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. me

    about the Israel part: i read here that we should look and listen what Palestinians teach their children??? please also have a look at what so called western "civilization"teaches their children or what Israeli people teach their children it is just as bad but because "we" are the good side nobody should mention anything about it...... what was that word again for those practices?.....oh yes hypocrisy!

    May 3, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      @ me
      You must be one of them, or else you would not speak bold faced lies as you do! But here it is for you, and anyone else, for that matter! No other society in this world do as those barbarians do! Take time to watch...... Get a load of it!


      May 3, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  2. me

    while i can understand people being happy the man is dead please keep in mind that the group he established or as it was called here the murdering machine, they will not stop doing what they do because he died. i am hearing so many people say that the man who caused all the pain and suffering was dead and that the danger is dead. he was not alone in this.

    furthermore you should not party over the death of a man it does not matter how bad he is it is still a death.

    i hope and pray this will not cause more pain and grieve.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:01 am |
  3. muddy

    >> Yet another reaction took place in more sober moments as people of faith watched the giddy celebrations with a tangled mix of emotions.
    So only people of faith are capable of considering that the killing of another human being should not be a cause of celebration. Ironic considering bin Laden was a person of faith, and based on demographics, a majority of those people cheering in the US of A are Christian of some type. I take it they are people of faith as well. I am no longer surprised when I read garbage like this from people of faith. Whether it is a direct insult or a spineless underhanded statement, it is always necessary to buttress their own belief by belittling those belong to the no faith category. Taking the opportunity to remind the flock that the atheist is an evil immoral unethical untrustworthy individual – Great job Mr. Blake!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  4. sally

    I was taken back by the celebrations-it reminds me of the Muslims celebrating the death of Americans. It is best to reflect and be sad that this awful man decided to sponsor such atrocious acts. That said, I can't feel sorry that Bin Laden received his just due. He certainly earned it...but I can't celebrate! No, it's just not right.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  5. David

    Daniel: You could have killed him, couldn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Hai.
    Daniel: Well, why didn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Because Daniel, for man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  6. Adam

    This article reflected what I felt when I first heard the news. I was relieved and happy for us as a country but something didn't feel right when I turned on the TV and saw people celebrating in the streets. Maybe people express things differently. But I just felt that the death of a person should never be something to "celebrate" out loud as if it was a SuperBowl celebration. Although the world understands our happiness, I think they would've respected us even more had we mostly celebrated somberly.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • Fearfighter1

      Good Call Adam and I agree but I do remember the images of people in the middle east celebrating when the planes slammed into the world trade center. I believe they may have had a better reason since we prop up their oil selling dictators which in turn surpress the masses of people in the middle east. We are hated around the world because we have been hurting other countries and peoples for centuries. I love my country but it's obvious we show little wisdom and humility in the US except when it suits are needs for wealth.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  7. deepwater805

    I for one, would like to take this opportunity to personally thank Osama bin Laden for his recent demise. If this hadn't of happened, then at this moment, I probably wouldn't be drinking this fine bottle of 2001 Dom Pérignon, that I purchased a few years ago just for this occasion. So with no further ado: Here's to you Osama. May you burn in hell for eternity.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  8. Dave

    break out the champagne!!!!! Yeeeehaaaaa!!!! Celebrate good times, c'mon!!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  9. Nick

    I think someone on Twitter put it best by saying "I can celebrate justice; I can't celebrate death". No matter how evil the person was, I don't think we can celebrate his death. However, I think it is fair for us – especially people who were directly affected by 9/11 and other actions headed by Osama bin Laden – to celebrate the fact that the leader of al Qaeda has been brought to justice. I think that people celebrating (hopefully) shows a collective relief over this, and not just over the fact that bin Laden died. I think it's in line with what's going on with the war on terrorism. We haven't won the war on terror yet, but killing bin Laden still means a lot for that goal. In the same vein, I think people are not celebrating because they think bin Laden's death will bring the end of terrorism, but for the meaning behind it.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  10. rjm

    I'm in favor of kicking his a$$ and then quietly walking away with class and dignity. That says a lot more a "better" society than guys hanging from power poles spraying booze all over the crowd. And would get the world's respect much faster.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  11. nichelle33407

    Dam right it is ok to celebrate this murder's death, and especially at the hands of the ISA-rightly so!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  12. FordGirl

    I can't figure out, what the heck is wrong with people dancing in the streets and chanting "U.S.A." and singing "God Bless America". Not sure why some people take issue with that. If they had been in the streets chanting something crazy like "God Hates Every Country but the U.S.A." I'd say they were a bunch of loons. There's nothing wrong with pride in being an American at a time like this, especially with the perfectly executed way in which the Navy Seals carried out their mission. And like the coward he was, even to the end, Bin Laden tried to use one of his wives as a shield to protect himself. If people want to dance and celebrate the death of a parasite like that, they have every right to as far as I am concerned. And I don't even say these things as an American, because I am Canadian.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  13. David

    Daniel: You could have killed him, couldn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Hai.
    Daniel: Well, why didn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Because Daniel, for man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  14. Chris

    Cheering this was a great thing!!!! Your telling me if Hitler was someone of this day and age and someone killed him we shouldnt be happy? YES WE SHOULD. Osama was a coward who attacked people he was not at war with a coward that never deserved to walk on this earth. He's lucky he even got a burial, they shouldve hung his dead body at ground zero as a monument. Osama can now go take a seat in HELL right next to Hitler, Brutus, and Judas and all you religious leaders can kiss everyone's (you know what) bc we can and we should CHEER!!! USA USA USA

    May 3, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  15. thors hammer

    What does whale dung and osama bin laden have in commen?Both are at the bottom of the ocean and both stink!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  16. nish

    well, one slight concern. there isnt a god – people are bad because they want to be. osama killed people – his organization did, that is. he should be dead and i cant see why we cannot be happy about it. for the families of the people who died, there will never be happiness or closure, but we must rejoice that a terrible person has been brought to justice. kind of gives you hope doesnt it? see how reasonable the world become when you build arguments from the truth? one must always rejoice in the victory of good over evil. osama was an evil man – he killed people for goodness sake! i am happy he died. i am not even a US citizen.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  17. Suvarna

    It is not exactly the celebration of death. It is the celebration from getting rid of constant fear. Winning of good over devilish tendencies, which had horrified everyone.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  18. Gregg

    While I'm glad he's gone, I couldn't get into the celebration last night. Just felt wrong to me. Then there was this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I saw today which I felt summed it up:

    "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."

    May 3, 2011 at 1:12 am |
    • jake

      I've never heard that quote, but I'll admit it is beautiful what Dr. King is saying. I feel the same.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • HeavenSent

      The soul of the wicked desires evil;"

      Proverbs 21:10


      May 3, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Fearfighter1

      Wow...I wish Obama had said that last night...But you know what..the conservatives and tea baggers would have taken him to the shed over that piece of solid wisdom. people don't get it but this message is steeped deep in truth. Why this country is so boastful and proud will most likely be it's undoing... Look at Rome.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:01 am |
    • Zack

      The sentiment is wonderfully oblique.
      The reality is we are "better" now that Osama is dead.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  19. Michelle

    In theory, yes- we should not be rejoicing in the death of someone. But the fact that even our religious leaders/thinkers are conflicted is evidence to the complexity of the question. "Is it right to rejoice someone's death" is not the right question, the right question would be: Is it right to rejoice the death of Osama Bin Laden, mind behind the 9/11 attacks that scarred, mamed, and reshaped our nation in the worst way? then, the answer becomes more complicated.

    I for one, couldn't help but celebrate the death of a man who cause so much pain, death, and destruction. I couldn't help but watch with awe as our President told us that the man responsible for casting a shadow over the United States was finally killed. I celebrated and walked waving my US flag and walking proud to chants of U-S-A U-S-A because that- that was a moment that I will tell my children about. That was the moment we came together as a country over the defeat of evil and there is nothing anyone can say to make me ashamed of our victory.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Akabaka

      Yes it easy to rejoice in the name of country when no one from your own family got killed from terror attack or robbery attack or any other barbaric attack. I have never seen a victim family ever rejoiced when they even got justice when terror is tried or jailed for life. Have you ?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • denouemen

      I can't celebrate–it makes me feel creepy to celebrate any death–but I have to honestly admit to being glad he's dead. Probably in the deepest reaches of my heart, I wish I could have been the one to pull the trigger, but even if I had been, I couldn't dance and sing. And I suppose in a way, celebration enhances his power; better to say, "one less murdering coward," and move on.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • HeavenSent

      "Do I not HATE them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I HATE them with perfect HATRED; I count them my enemies."

      Psalm 139:21-22


      May 3, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • Zack

      Spot on.
      I still wish someone in the State Dept would OK a mission to spray "Pig's blood" over the whole Mid-East.
      Kill the whole problem with no lives lost.

      Let the enemy commit suicide.... war over.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Fearfighter1

      I did not celebrate Osama Bin Ladens Death and THAT IS AMERICAN TOO...I'm just grateful he did not rise to the status of Hitler...The ORIGINAL TERRORIST!

      May 3, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  20. Evan

    People blame religion for people like Osama Bin Laden, Hitler, etc. However, if, for the sake of the argument, religion never existed, I believe these people would have used some other reason to justify their acts.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • nish

      of course. people are bad. religion is not necessarily bad. it is irrationality that is. religion just encourages it. therefore it becomes easier to justify your actions with religion.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Chuck James

      In the eyes of God, the death of no man is cause for celebration. This is from the book of Ezekiel:

      Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live;
      Ezek 33:11 (ESV)

      To celebrate any death is inappropriate. Let's just hope that Bin Laden's passing will slow the murder machine he has created.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Chuck, it's ok if you use other bibles to help you with your studies. Just make sure you have the King James version to ensure you can go back to the Hebrew, Greek etc. terminology in the manuscripts. Other bibles have had the wording changed and the KJV is reliable.


      May 3, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • Karen

      Stay away from the KJV Bible. The shift in the English language is why you shouldn’t recommend the King James Version. People come away with the wrong ideas because they are applying modern definitions to middle English words.

      Here is an examples (but there are many more):

      "Against" used to merely mean opposite or confronting. Thus in I Samuel 25:20

      "And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert of the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them." (KJV)

      "So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them." (NKJV)

      In today's English you would think the KJV was saying that David and his men were attacking her when it means they came toward her to confront her.

      An even better example is the old English word "let." In 1611, when the KJV was translated, "let" had two meanings:
      1) to permit or to allow
      2) to hinder, impede or prevent.
      Today only the first definition survives, but the KJV has a few places where the old second definition is used:

      May 3, 2011 at 7:26 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.