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. Jeff

    Of course it's okay to cheer. I found myself however in a much more sober mood. I've lost friends from the Army over the years, largely as a result of 9/11, and I was surprised that I wasn't exactly in the mood to celebrate. On every 9/11 I'm flooded with memories of my fallen friends...soldiers and heroes they were...but I have time to prepare for it. This event hit me out of nowhere and the thought of justice for my friends also filled me again with the feelings of their loss. Osama is dead and that's good...great even...but so are they and that can't be undone. I don't mean to put a damper on things, but let's not forget those who paid for this victory or their families. God Bless America...let's not let this happen again...ever.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  2. mudbone9

    Ding Dong the baztords dead, the baztords dead! A huge HOOYAH to the Navy Seals and all the people involved in taking this criminal down. Job well done! All Americans have the right to celebrate the demise of this demon. No one has a right to say anyone is morally wrong for being happy. He was a bad person and needed to be killed. Hurray!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  3. mudbone9

    Ding Dong the baztards dead, the baztards dead! A huge HOOYAH to the Navy Seals and all the people involved in taking this criminal down. Job well done! All Americans have the right to celebrate the demise of this demon. No one has a right to say anyone is morally wrong for being happy. He was a bad person and needed to be killed. Hurray!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  4. Dave

    Personally I am very glad he is dead but could not bring myself to "cheer" and "celebrate" the death of someone. That said, when they buried him at see I hope they cut him to pieces and mixed him up with pig guts.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  5. Melissa

    “..all those emotions mingled as people of faith struggled to find an appropriate response to bin Laden’s death.” Doesn't require a "person of faith" to struggle with watching Americans behaving no better than extremists, celebrating death and violence. I am not a religious person and I was saddened to see the celebratory response. What a sad world we live in where violence begets violence and murder, murder. OBL was a sick, twisted, demented man and I am glad he is no longer a part of our world and I respect the men and women who did their jobs at great personal risk to rid us of this sickness but I refuse to celebrate death...any death.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Dakota

      Well said.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  6. jon

    Ummm, YES! It should be a national holiday!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  7. Jan

    Thank you. Bin Ladin planned and commited many acts of violence. He planned the deaths and injuries of many people. He was killed with violence. Justice was meted out. BUT. . .I think that death is a solemn thing. I think all of us should acknowledge the painfulness of a death. We should know that a death always causes pain for some. We should comfort those who mourn and acknowledge their sorrow.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  8. DVG

    I'm gonna cheer all day long into the night. If you don't like it, too bad.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  9. Not Religious

    Why does this article focus on "people of faith" questioning the celebration of a death? I am not religious, and although I have no doubt the world is a better place without Osama, I am uncomfortable with the idea of joyously celebrating a death.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • abw

      I posted the very same thing...and feel the same way.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • human

      Exactly! Why do people of faith think that it is the only road to morality? Osama was proof that there is no difinitive link between the two.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  10. Beller

    For all the good Christian folk who want to say it's morally wrong to celebrate in the death of Osama, let me give you two verses out of your book.

    1) Proverbs 11:10 – When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

    2) 2 Kings 11:20 – and all the people of the land rejoiced. And the city was quiet, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword at the palace

    Please don't hit us over the head with a book that you don't know anything about. I am glad he is dead and rejoicing in the fact that he is!!

    May 3, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Eric

      Hi Beller,

      The two verses do not say it is correct to be happy that your enemy has died. These verses simply state that people did rejoice when their enemy died. It is a huge mistake to say that because the Bible reported people's behavior that this behavior is correct. The Bible reports on some really ugly things that happened...even things "believers" did. This does not mean that God condones the behavior.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  11. earl

    It is the right thing to be happy and cheer. We remain our own worst enemy. As evidence, look at these comments. Come on people.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  12. Jason T

    We are not celebrating the death of a man, we are celebrating justice. Someone who had eluded justice after killing my countrymen. Someone who sought to spread his point of view not through debate and logic, but terror. I don't want anyone to die, but Bin Ladin was the Hitler of our time. Bringing him to justice is a great moment and should be rejoiced

    May 3, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  13. Scott

    If you let even a hint of guilt enter your mind for feeling guilty about cheering Bin Laden's death, you should seriously examine the thoughts and influences that led you to feeling that way. Only a contorted and conflicted morality could lead to such guilt.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • human

      And only a shallow and selfish egoism could lead to your idea. How old are you? Hopefully, you will lead your remaining years to do some self examination.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  14. TRouble

    UBL did not only highjack those planes, and this country after that, but the Muslim religion. This is a great opportunity for the Muslim moderates to take back their religion and do some damage control. They should be loudly and defiantly praising his death. He was a black mark on their religion.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • human

      Puleeeeeze! Do not even suggest that the attacks had anything to do with Islam, any more than someone beating his wife for submission has to do with Christianity! You need to educate yourself, and be more careful with your speech. This misconception, as are all acts of violence, are societal problems, which we all have a duty to repel, no matter what your religion. The Islam community has been voicing this from the beginning, but it is equally every member of societies responsibility. People love to vilify anyone else, rather than to live with the uncomfortable truth that people are flawed, capable of horrific atrocities, and will use any means necessary to justify it.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • human

      Oh, sorry! reread your post, and I see what you are saying. But what I said still holds true, probably for everyone!

      May 3, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  15. klark

    "Scott Appleby, a history professor who studies the roots of religious violence at Notre Dame, "

    There is religious violence at Notre Dame?

    May 3, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  16. M@!

    Actually, Jesus was an alien who came here to promote space exploration...

    May 3, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  17. Larry

    The death of Osama's bin Eaten could be the greatest single event in American history. The birthers, now called deathers, do not believe (or do not want to believe) that President Obama not only had nothing to do with it, but that he is actually lying about it.

    If you can't believe anything your president says, why don't you just leave.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  18. brad

    Killing Bin Laden is an empty victory. Human nature makes us react to events in real limited ways, so I don't think it is necessary to blame people for so-called Celebrating. As many people want to point out, these sorts of demonstrations happened in Muslim countries after 9/11 and other victories against the West because they like us are extremely flawed.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • f

      I can tell from your post and the posts of many others here today that you were not in NYC on 9/11. It means so much to those of us who lived and worked in NYC on 9/11 (like me) to see that after all this time justice was served. A bullet to the head is all that he deserved. A trial and jail would have been the biggest joke and slap in the face to all 9/11 Americans.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  19. Simon

    "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 3, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Johnssamson123

      That says it all. Very nice quote!

      May 3, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Dakota

      Very well said.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Arelis

      those are exactly the words I was looking for to express what I felt when I heard Bin Laden was killed. that is absolutely great

      May 3, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  20. jagdish

    Was Laden really muslim? did he follow laws of Islam? No.
    Was his behavior and act human? No.

    Some one would say " don't celebrate death of even your enemy". My thought is " He was not only enemy of civilization, rather he was a face of Satan".
    I don't see anything wrong in celebrating his death.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:22 am |
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