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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. joepa

    Now that Bin Laden is dead can we pull out of Afganistan? To me that would be worth it!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  2. Khaled Anntar

    This is just pathetic; it shows the bloody nature of human beings. Some Muslims cheered when the planes hit the twin towers on Sep 11 and here are the Americans and their supporters cheering for spilling more blood, more violence. But really is this going to make the United States of America Safer or going to end the roots of terrorism and violence????? Think it over and over again and if we are inclined to believe that the US is going to uproot all "Terrorist Muslims" and there will be no more violence or killing, we are just deceiving ourselves.

    Simply the killing of Osama Bin Laden has ushered in a new phase of the war between the Jihadists and the US along with their Western allies and of course Israel. Bin Laden had no Operational or logistical powers in the last years so getting rid of Osama Bin Laden has cost the American Tax Payers billions of Dollars for no value in return. It would have cost the US Government far less to eliminate the roots of terrorism than to start launching a war with clear goals except to hunt and kill any one who threaten the security of the US and its allies.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  3. Rob Hannigan

    Yes of course it is alright to celebrate. Would you question the people in 1945 who celebrated after they heard Adolf Hitler had killed himself? I seriously hope you wouldn't as I seriously hope you do not now. The war against terrosism isn't over because Al Qaeda and others like this organization still exist. However we just took out the figure head of this organization. So take heart and enjoy in the good things in life such as the one we are feeling now.
    Don't start dividing each other so soon you guys. We are Americans and those that still remember who unified we became on 9/11 we can do that again now. Don't let any country take us apart. God Bless America.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  4. icedawg

    Romans 13:2-4 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  5. Sara

    There were muslims in the middle east that were celebrating in the streets, as seen on TV. Or did you forget that little tidbit.
    So what is wrong with americans celebrating the same way.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  6. thespiritguy

    I remember watching the movie 'Cujo' when I was a kid. I understood the dog was just that, a dog but, I was relieved when he was finally killed. I feel the same way about the dog who killed almost three thousand Americans. I'm not getting out the party poppers yet but, I'm relieved he's gone. Is that wrong?

    May 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  7. Steve

    I do not rejoice over his death, but I do regret that he ever lived in the first place.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  8. NS

    Lets not bring ourself down to the level of those we dont like by cheering someones pain and death.. Lets not become the same people that we dont agree with.. lets not lose our compassion and value for pain and suffering of all of Gods creation due to external influence..

    May 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  9. Devil's_Advocate

    They (Muslims)celebrated in the streets, when 9/11 happened. We give them BILLIONS in aid, and they still hate us. I say celebrate the fall of our enemy. We should not turn the other cheek and give them an excuse to send terrorist again. If they don't like, bomb them again and remind them what it means to be our enemy.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Brooke

      Realize that there is a difference between Muslims and terrorists. Many Muslims hated the man as much as we do.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  10. B

    I myself am not religious, but normally I wouldn't cheer the death of someone.

    In this case, I do.

    Osama bin-Laden and al-Qaeda cheered the deaths of innocent Americans at the World Trade Centers and other Flights on September 11, 2001.

    Justice has now been done.

    So now it's our turn to cheer the death of the man who plotted and then cheered innocent deaths on our shores ten years ago.

    Karma has come back to bite you in the butt, Osama. May you rot in hell for all eternity you evil, worthless, inhumane person.

    USA! USA! USA!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  11. Neo

    There is nothing morally wrong in killing pests/rodents like osama bin laden......in other words killing a pesky rat would be much more morally wrong than killing this terrorist!!!!!! CONGRATS WORLD!!!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  12. Joe from Kalispell

    Hell yes it's OK to cheer and don't let anyone tell you different. A monster as bad as any in history met his end and the world is better for it.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • nana

      he was a evil man , he didnt even deserve to breath the same air we do ,and im sorry but our lord did not make evil he made beauty and that anit nothing beautyto look at ,i hope that sob rots in hell. i never will feel bad about his death never .we need to remember all the people that died on 911 cause of that monster .i think they need to release pics if u dont wont to c them dont look

      May 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  13. Full Tank

    Religion or god has nothing to do with it. He was a virus or cancer on humankind, and just like that should be destroyed without a hint of sorrow or cheer. Move on to the next one and get it done.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • YeahRight

      So, if an Iraq said that about George W Bush for invading their country for no reason you would still hold onto your hate filled remarks? They would be valid in saying it about President Bush based on your logic. It goes both ways. When will it stop...

      May 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  14. david

    I thought you were innocent until proven guilty in Americia? To celebrate one of GOD's creations dieing not born again is not ok

    May 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Joe from Kalispell

      He is guilty and needed no trial. As far a God's creation you may be right, but he has been Satan's child for decades.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • airwx

      @ David...I agree with your second statement....but must remind you that Bin Ladin made a "confession video" in which he is jubilant over the unexpected level of damage.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Army Guy

      David, he was not in America for starters, plus we know he was guilty, we have spent 10 years proving that, I have the names of three brave Soldiers I have served with who have died in combat because of this man, without a doubt the right thing was done

      May 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Rexford F.

      Innocent until proven guilty? Yes according to US Laws except in WAR !!!. If we captured in the US, I would agree. However......

      What would Sharia law do to him? Nothing.

      Remember, we did not start this WAR of attrition and it is very shadowy. War is wrong. But for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.

      Good riddance !!! He was a stain of brown streak underwear of the good Muslim people.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Rick

      Well, he didn't consider himself one of GOD'S creatures, now did he?

      May 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • joepa

      Would your delicate sensibilities be satisfied if a few more Americans, say soldiers or law enforcement die in order to bring him in alive to be PROVEN guilty? Please!!!

      May 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  15. Stevie

    Yeah, we win. Bin Laden is dead. Our country is bankrupt, many US citizens paid with blood, but hey that is all behind us now and it was all worth it. Now that the threat is finished we can bring our troops back, right?. Oh, I forgot there is still that pesky invisible or imagined Al Qaeda to fight, but I am sure our government can borrow more money to kill them too and will tell us when we will be safe from them. Hopefully, before a loaf of bread costs $100.00.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  16. Day Cross

    This was from a friend of a friend...and it expresses my personal sentiments. I AM glad we are hopefully rid of a terrorist element, however....
    "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 7:19 pm |
  17. Magic

    I am happy that bin Laden has been taken out of circulation. I would be just as happy if he had been captured alive and imprisoned. There would be repercussions from his followers in either event. I do not get extra joy from his death.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • KBowman

      It is also ignorant on our part to believe that with him gone that it has all been taken care of. What about the countless numbers that he has trained....and who knows, they always have a successor

      May 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  18. Brian Ellis

    My thoughts echo this Martin Luther King quote: "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", in the following blog post: http://findreallove.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/thou-shalt-not-kill-period/ .

    May 2, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Jane Marie Law

      Amen. We can show we are a decent people by reacting to this news with the sobriety that the losses of the last decade demand.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • KBowman

      Well put-that is a great quote!!

      May 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Adam

      Spoken like someone who has lost nothing. Who has the right to judge? All his victims do. He and the people who follow him are a bunch of monsters and they got what they deserved. Remember how they were all dancing in the streets on 9/11 handing out candy to kids? A lot of people are going to sleep better tonight knowing that maggot is dead. He was not poor and uneducated he could have chose a better life he decided to kill instead. Good riddance

      May 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Brian

      Thank you for bringing some sanity to this situation. While I am glad that he will no longer be around to commit heinous acts of violence, I think it is unseemly to dance in the streets and celebrate.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  19. Paula

    It isnt just Christians who find celebrating his death wrong, people of others faiths or no faith (me), feel the same. I wouldnt celebrate anyones death, not even his. Not only is it disgusting but it does no good. It doesnt bring back those lost and it doesnt change the game. Its been 10 years, Osama is no longer their man. He hasnt been for a long time. Our troops will NOT be coming home. If anything, they will be gone longer and the fight will grow worse. Nonetheless, what those soldiers did was brave and the right thing to do. I commend them for their courage and service. I am glad that Osama's rein of terror is over but I will not join the crowds celebrating his murder.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Dan

      "His murder"???? Those 2 words say a lot about you.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  20. cassandra

    Thank you for this important article. No, it isn't morally right at all. But this article does a nice job being careful about making this point.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:13 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.