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. jj

    My dream is that mankind can get beyond an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth for a future of peace, brotherhood, decency and respect for all life.

    May 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh, ok. We'll do that next.

      Or were you just practicing your latest beauty pageant speech?

      May 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  2. jean2009

    I don't know if it is right, but the relief that he is gone and cannot plan further attacks is satisfying. Burial at sea....good idea since it doesn't give his ilk a place to meet and plot.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  3. GOD (The One and Only)


    May 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      It is so obvious that you are a phoney god, you cannot fool me.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Wow, Heavensent, you figured all by yourself that any god posting to a cnn blog is no doubt a phoney? What an amazing intellect you have!

      May 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      John Richardson my intellect comes from God and believing in Jesus.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Heavensent: Hey, that explains a lot! Bwahahahahaha!!!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  4. GOD (The One and Only)

    I'm gonna say it's okay. (You know just like with Hitler.) Feel free to celebrate the death of this monster sans guilt. I wanted this to happen, thus I allowed it to happen. It is My will.

    Your welcome. Praise be to me.


    May 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Paul

      So god did you also allow the massacre of the twin towers to happen as well ? plus why wait ten yrs, did you want so many people to die just to make a point ?

      Oh by the way are should i be Muslim or Catholic or Jew, please clear this up, im tired of the bloodshed. Maybe ill jsut choose to ignore you since your not real anyway, it better that way dont you think?

      May 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  5. AC Summers

    Initially hearing the news. I thought long and hard. How this thing lived its life? KILLED and CAUSED hurt, pain, and misery in the name of a religion? Not just in the US but all over the world!@!# He represented the worst of the worst.
    I can celebrate the fact that he is no longer here. I can even celebrate the fact that they dumped him at sea so that he will not be given hommage.
    My conscious is clear... I feel good and can celebrate the fact that OBL is dead and gone.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  6. williams

    He's not surpose to be buried@ sea,his corpse should nt be shown any mercy.4 D DEATH OF INOCENT SOUL HE KILLED IN 9/11

    May 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Paul

      Personally i love the old head on a pike out the front of the Whitehouse method. I think that would be very satisfying.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  7. Edge

    Fighting fire with fire never works, when will the human race ever learn that this just perpetuates the endless cycle of violence and hatred. How about we try radical love and forgiveness, since hatred and revenge has proven to never work over the last 10,000 years.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Ann

      If we are acting like a bunch of cowboys cheering on without morals than go live in Yemen. See how that works out for you. I feel bad for Bin Ladens younger children that were still innocent. They had to witness such horror at a young age. But as for him....glad to know he is dead.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Actually, burning out fire breaks is one of the main means to contain wildfires.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  8. Muneef

    To cheer or not to cheer is not the problem, the problem is that there are so many seeds have been sawn and every time you will unearth one,another will take it's place...because some enjoyed the continuity of the game through which they control the world economy and stock markets....never they will let the game be over once for all....

    May 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • John Richardson

      It isn't any small group's prerogative to declare "the games" over. "The games" have been on going since neolithic times and probably go back even further. You gotta be more than stupid around the edges to think that their persistence or cessation is under any single group's control.

      Al Qaeda adopted many of the tactics of the non-Islamic Tamil Tigers, who were recently defeated after a decades long war in which many, many people died. That war involved neither Muslims nor the west nor any other of the major factions on the world stage. Rather, it was Tamils vs Sinhalese, Hindus vs Buddhists, all taking place largely outside the gaze of world public opinion in Sri Lanka. And it was nothing new. Just a recent chapter of the millennia old story of wars that don't involve christians or muslims or jews or capitalists or communists or fascists or ...

      May 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. momof2

    firstly, bin Laden was disposed of at sea because no nation could or would take his remains. Can you blame them? Who wants their country to have the al Qaeda equivalent of Jim Morrison's tomb for Doors fans?

    secondly, celebrating bin Laden's death doesn't make us "like them". They celebrated killing 3000 innocent people. We celebrated killing one of the most evil people of modern times.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  10. Mr. M

    ‎10 years, 2 wars, 919,967 deaths, and $1,188,263,000,000 later, we managed to kill one person. Worth it?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • American

      Mr. M
      Your list of items do not correlate to one man. You just show cynicism and lack of understanding. Was it worth it to kill him.? Yes.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Jury will be out on that one a long time, likely forever for some. But as someone already pointed out, your equation is ludicrous. Even Bin Laden's death carries weight far beyond the death on one man.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  11. David

    I don't like the blatant (and somewhat pious) link between religion and moralism this article implies. It doesn't take a religious person to know right from wrong, it just takes a person.

    As an atheist I find the celebration of anyone's death wrong. Did Bin Laden deserve death for his actions? Absolutely! Should we celebrate his death like a bunch of 18th century cowboys at a public hanging? NO!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  12. Matt

    Why should we have to be a person of faith to be morally ambivalent about the celebration? I find it very offensive that I have to be religious to have morals. As if the only people celebrating are atheists and people with no religion.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Alex

      I agree 100%, I was also offended by the tone of this article

      May 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  13. Darth Meatloaf

    My response to this is to repost what I posted elsewhere the day after his death (minor edits to replace references to 'yesterday' with dates)

    While I am relieved at the news presented to us on May 1st, 2011, I find myself worried at the reaction to it from some people.

    There is a simple way I can say what's wrong:

    Remember those people on 9/11/2001? The ones that celebrated the felling of the World Trade center?

    While they celebrated, we looked on in shock and horror. We were mourning a great loss. We were angered by the most horrible attack on US soil in the history of our nation. We looked at those people and said: "Those are horrible people. They are celebrating the deaths of thousands of our countrymen. What they are doing is wrong." We then used that celebration of theirs as an excuse to point to them and call them enemies.

    Fast forward to 5/1/2011. Osama bin Laden is dead. People are celebrating in the streets again, but now in the US.

    Don't get me wrong – there is something worth celebrating: The end of an era. Al Quaeda, if they don't continue their operations in a more fragmented manner, will need to find new leadership.

    The problem that I am seeing is that people are not celebrating the end of an era, they are celebrating the death of a man. Sure, his actions in 2001 could only have ended this way, but the celebrations took less than 6 hours to spawn the most disgusting statement I could imagine seeing:

    I have already seen dozens of people calling for May 1st to be declared a national holiday, and some are calling it "National We Killed Osama Day".

    Remember those people on 9/11/2001? The ones that celebrated the felling of the World Trade center?

    We have officially become those people.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Anonymous

      I agree with you. While I am glad he can no longer plot to harm our nation, I feel we have just sunken to the levels of his supporters by parading in the streets after this news. We are better than that and should show more maturity when responding to his death. I also want to note in response to the article, I am an atheist and struggle with this issue. It is not only the religious who have a deeply rooted moral compass.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • DGH49

      You cannot compare the scene of throngs of Muslims celebrating the murder of 3000 INNOCENTS with Americans cheering the death of one MASS MURDER.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Marymichelle

      Except we're not like them....they cheered the deaths of thousands of innocent people who had never killed or given the order to kill anyone, anywhere at any time. Osama Bin Laden, on the other hand was NOT innocent. He was one individual who was responsible for thousands of deaths. He killed indescriminately, old and young, muslim and christian, black, brown and white, without regard or respect for anyone. So no, we are not like them at all. I am glad he is dead and I feel no ambivilance about feeling that way whatsoever. I rejoice over the fact that thousands more innocent lives may have been saved because an evil man is dead.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • John Richardson

      False claims of moral equivalence will only drag us down farther. Try again.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  14. Joan

    There will always be evil hearted people in the world. There always has been. Who knows what makes them so evil that they feel it is ok to gas people, starve people, turn innocent children into marauding "soldiers" and convince people to blow themselves up in order to kill others.Take the camouflage of religion away from all of this. Think of the other " rabid dogs" of history. Vlad III, King Leopold II, Hitler, Idi Amin, , Pol Pot, early American leaders bent on killing off as many Native American people as possible.Jump into our current day "a" holes Kim Jong-il, Moammar Gadhafi and countless other power hungry men waiting in line for their chance at their form of sick "stardom".They are rabid and need to be removed. I am glad to be rid of evil people such as that. They bring only misery and sorrow to people across the globe. It is too bad they can not all be eradicated like the disease they are.So when I heard the news I said " GOOD" , and felt fine . I certainly had no pity that he was dead. It is a shame people like him were ever born.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • LoopsFroot

      Very well said! *applauding*

      May 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  15. A barber

    Well gee whiz, it all depends on your individual morals to whether or not you think it is appropriate to celebrate.

    How many wrongs do you need to commit before it is okay to celebrate your death? 1? 3000? Who has the right to draw the line? Those that suffered? you? some random third-party media outlet?

    If you caused even one person pain, suffering, or death, even indirectly, should your death be celebrated in turn by those affected?

    May 3, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • John Richardson

      No, but many will no doubt celebrate when you stop prattling on and on as though cheering the deaths of 3000 non-combatants in a surprise attack is essentially indistinguishable from cheering the death of one person who only ever caused one other person some indirect, non-lethal harm.

      You are trying to run a slippery slope argument. The problem is that slippery slope arguments themselves form a very slippery slope and you've slid down the slippery slope argument's own slippery slope at warp speed here.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  16. kgriggs0207

    It isn't just people of faith, unless you count faith in humanity, who wrestle with this question. His killing presents conflicts for sure and I did a little of both–rejoiced and then thought about how sad, overall, the whole tale of OBL has been.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  17. Dewman2

    Why do you have to be someone of "faith" to question the morality around cheering about someone's death? If people want to celebrate, that's their right. But I think we are leaders, and we should act as such.

    In sports the phrase is "Act like you've been there before." We should take some satisfaction out of his death for sure, but the cheering and chanting is beneath us I think.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  18. Kmoore

    What a stupid question! When 3000 people were killed by this man, I cried buckets. Now when justice has been served, someone asks is it o.k. to cheer?

    "The correct response is usually the first one"

    May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  19. hmm.

    just because bin laden died doesn't mean terrorism died, too. the al-qaeda still exists; it's just going to be under new management. and it's not just them; there are threats from terrorist groups worldwide of different races and religions and causes. we're not out of the woods yet. brace yourselves, everyone; this celebration might well be premature.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  20. Ed

    It is very much morally OK to cheer this animals' death....in fact I would be very worried about the patriotism and allegiance of those who DID NOT cheer bin laden being sent to hell...

    May 3, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Computer Doctor

      Ed, I agree 100%

      May 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Suzanne

      A big, resounding YES to you Ed and to this question. YES, YES, YES!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • lorhaiden

      Worry all you want about my patriotism, I know what I am. Should the USA have killed bin Laden- Yes. Should we rejoice in his killing- Perhaps. But that is a personal choice and has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism and even more certainly nothing to do with allegiance.

      I am glad the man is dead. I am glad that the "kill" order was given. I do not have to cheer the death. I do not have to rejoice in the death of that evil man or any human being to prove my patriotism.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Ann

      I cant believe how some americans are claiming we are murderers because we killed Bin Laden!!!! What happened to the American peoples loyalty to the flag and our troops. Celebrate our victory that we killed such an evil that dwelt amoungst us. He wasnt human he was an animal. As for me I am happy he was killed.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Worry all you want about my patriotism, I know what I am. Should the USA have killed bin Laden- Yes. Should we rejoice in his killing- Perhaps. But that is a personal choice and has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism and even more certainly nothing to do with allegiance. I am glad the man is dead. I am glad that the "kill" order was given. I do not have to cheer the death. I do not have to rejoice in the death of that evil man or any human being to prove my patriotism.
      I 100% agree with you. I choose not celebrate but will not condemn those that do! Though I find celebrating odd!

      May 3, 2011 at 3:10 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.