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. Bjamil

    Israeli's are bstards. Racist and Subjugegating B'stards at that. I hate my country for doing their bidding. As an Black American I make it my purpose to abuse Jews every time possible in NYC. Welcome to Heaven OBH. Glad you went out fighting and was not captured..


    May 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  2. Joyce

    "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.

    As human beings, whether Christian, Jew, atheist or agnostic, we have the ability to chose who and what to celebrate, that much is clear. After 9/11, many chose to celebrate the death of American "infidels", people who believed differently than them. We were believed to have shallow values, little respect for others beliefs, a focus on consumerism and a whole lot of other customs that conflict with their own. And we were regarded as a threat to their fundamental beliefs. Right or wrong, that is how they viewed us, and that was the motivation for what happened on 9/11.

    Now that Osama bin Laden is dead; he could be viewed as a martyr, and inspire additional actions against who we are and what we represent to our muslim enemies. Celebrating his death will only cause them to hate us more, and to escalate whatever plans might be in place. We would be better to mourn a life that could have been much better spent, gifts that could have been much better used. He was a leader and influenced many...yet, instead of influencing and leading them to something better, he influenced and led them to hate and destruction. I cannot celebrate anyone's death, and I certainly cannot celebrate the life of someone whose talents for leadership and influence were used to inspire hate and destruction.

    With Osama's death, the worst thing we can do is make a martyr out of him by celebrating his death. Better that we should mourn the life of one so talented, because the use of his talents became so perverted, than celebrate his death, where there is now no chance of redemption.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Joyce

      An important clarification I must make is that only some Muslims are our enemies; those that believe we must be destroyed. I do not believe that most Muslims believe we must be destroyed, and and I want to let them know that.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  3. Ken in Miami

    I see nothing wrong with celebrating the death of a monster. Like the Nazi's, those who follow Bin Laden's brand of Islam would exterminate all who do not follow their twisted ideals. Jews, Christians, moderate Muslim's, Hindu, makes no difference.
    I fired up a fine cigar and poured myself a drink and remembered the video of Osama and his buddies celebrating the collapse of the towers. Good riddance, now let's take out the rest of his crew.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  4. Saturn830

    bin Laden's death means he is no longer able to orchestrate attacks or spread twisted ideology. He was never going to be taken alive, he had that chance and made the choice to fight. It was either kill him or allow him to continue his operations. Anyone who thinks that his removal from play isn't something to be happy about is delusional. We even gave this guy a proper burial according to the traditions of his faith. The most moral path of action has been taken for this scenario.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  5. gutsy

    Shut up ya bunch of whining wheely wonks. The guy had it comin. Good for America – just count the many lives that he would have taken had America not taken the moral corridor to end this stain of human existence.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • JediMasterMatt

      I agree...so everyone condeming the cheering of obama's death is wrong? Didn't the good ole USA cheer or celebrate in the streets when WWII ended? And how did WWII end? Mass murder by atomic bomb.....! Why, because we stopped a mass murderer (Hitler). You can go round and round about this, but if he (Osama) wasn't such an evil man who ordered the death of thousands of human beings we wouldn't have even noticed his demise.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  6. Drew

    What a stupid question

    May 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  7. Reality.....

    “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?” ....says Rick Halperin...

    Didn't anyone else catch this bonehead remark?????????? Apples and Oranges Ricky......Bin Laden ordered the deaths of thousands i.e. civiliians, women and children. Western and Muslim...... It was deliberate....

    May 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • JJ

      Bonehad award comes back to you, reality dude. Many of the land mines and cluster munitions that cripple and maim people all over the world are stamped: "Made in the USA."

      May 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  8. Sara

    It is not only 'people of faith' who questioned the morality of celebration.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  9. gb1963

    this is a great article and most of the posts show how thoughtful people in this country can be. I haven't seen that often lately on cnn discussions, mostly anger and conflict. thiis is new. i am not religious and still I don't rejoice on any death. still i cannot deny my own emotion of seeing this man who has caused so much pain to so many people, including his own, being brought down. and I wonder, what is the right feeling?...

    May 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  10. theunbeliever

    my first reaction to the news was joy, followed quickly by guilt over feeling pleasure at another person's death.

    Did he deserve it, yes

    is the world a better place without him in it, probably

    does that make it right to celebrate the death of another human being? that i can't answer, but i don't feel comfortable doing it.

    just a quick comment on this line: "Yet another reaction took place in more sober moments as people of faith watched the giddy celebrations with a tangled mix of emotions."

    i am not a person of faith, yet, i can have a mix of emotions when seeing the celebration of a human being's death.

    Someone who is not religious, can still question the morality of any action or emotion.

    if anything, i feel my lack of faith in a higher being makes me more responsible, since i don't have the ability to call it "god's will" when something bad happens, and don't have the luxury of assuming that if i'm remorseful that i will be or deserve to be forgiven for any sin.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  11. David

    Most people writing here have missed the entire meaning behind this story.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  12. lowell

    So the write quotes AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL as if THEY don't have an anti-American agenda. They are as quite as church mice whenever a Islamic throat-cutter murders anyone.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  13. TamarS

    I remember well the realization of how much people hated us (the United Staes) when we saw the Palestinians cheering at the fall of the Twin Towers. There's nothing to cheer about here – bt I am not sad he is dead. He was a brutal manipulator who lived well while encouraging others to kill themselves. In the end he lacked the courage to do so. He was, like Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin and others before him, an ignorant coward. He died like one. He never killed himself and his "followers" didn't kill him. That says a lot.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • JJ

      bin Laden was a muderous thug but he was neither ignorant nor a coward.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  14. NHWoman

    People will cheer things like this just as fans will yell at games and taunt the refs. You cannot enforce a code of conduct on the public. However, the press could be a lot more responsible in what is reported and how it is reported. There is no need to broadcast to the entire world any celebrations that took place, unless they are hoping to stir up even more retaliatory ideas.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Lucernario

      Isn't it sad that the military assassination of a terrorist gets the same response as a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  15. Sue

    I felt a split-second of relief that OBL was dead, followed quickly by the gut feeling that the celebration in our streets, and my relief, over his death was morally wrong. In some way, I felt it reduced us to his level. He was not a moral man, not a holy man, but he was a man, and to celebrate his death makes us no better than him. His death will certainly not be the catalyst to end jihads against us, nor will it end the intolerance that exists in our own country as well as abroad. I'm not even a religious person, but there is basic right and wrong, and pleasure over another's death is simply wrong. I think the day to celebrate will be when those who share his ideology are able to see that we are not the enemy and that it is not only possible to live together in peace, but is mutually beneficial.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • LW

      Well said, Sue.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • JJ

      I also think this was well said.

      And I'd add: Beware about celebrating death. What goes around comes around....

      May 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Dave

      It was like watching any Afghani, Iraqi or Palestinian mob celebrating the death of an enemy, perhaps the only difference being the absence of AK47s. Humans around the world are all the same, us Westerners desensitised and barbaric despite our sheltered existence...

      May 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Kevin Matuseski

      Sue, I don't think I could have said it better myself.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  16. Michael

    An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind. (Mahatma Gandhi)

    Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age. (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

    Revenge is often like biting a dog because the dog bit you. (Austin O'Malley)

    May 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Myles

      Revenge is the act of passion, vengeance is an act of justice.

      Samuel Johnson-British author.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • JediMasterMatt

      And Michael, what are we as a country supposed to do, let him live a long healthy life and kill more innocent people until he would of died of natural causes? Without justice or punishment this world we live in would have ceased to exist years or decades ago.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  17. Herbys

    Yes, it is OK. Those that it is not OK to celebrate anyone's death probably mourned Hitler. A person needs to earn the right to be mourned through a worthy life. We can give the benefit of doubt to those that did little, and even to those that did very few worthy things in their lives. But someone that has used his precious life exclusively to cause pain and suffering, to destroy (in his own words) civilization, to eliminate freedom and to impose his extreme ideas on everyone else does not deserve mourning. He rejoiced when 3000 innocents died on 9/11, even knowing that that meant countles other innocents were going to die in the next few years because of him.
    Not rejoicing at his death is the epitome of lack of sensitivity, despite those that claim exactly the opposite.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Myles

      a fine example of Goodwin's law in effect lol

      May 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Lucernario

      It was sickening when his followers cheered in the streets on 9/11, and it feels creepy to cheer his death now. While I am proud of my country – and resent the implication that those of us who are not cheering in the streets are unpatriotic – I feel it's a time to remember those we lost at the hands of this evil man, rather than holding a street dance celebration, cracking jokes on Dancing With The Stars and posting childishly doctored photos on Facebook.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  18. I_Concur

    What Would Jesus DO?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Peter F

      Well, I don't think he would resurrect this guy... if that tells you anything

      May 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  19. tallulah13

    I have no real problem with celebrating. The man ordered the death of thousands. He was not a good person. The world is a better place without him.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  20. Elite

    We celebrated bin laden's death with celebratory gunfire. More to come this week! LOLZ [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjnltxaPDyE&w=640&h=390]

    May 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • B-Dog

      You are no top shot lol

      May 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • David

      I hope you recycled that bottle.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • gb1963

      wow, what a celebration

      May 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Drew

      From another movie...."why did you shoot that bird?"........ boom!!!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Fiona

      Cretinism due to inbreeding...clearly.

      Translation, Elite: y'all need to stop marrying your cousins down there. And hands off your sisters, too.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:48 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.