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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. Dorkus Maximus

    As an atheist, I'd like to say you don't have to be a "person of faith" to find it morally wrong to cheer the death of someone. Morality is not the sole provence of the religious.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • lisat

      Thank you Dorkus, my thoughts EXACTLY! It's unfortunate how we're not even considered.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • LR

      Could not be a more accurate statement.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  2. Dave

    Listen, usually I would say you shouldn't cheer when someone dies. We're all people in the end – right? But if something feels that right, it can't be wrong. Let your hair down. Cheer! Dance! Bye bye osama bin-fcukhead.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  3. teenagedream.

    while i do not disagree that the killing of bin laden was necessary, the celebration appals me. when i first heard, i felt kind of bad. Yes, he was an evil man who did horrible, horrible things to not only our country but others. but this does not mean we should dance over his death. there are people all over the world who think our country is the evil one, that our president is evil. heck, there are tons of people in our own country who think our president is evil. our dancing over his grave is no better than what they might do to us. people need to learn to think about it, to put it into perspective. this celebration is slightly ignorant of the billions of people on the planet. i'm 16 and i can see that.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Tannous

      Agreed. Smart post, teenagedream.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Goodebeats

    By celebrating the death of another human being, regardless of how evil they may or may not have been, makes you no better then the accused party. Never forget WE (or should I say the CIA) made Osama Bin Ladin what he is/was. The US government supported the Taliban when it suited their intersts. We as Americans are hypocrites and should be ashamed for how the country is acting.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  5. IceT

    I bellieve it is not only acceptable but is actually morally natural to celebrate the death of someone who actively sought the killing of innocent people. Just like when a man eating tiger is killed, villiagers celebrate their freedom from fear. It's the same when the animal is human.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  6. anonymous

    "I will 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 6:30 pm |
  7. 802mrbill

    It's not the death of a man but the life of an idea we are celebrating, and that we still have the will and confidence in our life to defend that idea.

    Nevertheless, I suspect that what a lot of people in the Arab world feel is respect for strength. Brute strength included. The tolerate "The Big Man" because they respect his strength, whether he be a tyrant or not, whether be be Saddam or Mugabe or Idi Amin, they see them as possessed of a touch of supernatural power that they could never imagine in their own lives. And in that sense, this celebrating in the streets here speaks to them in a language they understand.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Tannous

      LOLOLOLOL, says the guy who more than likely voted Bush into office. BUSH is a bigger example of extremism than most Arab leaders. He was a nazi like no other. Stop believing you are free, mrbill, you're not. What you are is a sheep living in a country that promotes as much and often more hate as all the places you fight against.

      This board is a classic example given all the blood thirsty Americans on here.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  8. Jenea

    You don't have to a person of faith to feel ambivalent about this. As a humanist, the custom of gloating gleefully and with blood lust over the violent destruction of our enemies is not my favorite thing about human beings. Even if I can agree that Bin Laden was a criminal and worse, and it is a good thing that he is no longer among us, I can not in good conscience celebrate his murder. Furthermore, I am deeply disturbed by the depraved imagination I am seeing in comment sections across the internet where many are indulging in some seriously violent fantasies about what they might like to do to Bin Laden or his corpse. Aren't we above all of that, people?

    May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  9. Holly

    As a Christian (Methodist), I believe that we have an obligation to stand up and destroy evil (Satan) whenever and wherever we see it, in whichever form it takes. In this case, it took the form of bin Laden. Although the Bible reads, "Thou shalt not kill," I firmly believe that destroying evil is not what God meant.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Tannous

      only a Christian could come up with such a ridiculous reason for justice. Within your words sow the seeds of terrorism. You hate what Arabs do and say, yet you say exactly what you blame us for. YOU are an example of being no better than that which you fight hardest against. I can guarantee what you say is not what your God teaches. it's a pity you don't understand your religion and its teachings better.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • revhuck

      As a Methodist pastor, I am sorry you feel this way. I know it is the popular and even a natural reaction. But as Christians we are called to be transformed, different from what the world tells us to be. I take no pleasure in the death of anyone. You can argue his death was necessary to relieve oppression or to stop his evil acts, but rejoicing in his death is not something we should feel as Christians.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Jeff

      You know what's funny, Tannous? You preaching right and wrong from your moral high ground while judging everyone who doesn't have the same opinion as you.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  10. FloridaDave

    Apparently, his god was weaker!

    May 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Luigi

      The Jewish God, the Christian God and the Islamic God are all the same God. Google "God of Abraham" and see what you get. Look at the URL from beliefnet if you want something clear.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  11. Tannous

    Show some respect even for someone who supposedly committed crimes.

    How would you feel if a group of Iraqis and Afghani's stormed Texas and shot Bush in the head? He committed many similar hate filled crimes against Arab nations. Don't cheer death, even your enemies.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  12. DanH

    Bin Laden died decades ago when he allowed his entire soul to be consumed by bitterness and hated. That is what should be mourned. Evil took over his mind and body, and that evil is now gone. Hoorah

    May 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Tannous

      and you think you are any less evil filled with such hatred? You might want to contemplate your own issues before deciding if someone else's fate is just or not.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  13. Ernesto K.

    Yes

    May 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  14. Chris

    Probably not but I'm not a strong enough man to resist cheering in this particular case.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  15. Christopher

    Are you Fing kidding me CNN? Are we not allowed to be proud anymore about winning? We the F do you want us to do? go to Pakistan and shake hands with the Taliban saying "good game". The world is NOT always god damn grey, We killed a bad man. I dont give a crap what Arabs think he was, he was a BAD man to us. Our people. We should celebrate his end.

    Get off your high horse people and stop being weak little globalists that think a hug and a kiss can cure all the worlds ills, somebody MUST win, somebody MUST lose, that is REALITY.. We won, be happy. Today the Tribe of America was victorious.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Romin

      The world is what we make of it. If we claim to hold the moral high ground we have to show the world when things like this happen that even though we can take out a bad guy. We wont stoop down to the level of those who would cheer the deaths of americans in the middle east.

      No one is saying we SHOULDNT celebrate. If you want to; go ahead no one can stop you. But the moral question is. SHOULD we? Its a good question. Imo.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • StandFast

      @Christopher: I know you would like to believe there are winners and losers but, in truth, there are no winners in war.

      America could choose its reaction and you guys chose to dance in the streets like the jihadists you condemn. Your reaction would have been much more meaningful to the world had your nation taken the high road here.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  16. Dywlf

    dam n right its ok to cheer, some people need kil ling.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  17. Karen

    At least I wasn't the only one who felt it was wrong. God Bless us all for we are all sinners but some things just go up and beyond the call. I am so thankful for our military and not a day goes by I do not think of all who has given so much for us still here at home, my prayers and heart filled thank you to all and to all that has lost loved ones because of this mess we have found ourselves in. But to rejoice just lowers ourselves to their level and I always prided myself that the United States was above that. But as I can tell the past few years I am getting an eye awakening that makes me weep most days. What has happened to morals and values of the American people? What has happened to the pride of the American people? People need to remember, God said “forsake me and I shall forsake you”, to bad most Americans have turned their back to God.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  18. Todd Chavey

    Are you any different celebrating taking a life than the people in the Middle East celebrating takikng a life, innocent or not?

    May 2, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  19. budgiegirl

    It's one thing to be relieved at the man's death – even to rejoice is understandable.
    But the chants of U-S-A, U-S-A?
    That to me is so low-brow. frankly seems downright brutish and pathetic.
    Only in America do we treat our wars like sporting events.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • JumpingJackBlack

      The man was like Hitler. He used his wife as a human shield. Even Hitler did not do that. His death is a cause for celebration.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • what the

      I guarantee you after the revolutionary war our founding fathers got drunk and celebrated

      May 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Felicitations

      Do you not recall seeing photos of Palestinians dancing in the street and cheering after 9/11?

      May 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Luigi

      @Felicitations, yes the "only in America" was a mistake on the OP's part.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Al

      Felicitations,

      Are you agreeing and saying that Americans, like the Palestinians, are pathetic?

      May 2, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  20. Scarythought

    I felt sickened by the celebrations. This should've been more about healing and somber reflection than running around like frat boys at a kegger. I feel no safer with him gone because there are plenty waiting to become the new figurehead for terrorism. This cycle will never end. I can only hope that his death helps those who have lost their loved ones to this man gain closure or at least a little respite from their grief.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • ozzie

      If it gives you any consolation, it's likely he died of kidney disease. I see the DNA test, there's a picture – but no autopsy ..?

      May 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Luigi

      @Ozzie, I'd like you to come up with more than that before you, in effect, call a SEAL a liar.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:41 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.