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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. LK2

    You might feel some sympathy and morals for someone who was a human being, but did something "bag", but not horrendous or barbaric. But Osama Bin Rottin was not a human being. Just keep remembering how HE laughed when he saw the footage of the towers where 3,000 died a horrific, painful, frightening death. I am not an insensitive person, but I would have spat on his dead body had I been given the chance.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  2. SYNERGY

    I thought it was a bit awkward at first to celebrate, but then a sense of joy and patriotism overwhelmed me. This man was a murderer and I am glad he departed the earth by American hands. I am glad to see my fellow American's celebrating this is a new dawn in the United States. Dictators and enemies of America around the world have called us a paper tiger for far too long because we couldn't find one old man. Well guys we got him and this is our way of showing those doubters that America is still strong. I feel the sense of unity that I felt on 9/12/01 when i heard this news. I am proud of our fighting men and women and damn proud to be an American.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Keith B

    will god and angels celebrate when the final battle is won ..i am not christian just wondering

    May 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  4. Marti

    How can you not celebrate the end of evil and terrorism? To his dying day, that bstrd devised ways to kill Americans. Sadly, we are living in an age where it seems inappropriate to voice your opinions or show emotions. Celebrating this monster's death is the same as celebrating the lives that he can no longer snuff out.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • NOTA LIBY

      thank you! someoe else sees my point!

      May 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  5. driftingspecter

    >
    >> cheering the end of a killer of innocents should, on moral grounds, be embraced by the human race.
    >
    Then why aren't we killing and celebrating the end of American servicemen who hunted and killed innocent civilians in Afghanistan??

    May 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Religious sects

      How many times do I need to answer & how many times are you going to repost without responding? An intentional killer of innocents is an enemy of the human species and needs to be put down.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  6. steph

    "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 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Marti

      Sorry that you've living in such a dark place. Wake up Steph. It really is okay to hate evil. When you take darkness out of the world, it leaves more light.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  7. Lotawata

    When I heard Bin Laden had been killed, I thought to myself "I wonder how much money has been spent over the years on this fiasco".

    Then I got on the internet and saw pictures of Americans celebrating. What?! Most of these pictures showed college students having a party. They were in grade school when 9/11 occurred and I highly doubt any of them were impacted by that tragedy in any way. What do they have to celebrate about? The death of a man? Disturbing for us. We're supposed to be better than the animals we see on TV worshipping death.

    Or maybe they are celebrating the loss of so many freedoms that have been taken away from them by an overreaching government. Of course, they don't even comprehend this. They were children when those freedoms began to be taken away. Ah, but who cares. It's party time. Let's go celebrate death and wasted money.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Leann

      How can you possible say that none of them were affected in anyway on 9/11? EveryAmerican was affected. You don't know who they held close to their heart or who they lost on 9/11. Your assumption is ignorant.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Kate

      I was in middle school when 9/11 occurred. I heard the report that the plane hit the first tower on the radio, and alerted my parents who turned on the news to see the second plane hit. My mother cried on the way to school. A friend lost an uncle in the towers. I had nightmares for years about burning buildings. I would argue that people my age were equally affected by the events of 9/11 because it was the first tragedy of that scale that we were aware enough to witness and remember. My generation spent our formative years growing up in the shadow of two wars. We saw our rights taken away by the PATRIOT act just when we were learning about what it meant to be an American citizen. We read the news and heard the statistics of how many American military members died in Iraq and Afghanistan and how many thousands and hundreds of thousands more Iraqi and Afghan civilians were killed. Most importantly, WE were the force that elected the President that finally found Bin Laden. Are we celebrating because it's another excuse for a party? No. Because a man was killed? No. For me, perhaps it's the end of a dark ten years, a decade that was a little less than half of my lifetime. To discredit the young people of this country is to discredit the generation that will soon inherit the troubles that were handed down to us.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Adam

      And we have a winner for the most ignorant comment! Congrats moron!

      Kate- couldn't have said it better. Im from NY and I just started high school when 9/11 happened. It affected EVERYONE I spoke to. No one that I knew directly perished but I have heard heart breaking stories. As for the topic of money, I think its a little late to start complaining about the time and money spent on these wars. Obviously our deficit would be a little less daunting without two plus wars.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  8. york way

    Death should never be celebrated. This is a message that no matter how long it takes we will come for you. It was a task we had to do and we should feel satisfaction but not joy that we accomplished the task.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  9. NOTA LIBY

    excuse me for interjecting but since when is this homicidal lunatic a human-being? why should he be given respect when he kills almost 3000 INNOCENT, let me make this clear...INNOCENT!!!!!!!!!! people soely because they were americans? why must these pius people try to make everything a time of morning? i for one wish i couldve been infront of the white house last night/early this morning to CELEBRATE this lunatics death...the only regrets i have of his death was that it was swift and painless and not painful

    May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  10. Erin

    I am grateful that this topic was covered today although I agree with an earlier post questioning the author's decision to limit the scope of his interviews to representatives of established faiths. Each person, regardless of his or her religious preference (or lack thereof) struggles with his or her own personal sense of morality and this question is therefore not a strictly religious one. I was personally very disturbed by the emergence of profanity laced facebook comments and celebratory rallies that were prompted by last night's announcement. While the death of bin Laden is in many ways a relief and the accomplishment of a military for which I am extremely grateful, I cannot find death of any kind a source of celebration or happiness. As for this apparent new wave of patriotism, I sincerely hope that an event such as this is not needed for the people of this country to be appreciative of it. But again, as I said earlier, it is a matter of each individual's conscience.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  11. PDX

    No one is going to "shout you down" for not celebrating his death driftingspecter...

    With that said, there is no shame to celebrating the death of someone who I barely consider human. An animal that rammed four planes full of innocent people into buildings or the countryside. If you can't celebrate the rightful vengeance visited upon a person that would kill millions given the opportunity, what the hell can you celebrate?

    May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  12. Alex in NJ

    People against the death penalty often as those in favor if they would push the button. People against the torture of terrorists often ask if those in favor could actually hold them down and pour water over their heads or carry out any of the other methods. People opposed to celebrating bin Laden's death will ask those celebrating if they could have pulled the trigger. I answer yes to all three. God may have forgiven him for this, who knows, but I know I sure as hell haven't

    May 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  13. Religious sects

    Since morals are the result of milenia of evolution's necessity to continue the human species, cheering the end of a killer of innocents should, on moral grounds, be embraced by the human race.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Keith B

      w00t w00t !!

      May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  14. Dead Fish

    DCPete,
    Way to stereotype! I'm a liberal and I did a jigg! I couldn't be happier that he's dead. Don't assume the people interviewed for this story are liberal hippies. They are christians and other religious people!!!!!!!! Martin Luther King said something very similar to what they are saying and why? Because he was a christian minister. Period.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  15. Donnie

    ‎"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 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  16. Lifewhispers

    No, I do not feel celebratory at the death of Osama bin Laden. I am somewhat embarrassed that it took over ten years for our military to get the job done. It cost how many billions of dollars and how many thousands or millions of man hours to track this lunatic down? Has there ever been a more expensive fugitive in the history of mankind? How much will it cost and how long will it take to find and neutralize Osama bin Laden's successor? Do we even know who that is?

    And, yet, some of us pretend to care about the budget deficit. Go figure that our lust for vengeance would outweigh our sense of fiscal responsibility.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • jon

      The United States is a bunch of weenies if they do not celebrate the death of this terrorist. Get real you weenies!

      May 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  17. J-bird

    Last night I thought it was awkward to see all the celebrating. To each their own. But we have to take into consideration that the media was soaking up all the celebrations for their ratings. That's when it becomes disgusting and made me feel like I was watching the celebrations of Americans being killed. I definitely have mixed emotions about the celebrations.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  18. Brooke

    I've though a lot about this topic throughout the day. And I just can't help but be elated that this evil man is gone from this earth. Whether that is right or wrong, it is how I am feeling.

    This statement stood out to me: "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?” I agree that we are repulsed when we see other nations dancing over the death of Americans. But we are not dancing over the death of a Muslim. We are dancing over the death of a terrorist. I have Muslim friends whom I love dearly and the have good hearts. I cannot associate them with this evil man.

    So I agree, morally, it may be wrong to celebrate OBL's death. But in my heart of hearts, I am thankful knowing that he can't directly cause more pain to this country.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Michelle Shira

      You took the words right out of mouth Brooke.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  19. etwiltse

    Was it all right for out grandparents to cheer the death of Hilter? I'm sorry, but when a source of evil and the cause of the suffering of millions is killed, you're damn right I'll cheer and hope he burns in Hell.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • StandFast

      The death of Hitler was not cheered. The end of the war was cheered. There is a significant difference here as the war against terror is not over.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Adam

      The dealth of Hitler was inevitable, his own commanders plotted to kill him many times. He went out like a coward and was just considered an afterthought to the end of the war. Remember when right after 9/11 people wanted justification for this senselessness. When those playing cards with the "targets" on them came out, Osama was on the ace of spades. Everyone bought into this "propaganda" and now there are hypocrites crying that we shouldn't cheer for the extermination of this person. He's not a person, more like a demon. Good riddance, on to the next one.

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

      i agree 100000000000000000000000000000%

      May 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  20. driftingspecter

    >
    >> Me being Christian doesn't mean I can't be glad for Bin Laden's death. He was a war criminal
    >
    Then let us kill American war criminals... those who hunted innocent civilians in Afghanistan and killed them for sport!!

    May 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Religious sects

      Again, of course! Are you trying to be ironic or sarcastic. It is NOT ok to kill innocent people, whether in the military or not. Staying on topic... Bin Laden was not an innocent.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:53 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.