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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. MB

    I realize people are relieved he is dead, much the same as when Hitler died. It's closure. Celebrate that he cannot kill thousands more. At the same time, it's important we conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects how we wish our troops to be treated. We would be appalled by soldiers if they were put on display, mutilated, and treated with complete disrespect. I think the last thing we want to do is engage in behavior that will breed hatred and create a whole new generation of people who have grounds for hating us.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  2. Handy

    "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." – Mark Twain

    May 3, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  3. William

    I just think there have been a number of displays of insensitivity as a result of bin Laden's death. Trust me, I am absolutely thrilled to death that we got the SOB, but I didn't really care for (as an example) all of the young college kids in D.C. who poured on to Pennsylvania Avenue to party like it was 1999. If you were watching live, it should be pretty evident that they just wanted to go out and enjoy a reason to celebrate and party. I remember hearing the report of an MSNBC reporter out in the crowd who described it as a "frat party" (I'm 25, was in a fraternity, so I'm not bashing college frat life) and that's exactly what it looked like. She said she interviewed some 17 and 18 year old kids out there who were going crazy then noted that they were merely 7 and 8 at the time of 9/11. They weren't old enough to understand what was happening. Let me put this out there: if you were directly affected by 9/11 and you want to go out and rage in the streets, I will not judge you for a second–you have every right to celebrate however you want to. I've been up in NYC this week on business and most people I've talked to who were really affected by 9/11 or who lost a loved one celebrated the death of bin Laden by actually sleeping without the aid of an Advil PM or an Ambien for the first time in nearly 10 years. I saw videos of college campuses, for instance Ohio State, and kids were running wild, getting soaked in beer showers... participating in an immature group-think that I will contest is a bit insensitive to those who were actually directly affected. And I'll finish with this: our country gets collectively outraged when we see anti-Americans and terrorists parading in the streets, burning American flags, and celebrating the deaths of Americans. We should probably try to restrain ourselves to not subject ourselves to that low-life level... as proud Americans we should be held to a higher standard. Just my thoughts.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Personally, I'm only outraged when I see people celebrating the deaths of innocents. How about you? Do you actually compare celebrating Bin Laden's death to celebrating the deaths of all the men, women and children on 9/11.
      The ONLY similarity is that someone died. But if you do not see the difference in his death and the deaths he caused I feel real sorry for you.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  4. Death Obsessed

    All you people are crazy

    May 3, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  5. nikka

    Is he a person? he is evil incarnate. of course we should celebrate the end of evil

    May 3, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  6. Debbi

    At no point does this article claim that we shouldn't have killed OBL so the "coward" card does not apply. We needed to finish the job and it was, supposedly, finished. The article posits, correctly in my opinion, that greeting the death of a human, any human even the bad ones, with cheer and chants is in poor taste and not just a little hypocritical. We were all angered to see segments of the Arab world doing the same after 9/11 – what makes it different when we do it? Those that cheered on 9/11 think we're bad people and the concepts of good and bad being nothing more than opinion, what makes their cheers and chants less abhorrent than ours? Think progressively – there's nothing left for us in going backwards

    May 3, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Jester

      To answer your question Debbi; there is a BIG difference. They were cheering the deaths of civilian workers that were sitting ducks, so to speak. WE ARE CHEERING THE DEATH OF A MASS MURDERER ! If you can't appreciate the difference you are not an intelligent being. I pray for your brain. LOL ! Go light a candle or something.........

      May 3, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  7. ejwejw

    I can't say that I was unhappy with the death oh Osama BIn Laden, but I was not joyous and dancing in the steets either. What I felt was great relief, and aprehension of what further terrorism is to com because of it. This was not like the end of World War II when eveyone was dancing in the streets. When our wars and conflicts in the Middle East come to an end and our brave young men have returned home, then I will celebrate.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  8. Lee

    The celebrations reminded me too much of the days just post 9/11 when some the news programs started showing footage around the world of muslim countries cheering the hurt done to America. I felt great hatred toward Muslims (even though this was probably a tiny minority cheering) when I saw that and I wonder if we will stir similar feelings in people where it may not have existed before. It is right to feel happy and relieved. I find it undignified to make such a celebration out of the death of one man.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Jester

      Def was NOT a tiny minority. Stop living in 'probably' and try some reality ! You might like it .

      May 3, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  9. osro

    This article implies that only "people of faith" find it morally wrong to celebrate someone's death. I'm an atheist, and I think rejoicing over anyone's death is immoral.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Ann

      agreed

      May 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  10. maine liberal

    People cheer God condemns

    May 3, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  11. Buddy

    I appreciate the moral issue, and I too feel uncomfortable with the celebration of a death, even if it is the death of an evil man. However, I see no reason to couch the moral issue in the context of religion. Those of us who lack faith are as capable of moral reasoning as those who embrace faith.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Jester

      Well said Buddy ! ! ! No one listens anymore tho, too bad. Religious zealots everywhere think they corner the market on morality. Most God-heads are Hippocrites and don't even practice reason. Oh, well. time to Manifest some Destiny ! ! !

      May 3, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • urbanhippie

      ramen

      May 3, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • maine liberal

      where is the morallity in not stopping a mass murderder who will kill innocent people again is the name of Allah/god

      May 3, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  12. BigAl

    damn right it is, may he rot in hell

    May 3, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  13. Leigh Binder

    Welcome to the insanity of the human race...No doubt people were dancing in the streets somewhere in the Middle East after 911 and certainly there would have been some stupid dance if W or our current pres had of been put down.|
    There's no logical explanation, just read history. Hell, I tried to sell some furniture on Craigslist using a bin Laden joke for a headline and it was deleted several times....Some folks are very touchy.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  14. Jeff

    Of course it is OK to cheer, what kind of question is that?

    May 3, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Jester

      Amen and Hallelujah ! ! ! Dancin' in the streets ! Have been practicing a few new steps just for this occasion ! ! ! Poo – poo on you party poopers that don't want to celebrate. Pull your heads outta your asses or move somewhere else ! ! We earned this celebration and many more ! ! ! OBL can rot in hell ! ! ! Jiggity – jig ! !

      May 3, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • human

      Jester, we are supposed to be a land of diversity, with open discussion. My family moved here in 1630, so I am not going anywhere, and you need to do some self examining.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Tom

      Please remember Mr. or Ms. Human. It was force and violence that allowed your people to come here in 1630 just as it is the force and violence by our brave young soldiers that allows you to sit around self examining yourself.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  15. Tom

    To tell me I am "morally wrong" for rejoicing in an American victory and for feeling pride in the soldiers that protect us is pathetic. After 10 long years of strife that has led to the death, injury and suffering of so many around the world. 10 long years after That Day that changed the lives of everyone on this planet. Its just another expample of the complacent pathetic self loathing that seems to be a part of the popular culture in this country.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Jerry

      Well said Tom! Thank you

      May 3, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  16. Adolph Hitler

    I weep for bin Laden. I feel his pain. Lots of people were glad that I was dead too. You are all barbarians for being glad about the deaths of the cream of humanity.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  17. Jerry M.

    The people of the United States and the world should see bin laden's death play and replay in every living room in the world just as we watched the World Trade centers crumble causing the death's of thousands of folks.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  18. God

    Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

    May 3, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Jeff

      moron

      May 3, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • maine liberal

      God loves all his creations .. i dont

      God has been killing his creations for thousands of years that have not followed him ... sodom and gomorrah

      May 3, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  19. Avdin

    For me, the celebrations were mostly disturbing for two reasons, the first of which has already been discussed at length here. The other element that I found upsetting was the fact that most of it appeared to be fueled by nationalist sentiments, rather than feelings that justice had been served. The problem with that is that it serves to perpetuate feelings of division among us, NOT unity. It breathes new life into this idea of "us versus them", an idea which has for so long caused us to fight one another. If you have any doubt that this is true, remember how you felt when watching the news back in 2001, seeing people burning your nation's flag and rejoicing in the death of your countrymen. Were you not angered?
    Isn't our time better spent doing things which won't lead to continuing conflict with our fellow human beings?
    Sure we should celebrate justice, but we should do it in such a way as to bring unity to the world. We should see it as a world victory against terrorism, not a victory for just the USA.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Tom

      News Flash! While you are sitting around trying to think of ways to bring all of "us" together obl and his crew are planning how to kill you. It is about us vs them.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • MarkinFL

      When it involves terrorists it IS Us Vs. Them. They are not a state or a people to reason with, they are sworn agents of our destruction. Killing them is simply self-defense. We're not talking about Muslims or Pakistanis or Saudis in general, we're talking about individuals that have declared their intent to kill as many of us as they can. That makes the equation real simple. I feel no empathy for someone that is trying to kill me or any innocents at all.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • elizabeth

      I found the celebrations disurbing in light of the fact that Americans like to be identified as "Christians" with "Christian values". I am not "Christian" but "Christian values" according to their often thumped bibles dictate that any taking of life for whatever reason should be looked on as a somber and solemn occassion. Just like trial judges, when pronouncing death sentences, don't "whoop it up", nor do victims' families. There is no joy in killing someone. If there is, then "we" have become "them".

      May 3, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • human

      Beautifully voiced. When did we go from being a country that was tolerant of diversity to such myopia? The notion that things are black or white, only extremes, with no grey, is the great legacy we are left with from Bush. It is so much easier for people to blame someone else than to live with the uncomfortable notion that life is complex, with all kinds of influences and nuances, and to understand those divergent aspects of human nature. Understanding those differences is the only thing that allows us to live as a civilized society.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • MarkinFL

      This SHOULD be a moment of reflection. On the other hand, this guy set himself up as a target of hate and did everything he could to earn it. There is no satan/devil/whatever, there are only people who act evil. He needed to be erased and everyone has the right to feel good about it finally happening. No need to apologize at all for feeling good at his demise, he was a continuing threat as long as he was alive.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Tom

      @human – Actually what allows us to live in a civilized society is that 1) we remove from our society those that choose to act in an uncivilized manner and 2) we enlist the young and brave to protect us from those that mean to put an end to our civilized society.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  20. mudbone9

    Ding Dong the sob is dead, the sob is dead! A huge HOOYAH to the Navy Seals and all the people involved in taking this criminal down. Job well done! All Americans have the right to celebrate the demise of this demon. No one has a right to say anyone is morally wrong for being happy. He was a bad person and needed to be killed. Hurray!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Nan

      Contrary to the rabbinic teaching above, I respectfully submit that the Word of GOD allows people to rejoice in victory when they are delivered from evil and wickedness: Proverbs 11:10 says: “When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.”

      In Exodus 15, GOD allowed Moses, the children (people) of Israel, Miriam (Moses' sister),and the women to sing, rejoice, and dance in celebration after they were chased by Pharaoh, and he and his ENTIRE wicked army were drowned (destroyed) in the Red Sea.

      This whole event is not all about taking a life (even though Osama Bin Laden “reaped what he sowed” and “lived by the sword and died by the sword” but that he received JUSTICE for the evil and wicked life he lived.

      MOST OF ALL, to those brave and heroic Navy Seals - and the men and women in the military who DAILY put themselves in harms way and risk their lives for us in the USA and worldwide, the word of GOD in John 15:13 says : “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” THANK YOU!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:33 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.