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. Justin Lo

    Osama was a terrible person. He killed thousands of innocent people. However, celebrating his death just isn't morally right. When the Muslims danced around on the streets when the towers came crashing down, we felt so mad. And now we're doing the same thing. Doesn't that make us hypocrites? I know, a lot of people feel so sad that he killed many of our family members. And now that he's dead, we can feel a good sense of closure and relief from the fact that he will never murder anybody ever again. But he is still a living creature, and killing living creatures is a sin, whether you're religious or not. Killing him was fine because he was a terrorist but the celebration of his death and the ecstasy it gave everybody was absolutely unnecessary. You don't have to mourn the guy nor do you have to go get drunk with happiness about it. Just be happy that the murderer is gone and out of our lives.

    May 9, 2011 at 6:11 am |
  2. Oliver Xu

    I think it is morally wrong to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden. When the 9/11 incident occurred, many members of the Taliban celebrated it as a success. Americans reacted violently to this, becoming extremely mad at the fact that the Taliban celebrated this crisis. As a result, a lot of hate was channeled towards Middle Eastern communities living in the United States of America. If people celebrate Bin Laden's death, it would be the exact same act as the Taliban celebrating 9/11. In Taliban eyes, it would be extremely rude for people to celebrate the death of their "leader." Also, if people celebrate, the Taliban may react violently, likely inflicting more terrorism in the future.

    May 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  3. HighSchoolBasketballNerd

    I think for this instance, it could be morally right. For example, if you lived in NYC during the attacks, and the plane that crashed into the WTC killed several of your relatives, it would only be natural to celebrate the death of a man who caused so much pain and suffering for you and your family. In Bin Laden's case, he caused the deaths of so many American civilians and soldiers, and with him finally gone, the American government can see that as a good sign for their war on terrorism. Bin Laden has caused nothing but pain and suffering for not only Christians but Muslims alike, as he has created this worldwide scare on Muslim and Arabic people, the perception people have that Arabs and Muslim civilians are terrorists that will bomb their cities and planes. Good riddance to Bin Laden

    May 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  4. HKIS130586

    I believe that the fact that we are all celebrating Osama Bin Laden's death is not humane. Because no matter how bad a person's actions are, it is wrong to celebrate death. Yes, I agree that the celebration is not just about the murder of Osama, but also about USA's victory in the Middle East, and I agree that the celebration of war is ok. But I don't think that we should celebrate the death of a certain someone because I believe that death is a sensitive issue, and if we are celebrating death, then we are doing the same thing Osama was doing to begin with.

    May 8, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  5. 130908

    The celebration of any death is not a virtuous thing to do, as said by Rick Halperin, “Killing someone should never be a cause for celebration or joy.” I agree that “The best reaction would be somber reflection”, no matter who the person is. American’s should feel proud and relieved that they finally got rid of their number one enemy after trying for 10 years, however, their extensive and continuous celebration is too much. Their celebration may cause them more threats and trouble in the future, because Osama Bin Laden is not the only villain out there. Bin Laden has been a public enemy for more than 30 years, he is the one responsible for over thousands of deaths, so people should not be blamed for their excitement and joy, however people should be more careful about their overreactions and the possible consequences.

    May 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  6. 140793

    Yes, I am satisfied about Osama Bin Laden's death, but celebrating his death is very inappropriate. Actually celebrating anyones death is extremely impolite even if they could be one of your enemies. By watching the news it is hard to hear about it all because we are acting like fools. Parading in the streets is taking it a bit too far. Also half the kids that are American that I have talked to have come up to me and said something like, "Yay for being American". This doesn't help anything, but show how we are responding to his death. We shouldn't be celebrating his death as much as thinking of all those who have lost their lives in the incident or serving as troops. I'm not saying that Osama Bin Laden's death is bad because personally I am quite happy about it, but I do think that we could have handled the situation better instead of taking it too far.

    May 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  7. 140793

    Yes, it is nice to hear that Osama Bin Laden is dead, but the fact that we are celebrating his death is definitely inappropriate. In fact we shouldn't be celebrating anyones death even if it is our biggest enemy. It is so hard listening to the news about all of this because we are making ourselves look like fools. Parading in the streets is taking it way to far. Also about half the kids that are American that I have talked to are coming up to me and saying something like, "Yay for being American". It makes us sound ignorant and really we should be thinking about all of those who are lost their live in the incident or serving as troops I'm not saying that Osama's death is bad, because personally I am quite happy about this, but we didn't act the right way about his death.

    May 8, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  8. 140041 (Big Head)

    Bin Laden's death was definitely relieving, and justice has definitely been served

    No one's going to deny that

    But how can we celebrate the death of a man, no matter how notorious he was?

    When Americans began fighting this war, didn't we believe that we had the proper morals? At least compared to the Islams? Isn't that why we fought the war, to correct those who celebrate death and appreciate terrorism and its outcomes. The original intention behind this war was to serve and teach justice to those who didn't know justice. However, now that we are celebrating the death of a man, no matter how kind or cruel he was, it descends us to to the level of terrorists and Al-Qaeda. We no longer have the right to say that we are the righteous ones, the ones with the correct morals and ethics.

    How can we tell anybody to stop taking lives when we are celebrating deaths?

    Like an old chinese saying that states: "In order to have power in an argument, you must first not violate any laws yourself"

    Yet, we are being the prime example of what we SHOULD not be, we have violated every rule there is to violate in the Christian Bible in regards to this situation. This time, we are the ones who are at fault. We are now the prime example of hypocrites to the rest of international society.

    The idea of somber reflection is correct. Now that the man is gone, we must reflect on his past wrongs, and determine to ourselves, each one of us as individuals, why these ideals were wrong. Then, we must take care to not repeat these mistakes ourselves. History has been recorded and learned so that we will learn and not repeat mistakes from our ancestors, and I believe that Bin Laden's actions and death should serve as a great lesson to all those who are celebrating and throwing parties over a man's death.

    May 8, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • 140041 (Big Head)

      GAH, just realized something. On the fourth paragraph, I didn't mean Islams, I was referring to the Al-Qaeda,

      To all Muslims who are reading this, I apologize for my natural and subconscious stereotyping.

      May 8, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  9. 130562

    The celebrations on the streets were inappropriate to the point of vulgarity. It is one thing to be proud of and respect the bravery of the solider's who put their own lives in jeopardy to avenge the deaths of thousands who have lost their lives because of Osama bin Laden, but another thing entirely to celebrate his death. I don't think that his loss is a tragic one but celebrating death of any kind is fundamentally wrong. The way we have reacted to the death of our enemy says something about us; we must remember that when we have an enemy we make ourselves into an enemy as well, and we were horrified when our enemies celebrated in the streets because of 9/11 and yet now we are behaving the same way. Are we no better than the one's we hate? I am fairly certain that those who actually lost someone close to them are not partaking in drunken celebration but rather solemn reflection because though BIn Laden's death does not mend the loss I would imagine that it at least brings a sense of closure.

    Also, the "Obama: 1 Osama: 0" are tragically inaccurate. Bin laden was killed when Obama was president that is true, but Osama Bin Laden killed thousands and thousands of people.

    May 8, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  10. 140551 HK

    Killing someone should never be a cause for celebration or joy,” says Rick Halperin
    Although it seems reasonable to some to celebrate the death of someone who planned the death of over 3000 civilians, I personally think that this is not right since we're stooping down to their level of playing. Sure, it could be an act of vengeance and fulfillment to some people or the belief that justice is served for those innocent people. But when your actually celebrating the death of someone, it probably makes you feel disgusted inside.While you guys are busy celebrating on the streets, it probably caused a lot of Al-Qaeda hatred and enmity towards Americans and who knows, they may plan another terrorist attack because of your disrespect towards the dead. This cycle of hatred will definitely not end soon since as you know, there could be many people to take Osama's place as the head of Al-Qaeda and take revenge. I hope this meaningless celebration of the dead just end and that we can have some kind of self control so we don't have to repeat this kind of incident again and have this ongoing conflict.

    May 8, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  11. 140291

    I think it is morally wrong for people to celebrate someones death because it would be inhumane in a way. The Americans (mainly New Yorkers) are happy of the death of Bin Ladden because of what Al-Qaeda done to New York on September 11. But when Obama mentioned "justice has been done" on his speech, it suddenly doesn't feel as though justice has been done but revenge. It feels as though the Americans are celebrating because thats what he deserves for bombing the Twin Towers, but referring to the Bible, doesn't it state that revenge is bad? What has Jesus and the Bible taught us? Many great leaders such as Martin Luther King made many good speeches on how revenge is bad. If justice has been done then surely the Americans could have captured Bin Ladden and trialed him, but instead, he is dead. Thats how justice is served.

    May 8, 2011 at 3:26 am |
  12. 130010HK

    I think that the celebration of anyone's death whether it is Osama Bin Laden or a saint is morally wrong. Although I know many people are relieved at the fact that the person responsible for so many deaths is finally dead himself, but people shouldn't translate this relief into drunken revelry. Al-Qaeda has already confirmed Osama's death and have warned that joy will turn into tears as a retaliation attack is incredibly likely. Death is always a sad event and there shouldn't be anybody who is happy at anybody's death. On a side note I feel that the US government has not dealt with this situation properly, there are too many rumors going around and the US should dispel those rumors by saying how he died. The troops who were involved in the act of killing Bin Laden shouldn't have done so as you can say that is what the US is against. It would've been more morally correct had they captured him and brought him to the US for trial and they might have gained valuable intelligence in their fight to stop Al-Qaeda's activities. Although the US felt it was correct to bury him at sea so that his body becomes a shrine, this is disrespectful towards Muslim law which says the body should only be buried at sea if there is no other alternative. The US should've buried him according to Muslim traditions in an undisclosed location so that it doesn't become a shrine but it deals with Muslim traditions properly

    May 7, 2011 at 4:34 am |
  13. Duke

    "Weapons are tools of misfortune,
    not tools of the noble-minded.
    When there's no other way,
    they take up weapons with tranquil calm,
    finding no glory in victory.

    To find glory in victory,
    is to savor killing people.
    when so many people are being killed
    it should be done with tears and mourning,
    And victory too should be conducted like a funeral."
    –Tao Te Ching, 31

    May 7, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • Chuangtzu

      nice post.

      May 9, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Turning Texas Blue

      "Why would we think our reaction would not be seen as (just as) disgusting behavior to them?” – Couldn't have put this any clearer. How could any reasonable person argue with this logic? So, is our nation chock full of unreasonable people? What a sad, disappointing commentary.

      May 9, 2011 at 2:37 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.