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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. layaansajid

    Demanding photos, vidoes and celebrating his death is making him IMMORTAL and thats what he wanted!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  2. Muneef

    Interesting site although not related to the blog subject but could be a source of informations related to the Holy Quran....
    http://kaheel7.com/eng/

    May 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  3. Corwin Aquino

    Coming from a future Marine of the United States of America believe strongly in the celebration of Osama Bin Laden's death. I take this to a personal level because, number 1, the Navy SEALS did a job that I could have been involved in. I could have been one that went to raid his "mansion" and I could have been shot. The military put 25-30 soldier's lives in danger in order to kill the man that began the War on Terrorism. I personally sat down and had a nice cake to eat when I heard of his death. His death is a symbol of the United States of America, an example of what is to come to you if you threaten the security of the United States of America. ooh-rah.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  4. Cessy Jarver

    I FOR ONE, find his death to be celebrated, in the sense of his symbolism. He was the face of TERRRROR, and with his death, it can't be seen that it will turn the tide in the middle east, but it's unlikely. BUTTTTTTT, his death is a symbol. A symbol of courage, persistence, and redeem. That should be celebrated.

    May 4, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  5. T10050

    Are people really celebrating his death or rather an end to his leadership of terrorism?

    May 4, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  6. Paul

    What difference was there between people dancing in the streets in the Middle East after 9/11 and people dancing in the streets in the US to celebrate the death of OBL? Doesn't hatred, even for a mass murderer, make us less than human?

    May 4, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  7. Raines

    I do not blame people for rejoicing in hopes that the US and our Allies have dealt a blow to terrorism. I have always wanted to see OBL brought to justice. I am still not comfortable watching American's partying in the streets because someone has died.

    I was in the Army during 9/11. I have killed.. I have killed others who were trying to kill me... but I didn't dance in my room when I got back to the FOB. I didn't take a picture of them and then put a big red X over their face.

    By throwing parties and acting like idiots we have shown we are no better then the terrorists who have zero respect for a human life either. I guess I just wish I lived in a world that could step above these beast like tendencies and actually realize a man has died. We do not have to feel sorry for him, but it should never be a day of partying.

    May 4, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  8. Muneef

    An Arabian Proverb states that "The worst of all disasters is the One that makes laugh...admit many might have laughed out first out of disbelieve that such kids  is said to have pulled such unbelievable act to such A Country with such tight Security ...then again have laughed in disbelieve of what might happen as a reaction for that pulled act which serves no Arabian nor a Muslim country but rather it served those who want certain accounts or references to burn down or to shake the trade for certain immediate gains or for gains that might result out of the reaction that will follow...

    To find out the truth you have to find out who had benefited from those attacks against the twin towers....?! It would never be by any ordinary men but it would rather be by those on the tiptop of (Finance&Power) to pull such act either towards making immediate financial or political gains or for hiding their crimes by making another crime....       

    The biggest proof to that was killing him with any chance of court hearing to his words of defense or finding him guilty of all charges they made us hear over the years...so they chance to close the chapter....

    [40:44] "Some day you will remember what I am telling you now. I leave the judgment of this matter to GOD; GOD is the Seer of all the people."

    May 4, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  9. SAM

    Get a grip. The "celebrations" were as much for what was hoped to be the end of this long affair as it was over Bin Ladin's death.

    May 4, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Raines

      I don't usually point at people and all them wrong, but you are wrong. This celebration was one of vengeance. It had nothing to do with "thinking this might be over". If anything, this early, it can only make things worse.

      And no.. I am not religious. I don't need religion. I already have ethics and morals.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  10. Reality

    Bin Laden is dead but his pox of a religion aka Islam is not:---------–

    Said pox:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:
    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  11. Reality

    Bin Laden is dead but his pox of a religion aka Islam is not:

    Said pox:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:
    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  12. Chip

    Nothing to really celebrate... Now, if we had a video of someone wearing a black hood whacking his head off with a dull machete..??? THAT would be something to celebrate!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  13. To Each His Own

    you not giving a damn about if he dies is exactly what they do.
    so in a sense you're doing what they do.
    Good job!

    Just so you know, two wrongs dont make a right.
    if you think now we can end this war with his death, you're very wrong.
    If you think the troops can come home now, you're also wrong.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  14. Neco

    Agreed 100%

    May 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  15. jams

    I sympathize with and understand both points of view.

    There's no space to argue about a few of the facts:
    A) OBL certainly deserved to be hunted and killed for masterminding the 9/11 attacks and other atrocities.
    B) The death of OBL is good for the collective psyche of this nation, and provides deserved closure to many.

    The rest is a bit of a gray area and depends on perspective. I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, personally. For all that OBL deserved his end, the catharsis is overshadowed for me by the sadness of memory of his victims. It seems no great victory to me that America, the land of the greatest armed forces ever to exist, took ten years to assassinate a single man. And while his death may end one mission, it heralds a symbolic change only. The practical reality of our situation in the middle east is not changed. Therefore, my feelings about this news are nuanced, and subdued by sadness over our loss ten years ago, and our continuing losses ever since.

    That said, I cannot condemn anyone for their joy or celebration at this news. I won't think of you as bloodthirsty for dancing in the streets. It's the end of an era. Even if the victory is, as I feel, mostly symbolic – symbols are still important.

    For one thing, I am glad that he was killed rather than taken captive. No matter what information he could have yielded, the risks of keeping him would have been too great. He inspires so much fear and hate that he could never have been taken to trial, nor could he have been handled as a source. He would have brought out the worst in human nature of anyone who tried to hold him captive. His death was the only viable outcome.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  16. Glenn

    Morally right? Was it morally right when thousands of those pieces of human garbage danced in the streets after the towers fell? Now the sandal is on the other foot and they're not happy about it. Too damn bad. Burn in hell, Osama...............you, your 72 virgins, and all of your other worthless pieces of s**t followers that have been wiped off the face of the earth these past 10 years.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Truths&lies

      Actually it was more like a couple hundred palestineans dancing in the streets, most of the Middle East became terrified because they knew how we'd react to 9/11.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  17. Clayton

    Is it morally right?

    Who cares...?!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Damian

      I care. Morality is subjective to the people involved and how they are involved. I wasn't directly involved in 9-11 as the victims, responders, and families, so I do not celebrate the killing of this individual, but to the people needing this justice, I recognize how they might. I prefer to celebrate my American Patriotism on events like the moon landings, voting rights, events that show the best of our nation, not revenge killings like this event.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  18. justathought

    celebrating bin Laden's death doesn't make us like them. They celebrated murdering 3000 innocent people. We celebrated the death of a mass murderer.

    we buried him at sea because no country would take his remains, undoutedly to avoid having an al Qaeda shrine in their country.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Dan

      But even a mass murderer should have his day in court. How convenient of us to write the rulebook any way we want just because Americans are killed. Why didn't we kill Sadam Hussein when we had the chance? Why did we insist he stand trial for his atrocities? The world is a safer place without this monster no doubt, but we have shown ourselves to be quite hypocritical for murdering a murderer and then celebrating it. I suppose county sheriffs and the FBI director are now cleared to order the shooting of murderers on our own streets right? As long as the number of murders is high enough? or how about if they brag about it? or better yet how about when the number of murders surpasses some random number that we make up? I lost a colleague in the towers and a colleague in the Pentagon. But throwing a human's right for due process (the American way) to the wind for convenience sake does not give me peace for the loss of my colleagues, it makes me sick.

      May 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  19. ANIMAL--are you kidding me???

    People, I am sick and tired of everyone comparig OBL to an animal. Have you ever seen an animal kill for the sake of killing? We are insulting the animal kingdom by making such a comparison. He was a monster, plain and simple!! ONLY a human being is capable of becoming a monster, not an animal!! Have you ever seen an animal feel sorry for itself???

    May 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • David

      Right on all counts. Animals have no choice – they are incapable of moral distinctions. Bin Laden had a choice and what he chose makes me feel no regret whatsoever in celebrating his death. Frankly, he got off easy. I'm sure he didn't suffer much, as opposed to many of his victims.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Lots of animals kill for the sake of killing, including much loved animals like cats and dogs. And don't accuse me of being anti-animal or anti-cat-and-dog. Rescuing cats and dogs is both my vocation and avocation. I just can't stand sentimental falsehoods about them being portrayed as compassion and wisdom and would love to burn every depiction of "The Peaceable Kingdom" in existence.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Chris

      Male dolphins will kill their own offspring in order to induce the female to re-enter into estrus sooner.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      When Jesus encountered demon possessed man on one occasion, and asked him what his name was, he answered "Legion". There was legion of demons in that man. They begged Him not to cast them out in the open, an HE cast them into the herd of swine. Swine run down the cliff into the sea, because they couldn't contain the legion of demons... BUT ONE MAN COULD!
      Here you have it demonstrated WHY a man can do such evil... Osama Bin Laden was one of those.... The truth is, many people in this day and time are literally possessed by demonic spirits. That's why we have evil so rampant in the world today, but we haven't seen nothing yet, what we will see, before all things are accomplished! We are NOT living in ordinary times, that's for certain!

      May 5, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  20. Muneef

    There you are:

    http://bible.cc/proverbs/1-26.htm

    May 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • David

      Taken in the full context of Proverbs 6, you are only referencing a quote made by the anthropomorphic representation of wisdom, during a warning Solomon is giving to his son. I do not see how it is relevant to this discussion.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • John

      I am a veteran, a taxpayer and a grandfather. We reap what we sew!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 8:16 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.