage their enemy with insults when this is done. Humanity NEEDS world peace.

    Unfortunately not everyone is on the same page with how to act in a moral fashion. People only know "Us against them", "Kill or be killed", "Punishment insead of Forgiveness". This lack of values continually corrupts our planet from the inside out, and spreads more hate, leaving no room for Love whatsoever. This will fall on mostly deaf ears, but it is the Truth.

    All countries, including the US, needs to stop thinking of their own needs, and think of us all as a WHOLE PLANET. Until then, the cycle of negative Karma will continue to divide us.

    – Namaste Fellow Humans

    May 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • JamminCanadian

      Well said!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  2. Liberalsareterrorists

    I think its a great day, I great day for everyone, its people that think when an EVIL person dies is sad, then in my eyes they are just as evil for not being happy to see someone so evil die.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Mary

      Puerile.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  3. Jake

    Yes, I was extremely happy when I heard the news. I got teary eyed thinking about it. If I could've been with those people cheering I would've. Me being Christian doesn't mean I can't be glad for Bin Laden's death. He was a war criminal. Different rules are applied to war in the secular realm and in religion. Even God makes the distinction between killing in war and murder. This man was our Hitler, and we got him. Our motives for killing him were righteous. And because of that we can and should celebrate this victory.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  4. mary

    I understand we are relieved and glad that Bin Laden has been quieted.
    I understand that people are relieved and glad to be free of his hatred and the horrendous plans he had of harming innocent people as he carried out his madness.
    But also to "cheer" in the streets and to feel "joy" at his death.. Does in it's self give some appearance of madness from those doing it..
    He is gone, it is good..
    We shouldn't make his death a party.. We should accept this as necessary, and feel relief...But be sad there was an evil like his to kill.. It should be somber and sad that there was ever an osama in the first place.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  5. driftingspecter

    >
    >> Afterall, what are morals other than the evolutionary rules for the continuation of the human species
    >
    Then let us kill the servicemen who hunted and killed innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Let us stand up and cheer over their bullet ridden bodies since we would be saving lives this way as well...

    May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Religious sects

      Yes! If they are killing innocent people. Being military does not give one the right to kill the innocent.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  6. Carol

    People handle their emotions differrently, some feel relieved that a man who hurt so many people is no more. Some have a party to celebrate their countrys service men that risked their lives to bring this sick person to justice. It crossed my mind to feel sorry for Osama and his family; all of us that have lost family members know how this feels, but at the same time he made his end with the way he lived. Thankfully my family's deceased members won't have had people say that about them.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Mary

      Well said. I find it hard to rejoice at anyone's death. It makes me think instead about why we are put on this earth, and the value of our time on it. It makes me sad that a life was wasted pursuing the destruction of the lives of others. It makes me want to live mine so much better than that. Rejoicing at his death makes me no different than him, rejoicing at the deaths of others. I'd like to think I have greater humanity in myself than he did.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Kevin

      While I respect your opinion, Mary, I have to disagree. I totally see where you are coming from, which is why I politely disagreeing. Still, Osama was evil and removal of evil is triumph of good, so it is natural to celebrate the triumph of good. 🙂

      May 2, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  7. wyciwyg

    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
    right! let us not forget the huge celebrations held by muslims throughout the middle east after 9-11-11 !!! so much for "respectful" . as to the burial at sea? that takes care of anyone digging up the body to enshrine it for fanatics' worship.
    and frankly it's all he deserves - SHARK BAIT.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Keith B

      i wish we hung him from the front of the white house for a week

      May 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  8. Closing the Barn Door After the Horse is Gone

    Isn't it a bit late to be asking this question? The cheering's been going on for about 20 hours now and it's not going to stop anytime soon.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Clark

    Oh Yes, by all means dance, drink have a party and show the rest of the world the bullet holes in his head. Any chickens**t killer that has to hide behind women for protection from being shot needs to have a party thrown when he finally gets mowed down. Those of you that want to sympathise with those kinds of people need to go join them, by syaing it's not right to celebrate who the hell are you. If you don't like the celebrations don't go to one, it's real simple.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Keith B

    there has to be a difference in celebrating the deaths of thousands of innocent men women and children and celebrating the death of someone who killed thousands of innocent men women and children . . If we cannot rejoice with knowledge that we removed a monster from this earth, than why should we rejoice ?

    May 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Kevin

      Totally agree with you, Keith 🙂

      May 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Adam

      Exactly! That's the glaring difference a lot of people here are overlooking for some reason. When you're on the same level as Hitler and Pol Pot, you don't deserve the same treatment as everyone else. I myself didn't run outside cheering like my team won the Super Bowl, but am I satisfied? Yes, better late than never.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  11. driftingspecter

    >
    >> What I celebrate is that he will no longer be out there planiing the deaths of innocent men, women and children
    >> regardless of their faith. How many Muslims have died at the hand of Al Qaeda?
    >
    But who will save them from American servicepeople who hunt and kill them for sport in Afghanistan and perhaps in Iraq as well. Some have been caught, but how many are still engaging in this "sport"? Who will save Muslims from America??

    May 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  12. sarah

    You can't choose how you feel. Mixed emotions are common for anyone going through something like this. I don't think its wrong or right. It's how you feel. Bottling it up and using it to beat your own head in won't change anything. All of the moral and intellectual decisions have already been made. But you can't control how you feel. Denying it would be like telling a lie.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Keith B

      so right

      May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • JamminCanadian

      Actually you CAN choose how to feel. People actually believe that they are slaves to their 'feelings'. As for the topic, it was disgusting to see the dancing in the streets. A reporter visiting the compound saw blood everywhere, and among that was a red toy truck...

      May 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Peter F

      It should be noted that there is a difference between emotion and att1tude.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  13. Religious sects

    A question of morals is posted on the belief blogs? This is not a religious battle & morals are not a religious possesion.
    As a human being, is it ok to celebrate a death? I say yes, if that death is in the interest of preserving life. Afterall, what are morals other than the evolutionary rules for the continuation of the human species.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Chas

      Amazing comment to say morals are not a religious topic. Most religions deal with the questions of death, judgement, heaven, and hell. For many religions, especially Christianity, moral decisions made in this life determine salvation or damnation. Having everyone determine morality for themselves is what led to the Hitlers, Pol Pots, Mao Tse-tungs, Stalins and Bin Ladens of the world. Moral relativism always leads to death. The question is one of integrity: is it hypocritical to celebrate the death of a bad man, while condemning those who celebrate deaths in the US? Hard to argue that it is not hypocritical.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Religious sects

      Chas... the question was NOT if it is hypocritical, it was whether is was moral, and morals are NOT the result of religion, they are the result of human evolution. If this death prevents one more innocent death then, yes, it is morally sound but celebrating is not necessary, however it is acceptable to celebrate what we've gained, an amount of security.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  14. driftingspecter

    I think the fact that so many cheer on this occasion shows the moral bankruptcy of American society... I think the fact that my comment will be shouted down here will confirm it.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • To the Holier Than Thou Idiot

      So you're moral and anyone who disagrees with you isn't? Nice try but nobody's buyin'. Get over yourself.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Wayshower

      "So you're moral and anyone who disagrees with you isn't? Nice try but nobody's buyin'. Get over yourself."

      And you just proved his point very clearly.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • thinkpeopledamn

      I agree with you!

      May 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • 1130FPS

      "I think the fact that so many cheer on this occasion shows the moral bankruptcy of American society"
      I think that judging 300+ million people by the actions of cheering crowds made up of much less than 1 million people is a bit ridiculous. Its so tiring to hear people judge Americans as a singularity when there are so many of us who feel, think and act in so many different ways. I guess it is a lazy mind with little true insight that believes it can judge and label such a large and diverse nation by the actions of relatively small groups. It would be like saying that all of Germany is filled with nothing but Nazis. They had Nazis in the past, they have Nazis now, so they must all be Nazis. Worse than ignorant, just plain stupid.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  15. OwenJ

    I do not rejoice bin Laden's death. I would have been just as happy had he been captured. What I celebrate is that he will no longer be out there planiing the deaths of innocent men, women and children regardless of their faith. How many Muslims have died at the hand of Al Qaeda? I believe it is a lot higher number than Christians.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  16. DCPETE

    Hell yea it's ok to Cheer. He was a evil man who committed the worst act on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Jeez, you bleeing heard liberals are amazing. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  17. Paul NYC

    People are free to do as they please and the ones celebrating last night did so. I felt a sense of relief, a turning of the page with bin Laden's death. However, I don't celebrate it and feel rather sad that some people feel the need to act as if a sports team won a game rather than a person being killed. On one hand, I'm glad he's gone but on the other, I feel rather quiet about it. It's done, time to move on.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  18. Reality

    Is dieing in a gunfight an assassination? I dont think so.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • the kid

      i dont think thats the issue here

      May 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  19. Oltan

    I could not care less whether you think it is OK to celebrate, or not. I celebrate!

    May 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  20. Becca

    I am not rejoicing over his death, my thoughts are what's going to happen next? I know this will not bring peace, I feel there will be retaliation and more innocent people will die. I did feel a sense of relief at first after 10 years of knowing he was out there somewhere. But I do not feel the world is a safer place now that he's gone

    May 2, 2011 at 5:35 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.