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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. Simon

    "Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that."
    Martin Luther King

    May 3, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  2. Marion

    I so agree with this article. I thought it was just me when I saw the cheering crowds in front of the white house on the news on sunday night, and it made me embarassed for Americans. It is against my nature, as a Christian and as a human being, to "cheer" at the death of ANYONE, no matter who or what they were on earth. What concerns me about it is that this is the type of thing that made so many of the followers of Bin Laden join with him. The cheers were "cheers of revenge".....not cheers of reilief as so many are claiming. Have we not all learned by now why so many in Muslim countries despise us? There are even those who resent that Osama bin Ladin was buried at sea....in one day, accordingly with Muslim beliefs.....not understanding that this was a diplomatic move on the part of the USA so that we won't be accused of disrespecting the Muslim religion. It was the right thing to do, regardless of who it was that was killed. We should be praying for a human soul, not cheering for his death. That's the way I feel about it.....and I wasn't alone!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  3. Larry

    Remember, we have to kill the eggs too.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  4. Jim

    As for me, I'm very glad he's dead and I wouldn't lament the death of quite a few other terrorist or dangerous foreign leaders.
    I've got to comment on Halperin's comment that, “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?”
    Apparently Halpering misses one CRITICAL point - Muslims in several Muslim nations danced when they saw 3000 innocent Americans die by a cowardly, terrorist act. That is far different from celebrating the demise of the person who commits a cowardly, terrorist act.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  5. citizenUSA

    In essence, yes, it's morally wrong to celebrate anyone's death if you are a civilized human being. But sometimes you gotta just give it up. WHOOP WHOOP!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  6. Larry

    The Ten Commandments include "thou shalt not kill". The US government went to a foreign country and murdered a man who had not been convicted of anything.

    One down, the rest of them to go!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  7. Brad

    I'm sincerely glad there are a lot of you that spread love and flower seeds and paint rainbows or whatever you do because all of these things make the world a better place, but thank God we aren't dependent on you for our freedom and safety. I think many of you are mistaking OBL for a human instead of the monster that he was. You can reflect this historic event however you choose, but I do not think it is wrong to celebrate the killing of a beast.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Harry

      If you kill a rabid dog, you don't celebrate his death. You're simply doing what has to be done to protect others. This is no different.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  8. dave rable

    I've thought about this, and I conclude that to celebrate a bit is just fine. Here's why:

    Bin Laden's use of terror to kill innocents at random was an attack on our peace of mind. His methods spread fear, and thus reduced our happiness. With his death, we can now feel a little bit safer, a little bit more content with life, a bit happier. And that's worth a celebration!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  9. Heath

    This is like saying it was wrong to celebrate during WWII when we found out Hitler had died in his bunker! After an exhausting 10 year war, and thousands of American lives lost over this loser, it is perfectly okay to celebrate his demise. The celebrations, like in WWII, go deeper than just the death of one man. They are celebrating a job well done to the US military, they are celebrating a victory over an enemy of the USA, they are celebrating the prospect of our servicemen/women coming home sooner because of this, and they are celebrating that justice has been served for those 3000 innocent lives lost on that horrid September morning.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  10. hd

    “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?” could not agree more

    May 3, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  11. Sweet Sprite

    ‎"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 3, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  12. Tom

    If you believe bin Laden should be on Hell you must believe in the Bible. If you believe in the Bible you should believe in forgiveness.
    Why it’s OK to celebrate in America a person's death but wasn't OK for the Muslims to celebrate.
    No different between nations, especially when we want to make peace with guns.
    Wouldn't you fight against foreign forces in the US?

    May 3, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Jeremy

      Forgiveness is between God and bin Laden. It was the US military's job to arrange the meeting.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • BRod

      If you believe the bible, then you need to get with the 21st century, and stop believing mythical nonsense from the middle eastern bronze age. In case you had not noticed, religious beliefs of that time and place cause things like 9/11 (and countless other atrocities in human history). If you think the Bible is any better than the Koran, then you are clearly skipping over most of the Old Testament.

      Also, may I point out that hell and forgiveness don't jive? Jesus must have wasted his time on the cross, or else hell would be unecessary.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  13. Angela

    My daughter was living in New York at the time of the 911 attack and I had just left NY two weeks before. Like most people, I was horrified and saddened when I learned what had happened. However, I do find it unfortunate that Americans should "celebrate" the death of someone who was never brought to trial and who therefore was never proven guilty. In fact, didn't Bin Laden express "surprise" at the 911 attack when he heard of it? Of course, I never knew what was inside Bin Laden's head, but neither did any American (I am British). I have always respected American ideals of freedom and justice, but I don't support this glorifying in someone's execution. It doesn't present Americans in a good light. Bin Laden was not solely (If at all) responsible for 911. Blame the fanatics who carried out the attacks. It seems to me that American needed a scapegoat on whom to pin all their hatred. But, as Martin Luther King said, hate does not conquer hate. One newspaper headline read "Rot in Hell" – it's bad enough to rejoice in the killing of an unarmed man, but it's deplorable to wish him to rot in hell. Hitler was evil (and even then, many of his henchmen were more evil). I'm not even sure that Bin Laden was the "mastermind" behind the 911 (or any other) attack. Information fed to us by governments should always be viewed with caution. And Bin Laden's death will NOT end terror attacks. 911 will always remain in our minds, but our energy should be directed towards comforting those who lost loved ones and not towards waving flags because someone has been killed. And really, hearing of how his body was cleansed and Muslim prayers were said (before he was lowered into the sea) only adds to the feeling of absolute
    repulsion I have about this incident. And all you ghouls who attend executions in the United States – you're beneath my contempt. Mourn those who died – do not rejoice in the culprit's death.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Joe Momma

      Wow, you are truly a moron. Never brought to trial? Dont you remember the videos that Osama made speaking of how happy he was that the attacks took place as well as him claiming responsibility for this? Please do the world a favor and kill yourself do that you can join Osama in hell where you belong. I feel sorry for your daughter having such an idiot for a parent.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • BRod

      JoeMomma: Telling people to go kill themselves for having an opinion? Way to bring validity to your cause! I'm betting there are alot of conservatives who wish people like you would keep their mouths shut. Probably alot of your church buddies, too.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  14. ralk

    It is alright to cheer...to let out some of the garbage people have been carrying around for 10 years and if that is one more thing that you want to try and control of people...take it and shove it! I am glad as he ll he is dead! God bless American...God bless the US Navy SEALS and the CIA! God bless George Bush the 2nd!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • BRod

      I bet you also think that God is on your football team's side, too...

      May 3, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  15. Kuwait

    I forgive Bin Laden for all the heartache

    I thank you the GOD TRINITY for taken him away from this earth (rather he died than thousand of thousand inocent died by his evil act).

    I prayed for all Muslim to run away from the DEVIL (Hatred, revenge, killing, lust) teaching.... and follow the prince of peace Jesus

    May peace be with you

    May 3, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • BRod

      I didn't know the Navy Seals were also known as "GOD TRINITY"...

      Religion is why we are in the mess we are in as a species.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  16. Miss Jenna

    Was it morally wrong that he killed 3000 Americans!???
    ! They didn't care about killing our people on those planes and slamming into our buildings! Why should we not celebrate his death! He is pure evil!

    Cheers the devil is dead! Burn MF'er!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • BRod

      And he thought we were pure evil and the devil. As long as people believe such nonsense, we will never know peace. It's a shame to see Americans – people of the most advanced, educated nation on earth – behave like primitive cavemen.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Billy O

      Nobody is saying the attacks on 9/11 were not a crime and those responsible should pay. We have to avoid the mob mentality as a civilized nation, We don't need to bring back public executions either.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Noquarter

      First off, most of the people celebrating and chanting were college kids. Secondly I see nothing wrong with Americans assembling and chanting USA or singing patriotic songs. He has put this country through hell and we have the right to left off steam. The major difference between what we saw Muslims doing after 911 and here is that they were cheering for the death of the entire U.S., and rejoicing at the death of over 3000 innocent people. We were celebrating the death of 1 person who killed all those people.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  17. john

    Only a liberal would ask that question and the irony here is that most liberals have no morals either, go figure.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • 8knot8

      Only a liberal? Really? Why would only a liberal say that the celebration of a death is uncivilized and unbecoming of America? Did the surgical strike need to be done, yes. Did we need to glorify and wallow in the death of another in this way, no. This isn't a politicized question, this is a question about humanity and civilization. Do other countries and societies celebrate such behavior, sure, but we are not other societies. We should hold ourselves and our country to a higher standard. We should be more than this, so much more than this.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • 8knot8

      I can't get over the justification of Americans...he was evil so it is okay if we act and behave amorally, he killed people so it is okay to act in ways unbecoming of a civilized society. He started it. blah, blah, blah. So many sound like glorified third graders, it is ridiculous. I was happy that this individual was removed, but I was saddened at how we as a country reacted. In the capitalist spirit people are already selling shirts showing one of the symbols of our society, the Statue of Liberty, holding UBL's head piked on her torch. That torch is a symbol of lighting the way, or enlightenment and we've sullied that ideal.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • RN

      What is ironic is that the conservatives accuse liberals of having no morals – yet the conservatives are the ones who support the death penalty and are quick to go to war. Conservatives have been the ones who show the least tolerance for other cultures and are first to act selfishly. What is morally right in any of that? Understanding and respecting other cultures is not weakness. Questioning our own response to the death of a person, regardless of who that is, is not a sign of weakness. well, – unless you are a conservative – then the only apparent sign of strength is how much blood you have on your hands. Is that it John?

      May 3, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • BRod

      8knot8: I couldn't agree more.

      RN: I also agree. I'll go further to say that radical conservatives are not much different from radical muslims. Comparing their behavior, it's hard to tell which one is the terrorist – which one is the enemy of America.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Billy O

      There was a time in America when people flocked to public executions to cheer the death of criminals. As a New Yorker that lived through that day of fear and uncertainty I do not suddenly believe that with the killing of Bin Laden the world will return to the way it was before the attacks. The struggle against those that wish us harm is a serious matter and not a sporting event. Although I don't expect my fellow Americans to have shared my experience or perspective I will not criticize them or label them with dismissive terms like "liberal" if they disagree with me. Those that wave flags don't really understand or deserve them.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  18. collegemom

    As for those "drunken college kids", they have every right to celebrate. They see this one act as possibly changing their whole lives. I am a mom of two of these college kids. My daughters have been through some very humiliating experiences including, but not limited to, stripping down to their underware at an airport at age 13. (It was the underwire in their bra). Their whole lives has been liiving with the threat of terrorism over their heads. They were not given the same oppurtunities their older brothers and sisters had. For example, many older kids were given the chance to be an exchange student in foreign countries. By the time my kids were the same age, many of the programs had been canceled due to the treat of terrorism. Most parents won't let their children go overseas because the parents are afraid for them. The college kids don't remember a time when there was no security at an airport/train station/etc.They don't know that at one time their parents/friends could meet them at the gate in an airport. This is only a few items in the list of how acts of terrorism have impacted and defined their lives. Unfortunately , UBL, is the symbol of that threat.

    I saw the same pictures with the people in the US cheering yesterday and the pictures of the people in the middle east cheering on 9/11. I thought the same thing, ?" But in the end, the college kids were celebrating the end of one person who killed many people thus changing their lives forever versus those in the middle east who cheered the killing of many people because one person ordered those killings. In my mind, that is the difference and in my opinion, let Allah/God or whoever be the judge of our actions.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Charlotte

      Hogwash. This is churlish, childish, puerile and trashy behavior and they are emulating their trashy parents who taught them to behave like lower class fanatics at a hockey game. Thie "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" crap is boorish and disgusting behavior. Glad he's gone? No doube. Grim pleasure and satisfaction, but this awful behavior is why it's so embarrassing to be labelled as "American" when one is abroad. These jerks act like street thugs, and you cannot justify this behavior just because some Muslim extremists do it. That's a teenage clique mentality "oh, well Johnny does it so it must be okay!" That's a load of cr@p. Bad behavior does not justify bad behavior. I wish these people would pipe down and grow up. That having been said, this was a justifiable killing and it needed to happen. Too bad Bushiepoo was too impotent to get it done. Thank GOD we have some real leadership from this administration and the intelligence community that he has assembled.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • BRod

      Charlotte: I agree 100%

      May 3, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Noquarter

      @Charlotte Excuse me but who made you the moral police. It’s quite funny because I believe its PC kumbaya liberals like you that are ruining this country. If you want to say you don’t agree with college mom that’s fine but you don't have the right to call her trash, you liberal elitist .... Typical, "Ohh I’m so worried about the Europeans not liking us anymore", drives me nuts. If people overseas want to treat us like trash than that’s their prerogative. The fact is, 90% of those people are using computers, money, and food that all come from America and they are all hypocrites. Not to mention the first time some bully like NK comes knocking at their doors whose the first country they come running too. Give me a break.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  19. Joe Peterson

    Those in the Muslim world who do cheer do so even if innocent blood is shed.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • TRouble

      True enough. But it doesn't make it right.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • BRod

      You could say the same about Christians who have no problem with the innocent casualties of "the enemy", and who loudly proclaim that we should wipe out the entire population of muslims – innocents included.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  20. craigtommola

    I do not rejoice in the death of an enemy. I celebrate the lives the enemy's plans never touched, the victims he touched but did not destroy, and above all, to honor the memory of the innocent people who fell by his hand. I rejoice – but not for death.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:53 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.