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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. Steve

    How can an entire village of Munchkins be wrong?

    May 3, 2011 at 6:58 am |
  2. Douglas MacIlroy

    1.) Stupid question.
    2.) The morons who used this forum to spew their tired propaganda make me pro-nuclear.
    3.) OBL died way too quickly and we waited way too long to make it happen.
    4.) The sooner humans throw away the crutch of religion the sooner we'll be able to place blame where it belongs – on us. We alone have the power to shape our destiny. We created gods but we can't seem to un-create them. Until we do, we deserve what we get.
    5.) Stop wringing your hands and go do something useful with your time.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:41 am |
  3. Brett

    America, get off your politically correct high horse. This is the major problem in our country now. Everyone to afraid they might offend someone. Sorry, we are not all mindless zombies just roaming the streets waiting to die. It's thinking like we are reading here that made the wars in Iraq & Afghanastan last far to long. All this garbage about we can't do this or that...it's a war!!! We should have been able to finish both of these wars in days, not a decade. The fact that it took so long not only shows what kind of corruption lies within foreign govenments, but also our own U.S. government.
    Funny how people ignore the fact we put men like Bin Laden & Hussein in power, then had to go back & forcefully remove them. Oh & when did it become Usama isntead of Osama??? was it to close to Obama???

    The celebrations were closure, an end to a decade of dealing with complete garbage. It was time for military families to finally breathe. Time for them to understand the end is very near & they can be together again.

    Funny how every religion speaks of not judging, yet that is all they do. Always judge & tell others how they are not righteous, not following the word of God.....yet the entire book you base your faith on has been rewritten thousands of times & until it got to now, it has been edited by those who rewrote it. Even the stupid eat fish on Friday during lent which so many follow blindly. It was started by a corrupt pope who brother was a fisherman & doing bad financially, so the pope declared it good to eat fish on Friday to make his brother money. Yes sorry, even your Popes have been very unholy men throughout history. So please spare telling us what God wants or thinks we should do.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  4. Missy

    I didn't see it as literally celebrating his death but rejoicing that after nearly 10 long years, a chapter is closing. Really brought back the feeling of national unity, and I think many were celebrating the relief of a small measure of justice. Of course, there definitely was a segment that would whoop and holler at anything - any excuse to party. But by and large, I think it was mostly a release of a lot of pent-up emotions that so many of us haven't expressed...scars healing.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  5. Harry

    ...Can't we all just get on ... !!!

    May 3, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  6. Michael

    There is a time and place to mourn the death or fall of an adversary – a sports nemesis who broke a leg, a work colleague who pushed you to your best but now is let go, a family member who fell in with the wrong crowd and ended up in a gang – there are lots of times when it is right and appropriate to pause, reflect, remember, and respect – to value and cherish the fallen glory or humble beauty of a life.

    This is not one of them.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • Paul

      You really think it's appropriate to celebrate a sports rival breaking his leg? Sick.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  7. Dolly O.

    . FIRST OF ALL.. I AM NOT GOING TO JUDGE THOSE WHO CELEBRATE BINLADEN'S DEATH? .For....We have free agency.. meaning..we are acountable for our own actions & Only Our Heavely Father knows what's in our hearts. In my opinion worth ten cents.. "We are there & We will continue being there & other places where needed along with our allies to protect not to avenge". ¶God bless all the Human Race & GOD bless The United States of America..

    May 3, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  8. todd saed

    just the usual dog and pony show, disguising the fact bin Laden was a product of the CIA, got billions from them in
    Afghanistan, the CIA us the leading terrorist, justice for bin Laden, now justice for the one million Iraqis
    murdered by Cheney, Bush, and the bushtapo gang. hah, wont' happen because Saudi oil calls the shots, this is a primitive discussion, moral and spirituali revelations settled these issues five thousand years ago, CNN sensationalized the recent North Korean incursion, saying it was the most dangerous place in the world, and had a poll saying 53% of the people thought war was imminenet. Now North and South are at the table making more progress than in a long time. Raises doubts
    FOX et al are much worse of course, but is CNN another errand boy for the elitist plutocrats of the world, talking a good game
    not followong through?

    May 3, 2011 at 5:01 am |
  9. Tzena

    it`s called Karma and his was too long in coming. Did I jump for joy when I first heard he was dead? no my first though was "Finally" later I thought of those who had lost loved ones andwas greatful for the justice they received all in all he was one of those *%@`s that needed killing and it is finally done

    May 3, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  10. abdulksaida

    i said it is immoral to dance while one has been killed. even if the terrorists of israel have been killed whom killed thousands of palestiniasn and al their country and let 5 millions refugee and iam one of them, i will not dance. the wisdom one will try why osama exist? he exists becasue of the terrorism of USA administration to poor people in ME and all are muslims. it is becasue they support israel the terrorist country over the law. where is the justice? it seems bdoecasue we are muslims we dont deserve it. shame on any one do like that and immoral also to burry in the sea

    May 3, 2011 at 4:47 am |
  11. Karen Poore

    No, it was not right. It just shows how shallow the American people really are! I am ashamed as an American.
    My question since 911 is WHY did it happen?

    May 3, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • tcp

      Then move away. Let me pose this to you: If you were standing right next to the mother of a NY firefighter or the daughter of a Soldier killed in action when this news came across and that person jumped for joy, screamed at the top of their lungs, pulled out an American flag, and spontaneously rejoiced in this news, would you look them dead in the eye and tell them they should be "ashamed to be an American"? There's your litmus test now go give it a try!

      May 3, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  12. Marc

    Celebrating his demise may only serve to make him larger in death than he was in life. When Marcus Allen scored a touchdown, he calmly handed the ball to the referee. The words "act like you've been there before" come to mind.
    Instead of jumping up and down, I wish we had more of a "who is the next piece of garbage on the list" mentality.

    Sometimes indifference is the most painful pill to swallow...and I would love for all the current and, unfortunately, future terrorists to choke on the thought of dying in anonimity...without the virgins...instead of replacing Che on the next set of terrorist t-shirts.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • Joe

      Here! Here!

      May 3, 2011 at 5:13 am |
    • tcp

      Now, THERE is a valid argument. Thank you for you insightful comment.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  13. Dharshana Jayawardena

    Americans were not celebrating Bin Ladens Death. They were celebrating their lives in the absence of Bin Laden.
    I know the feeling.
    We celebrated when the terrorist leader and a curse to the country in Sri Lanka was finally killed in 2009.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  14. Jeremy

    Impale Bin Laden's body. Chop his head off… display it on a stake on the White House lawn… Let the carrion dogs devour his carcass… Force the Gitmo detainees to fight to the death in gladiatorial contests for our viewing pleasure…

    If we are going to party, let's party hard!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Jeremy

      Party! Party! Party!

      May 3, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • tcp

      Twice?!?

      May 3, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  15. Don KC

    Only God can judge Osama bin Laden. The SEALS just arranged the meeting.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  16. Jon

    I was just relieved to hear Osama has gone. Hopefully his followers will lay down their arms and live a normal life. Yes, its not right to celebrate at somebody's death, even enemy. Its not wise or mature.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • tcp

      What would you think if I said it is unwise and immature for you to fell "releived" that a human being was killed?...don't use your personal definition of moral, wise, or mature behavior to castigate those who feel the need to express themselves outwardly!

      May 3, 2011 at 7:03 am |
  17. Jeremy

    We should celebrate as Vlad the Impaler rejoiced… We should impale Bin Laden's body and display his head on the White House lawn… And then let the carrion dogs devour his body… and then, top the celebration off with gladiatorial games – We should pit the Gitmo detainees in matches to the death against each other all for our viewing pleasure…like that show Spartacus Blood and Sand…

    Just kidding…. We all know its wrong to celebrate… But deep inside, you know and I know your deepest desire is to celebrate Bin Laden's death in the manner that I described above...

    May 3, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • jepin

      you have some ideas there. I didn't jump for joy upon hearing his death, because I just don't do that type thing. I probably would watch a "Monday Night Gitmo Fight TO THE DEATH" though. yes I would.

      May 3, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • Walt

      Hell yes. I like it!!! I'd show up for any and ALL of that!!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  18. MC Dave

    I could care less about how certain people are "feeling" about the celebrations of the taking of his life. After all, when the towers fell, all you saw on arab channels were the celebrations of the killing of almost 3,000 people. Now its immoral to rejoice?! I have a feeling those who are speaking out against the parties are folks who didn't lose any family on 9/11.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • chad

      it was immoral when they were celebrating on 9/11 on the arab channels. if you recall there was outrage about it then as well. however, just because someone else does something doesnt mean you should. with all that being said i would like to dispel your hypothesis. i lost loved ones and i think its immoral to celebrate a death.

      May 3, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • thatOneGuy

      one of the people quoted in this article lost many people she knew, that's one of the main points.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Those people were celebrating the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Excuse me if I see it as a little bit different when someone celebrates the death of a man who has caused the deaths of thousands of innocents. I don't "celebrate" but I am VERY happy that an American put a bullet through that twits brain.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:49 am |
  19. Crystal

    How sad that "people of faith" are the only ones portrayed in this article to be questioning the appropriateness of this jovial behavior.

    I am an atheist but do not think death of any sort should be celebrated. Religion doesn't equal moral superiority.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • You Know

      Very well said.

      May 3, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Jerry

      Although I'm glad this issue is being discussed, I completely agree Crystal!

      May 3, 2011 at 4:52 am |
    • Joe

      When you agree with someone who is religious, does it require one to be superior over the other?

      May 3, 2011 at 5:08 am |
    • owen

      My thoughts exactly. Morality does not require faith in God. Sunday night I retired in somber reflection, but awoke to images of grave dancing.

      "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster." -Nietzsche

      May 3, 2011 at 5:47 am |
    • cruiser808

      Maybe it is wrong to celebrate someone's death, even someone as evil as Bin Laden. I guess after I'm done celebrating, I'll go to confession and ask for forgiveness.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • Missy

      Hi, Crystal. This article *is* in the "Belief" section of the site; that's why it focuses on the faith perspective.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:57 am |
    • Tim

      The army of the pharaoh were just soldiers under orders. Bin Laden is hte mastermind of a mass murder. I celebrate his death for the evil removed from this world and his inability to plan further attacks. There should be no guilt here. It is clearly a case of getting him befoe he gets more of us. Perhaps the prophet Mohammed saw a human soul in hte infidel, but I see no humanity in Bin Laden. He made his choice. – repeatedly. I would have more remorse for stepping on a bug.

      Celebrate, America. It's OK.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • Mario Aguilera

      II agree 100%. Going further, Americans can only have closure by understanding the rightful motives behind Bin Ladens assassination. His death is not justified by revenge but by the moral choice to uphold justice.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • Thinker23

      We humans tend to celebrate the killing of a deadly snake or a human-eating tiger. Bin Laden was not a snake or a tiger, he was much worse than that. He was a fanatic mass murderer, a beast who only LOOKED LIKE HUMAN. Extermination of this beast is a perfect reason for celebration.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  20. Masoni

    A relevant article — http://masonireview.com/2011/05/03/rejoicing-in-death/

    May 3, 2011 at 3:29 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.