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. Jeremy

    It may be wrong…
    But honestly and deep inside,
    I rejoice in that @$@$%^'s death...

    May 3, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  2. kyle

    People should not be celebrating the slaughter of another human being (last time i checked we say were "evolved" creatures) but instead be happy that he finally received what he deserved. do not celebrate his murder, but celebrate the justice. show the world that no human being should ever be afraid of terror and that together and united we can over come any thing thats thrown at us. Don't ever bow down to suppression, man is free and always will be!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  3. Harry

    I believe that OBL definitely deserved the worst of punishments. And I believe it is wrong to celebrate a fellow human's death. And I believe you do not need any religion or god to tell you that it's wrong to celebrate.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  4. MissouriRick

    Thank you for publishing this article. Thank you for showing or asking if it's moral to celebrate a death. Thank you for showing that God rebuked his angels. Even though bin Laden was a bad guy, thank you for showing us that it's not right to celebrate his death.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  5. Linda

    I would never cheer someone's death. It just doesn't feel right to me. However, what struck me was that they were cheering, but the war wasn't won. At the end of WWII people filled the streets to celebrate the end of the war, that the soldiers were coming home, and that their lives might return to some form of normalcy. In this case, the war isn't over, the soldiers aren't coming home anytime soon, and our lives haven't been disrupted. So, why were the people cheering?

    May 3, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  6. James Savik

    YES. It is not bin Laden's death we are celebrating. It is the chance for peace.

    As long as bin Laden was alive, he could pop up anywhere, do something horrible like 9/11, the Bali bombings or the Madrid subway bombings. Now that he's gone, there's a chance for peace.

    I'm sure a new terrorist will come along but Osama bin Laden was particularly bad. That SOB didn't just terrorize people. He started wars. When a human horror like OBL is gone, it's a good f-ing day any way you slice it.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  7. Mathieu

    I agree that people shouldn't be out partying like its 1999. It seems all a bit barbaric, like we've learned nothing since ancient times. The world may be a better place, it may not be, but violence begets violence and people sow the seeds of what they reap. It works both ways...

    May 3, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  8. Keith

    Since the Catholic voice was absent from the above article:

    "Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

    May 3, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  9. Mel

    Proverbs 24:17; "Don't rejoice in the fall of your enemy" and Ezekiel 18:23; "Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not, I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live."

    May 3, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  10. Khudran

    Obama's objectives achieved and Osama's objectives also achieved including drawing the US to the Arab Israeli conflict DIRECTLY instead of hurting the Arab and Muslims world from behind and for Israel sake, Al-Qaida objective was to bring the US to the battle field to suffer the cost and pay the price... Osama bin Laden like anybody will die someday anyway. However, that was not Osama’s objective and he was never living for it that way, Osama’s objective was to die for and in the cause of Islam, and for follow Muslims and Arabs in the occupied Palestine territories. Bin laden where he was found was totally isolated and was virtually idle to impose any threat to anybody… killing him and ending his life this way was a an extraordinary gift delivered to him right to his place. A gift he always dreamed for and wished to receive somehow Allah decides. Thanks to the US and thanks to Obama for the mutual missions accomplished and for the mutual objectives achieved.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  11. Erik Texas

    This is a tough question to answer, is it right to openly celebrate the death of our number one enemy? Well in my opinion the answer is yes, this is a man who has plotted and killed thousands of Americans. A man who would continue to do so now if he weren't dead. He was a bad man and now he is dead, celebrate today and tomorrow we move on. Hitlers death during WW11 was a huge morale booster for not only troops, but the world it was widely celebrated around the globe. Osama Bin Laden is no different, an evil man is dead the world is better for it who cares if you celebrate, thats what usually happens when you get good news. From the moral view, i'd say most of you are happy he is dead, is that not just as bad?

    May 3, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  12. Mac

    The people who perpetrated 9/11 killed themselves with the attacks, to avenge killings in Lebanon and Palestine by Israel and its US lackeys. I don't think Bin Laden was a mastermind or anything close to influence anyone for anything, ultimately its the US foreign entanglements and ridiculous quagmires that are to blame for this fiasco. Chickens coming home to roost. The Vietnam war killed 4 million innocent people along with 100,000 Americans, and it was influenced by the US Government.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  13. JamesM

    If someone has vowed as a stated goal to destroy your very way of life, why isn't that cause for at least a sense of relief?
    This country has been sorely in need for a long time now for SOME sense of RELIEF to all this mess.
    I personally can't make sense of some of sanctimony I've been hearing lately; someone on the radio even described the finding and ultimately killing of bin Laden as a "tragic event".
    I'm left of center on a lot of different issues, but that is just a "bridge too far" for me.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  14. FairGuy

    First let me say, Osama did many wrong things and a military action to kill him was very appropriate...Justice Done!!! Now coming to the topic here, US is a hypocritic society.. People cried when 3000 people died in 9/11 attack master-minded by Obama.. What happened next 70,000 civilians killed in Iraq+Afghanistan ... did they cry??? If not, then why not??? Bush ordered those killings, so keeping the same measuring scale Bush is as dangerous as Osama... as humans think if both are not equal criminals to humanity?? According to me both are to be condemned.. civilians killing by any name is a crime..

    May 3, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  15. cassarit

    Of course all this cheering is being televised to the middle east just like palestinian cheering was televised to America. It will strenghten their resolve to retaliate.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  16. Jefferson Quizon

    I think they must need to silence rather than to celebrate. Because Bin Laden is not the only enemy of America including the world. As a Filipino; I'm afraid of the result of these celebration. But I believe that our saviour God is always with us. 🙂

    May 3, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Dolphy Quison

      silence? if you're not american yourself, then you have no reason to tell them not to celebrate. Let America rejoice, its what they wanted for 10yrs. Inggit ka lang ese! Malamang miembro ka ng AbuSayaff! >:(

      May 3, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  17. miksam

    My thought is that finally, we are now on TV acting the same way that we see Muslims acting in hate against us. Crazy in the street, cheeringfor the demise of something. Finally we're all on the same sheet of music... And as someone else mentioned, what about those in prison that killed people – if a family leader assassinates that killer, will that family be found not guilty of killing as well? Assasination is a pin point murder, no different than what he (bin laden) did. Did he deserve the death penality – of course. No different than any murderer (i believe in the death penalty). So – considering how wide spread the celebrations went, why is the death penalty in the states such a tormented punishment. On tv – it appears we all love and agree with the death penalty... and least not forget – bring back vegilanty parties...

    May 3, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • alan

      @miksam and the rest of the short term memory loss folks

      you sir are a complete dolt. lets not forget that this guy orchestrated the death of thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians. and for those that argue oh well the us killed civilians in x conflict. guess what genius's, they were NOT the intended targets. That is a fact. The question was posed the other day have we learned anything from 9/11. the answer is a resounding NO. It is unfortunate that some of you have a memory span rival to that of a fruit fly. Whats even more unfortunate is that 99% of you will now scream lets get out of ghanistan. the reason we got him in the first place is because of the constant pressure with boots on the ground, eyes in the sky and wire taps on every possible suspect. It is appalling to me to see the "resolve" displayed these days. Ryan summed it up correctly. there are those of you that would never have it in you to be a soldier.

      there are very few people that either A) have the guts to make a call like that when you are only about 75% sure hes there, lets not forget we weren't going into Pittsburgh to get him, we went into another countries space and in doing so violated their sovereignty. (even though its doubtful that bin-laden was there unbeknownst to the Pakistani government). Or B) have the pokerface to not let one what is going down.

      as for the "morality of celebration this pigs death: your darn tootin im going to celebrate his death. i spent two years hunting him in the mountains of afghanistan, gave up two knees, a decent back, a shoulder, a neck, and have since developed ptsd and been diagnosed with a TBI to boot. I cracked open a beer and whispered burn in hell you sorry sack, hope those 72 virgins or whatever give you clamidia

      May 3, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  18. Noble9

    What's with the morality police? If you feel happy, you celebrate. I don't feel ashamed that I cried after watching the towers fall...I'm not going to feel ashamed about being happy now.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • JamesM

      Amazing, a sensible voice on this forum – thank you.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • skuzzlenut

      By your reasoning it is OK for a rapist to be happy about raping people? You're moral reasoning is based on your own standards. What states that your reasoning is right? Try reading the Christian Bible and view some of its truth and examine it to your own truth. Do some research of your own, you may be surprised on how authentic the Bible actually is and how most people's reasoning is a lie.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  19. Casan

    He is no saint.....but the type of people who actually cheer in these kind of thing are independent of the thing they are cheering.....let me explain: I am sure there were equally cheering crowd when Jesus was being sent to the cross.......most of them...the death of UBL has little significance in their life....they are just finding something to wild up their rather dull life.....they are more likely to be a victim of their countrymen or their own gov't policy (like GOP fighting on behalf of mega insurance companies to keep pre-existing conditions as an excuse to save someone's life).....

    May 3, 2011 at 2:14 am |
    • Casan

      ....as an excuse to save money...and not save someone's life..

      May 3, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  20. Steve6167

    This questions needs to be asked? Hell yes it is OK.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:12 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.