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. Muneef


    Ease with your comments about Islam ,Quran and Muslims....we always thought that people with out faith or a holy book are the ones with twisted minds or into madness.... Don't attempt to acc-use all Muslims for few ones acts.
    You see now that this case is similar to the killing one of the Hamas leaders in Dxb by Israel.
    Should point out that by such acts teaches the masses and the few to change their strategy into a similar killings of individuals in similar ways ? 
    Should expect signs to show in the near future... But now if the MidEast countries do not settle down into peaceful living from their present troubles...sadly I expect that west will be facing many copiers  of the late, attacking all western interests in the west or abroad....

    freedom of speech and human rights ?!

    So it is that you either you write what they would like to hear,read otherwise if you are not a hypocrite as should then better watch it out to what you say if you had any believe of such human rights and freedoms!

    With out you know it, helicopters or thugs landing on your roof top or at your house back yard shooting you dead then throw you in a bag off a helicopter into the Sea with out being heard...!? Any wise family men should be stopping any writing on blogs or just keep your feelings and views for your self to be safe....!! 

    May 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  2. Muneef

    Don't attempt to acc-use all Muslims for few ones acts.
    You see now that this case is similar to the killing one of the Hamas leaders in Dxb by Israel.
    Should point out that by such acts teaches the masses and the few to change their strategy into a similar killings of individuals in similar ways ? 
    Should expect signs to show in the near future... But now if the MidEast countries do not settle down into peaceful living from their present troubles...sadly I expect that west will be facing many copiers  of the late, attacking all western interests in the west or abroad....

    May 6, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  3. brooke

    More people have died in the name of religion than any other cause. I would not look to organized religion as a moral compass for tying my shoelace, nevermind as a source to determine whether or not it is "wrong" to feel what is a natural human reaction to evil overcome.

    Justice has been done.

    May 6, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  4. Brenner

    This idea is interesting because Americans should have a right to feel happy, a feeling that comes with justice. Public Parting is not fair to muslims and Osama's family. Feeling that justice has come should not be a frowned upon feeling, but it should not be a public party.

    May 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  5. Douglas

    I think that it just isn't right. How is it ever morally right to celebrate somebody's death. Even as many bad things as someone may have done, you should never celebrate somebody's death. You also have to look at it in his perspective. No matter how bad of a person Osama is, he still has family and friends. Imagine if your son died, and people are celebrating his death. It just isn't right.

    May 5, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  6. Muneef

    Understand your feelings of grief just as you supposed to understand the same for all innocents that suffer due the same old game that has been played for many years now by the war lords at all ends..

    Assure you that Islam did not attack you but rather a certain group or groups that have chosen to use the name of Islam in their plots...for a far reason exceeding our short sights of their intentions... What has Islam gained since this event was pulled? How many Arabs and Muslims had to pay life and blood since then? How many countries invaded since then?

    Before events America never stood beside Islam when Muslims were being killed Globally but rather stood by their killers side....how about Israelies vs Palestinians...? Maybe that only made some Arabian and Islamic cheer the event with out true understanding but rather in their mind that the tyrant got hurt in his Ego rather than any thing else... But never they did know that the same country who calls for freedom and human rights for the good of all beings to become a beast who did all that is against he was calling for just because some group was using a population as a human shield?!

    Well killing a man with out being taken and heard at court before he is condemned to death, but such act could easily make of the man a martyr that was unjustly treated and killed with out the slightest human rights.
    Wonder what secrets he had or what was the truth he was holding back that has driven his relation with America to such disputes ??
     Must have been some thing that is not supposed to be heard otherwise why he was shut out and thrown out to sea...as a man that never existed...!?

    We as Muslims would have been happier to see him in court and to question him as why he had done all his crimes in the name of Islam? and whether he felt happy now that Islam is mistreated this way after his or followers acts...!? But seems the still waters run deeper than we thought...!

    Another thing that make me wonder is that why would a man who had inherited alone more than few Hundreds of Millions of U.S Dollars and shares in Multimillion family businesses....why would he leave all that back and go to live by the sword running hiding in the mountains chased by the world and to die waste in the end?? Would have understood if had nothing but with all that he had why chose this hard short life over riches ?? That is a secret I would want to know! 

    May 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Muneef

      Just wonder who have given him the authority to represent Islam and Muslims and to declare war against to west on it's behalf? Was it the same source that gave him the authority in the name of Islam to fight and drive the Russians out of Afghanistan?  

      May 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • brooke

      Good Riddance to bad rubbish.

      May 6, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Muneef

      Wonder if that will end it for Good?

      May 6, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  7. St John York

    Do not live a life that will make others to feel your death or absence is better for their lives...and so love your neighbor as thyself

    May 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  8. Natalie

    Despite Bin Laden's horrific crimes (9/11) that harmed many, and caused much pain for all of America and especially the families involved, I agree with the muslim point of view that "the death of a person should be observed in a respectful and solemn way for all people". No matter how justified his death was, it should not be celebrated.

    May 5, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  9. NIXIE

    Like many of you, we rejoice that the danger is over and that he is dead. However, celebrating over a dead person because he killed so many people is immoral. What do we celebrate for? Our success over the death of Osama, or just to please ourselves and rid of our hatred against him? Either way, we lost our moral rights. Christianity has always mentioned forgiveness and Buddhism always talks of duty even when the opposing force does what is wrong. We should not forget who we are and why we are celebrating of a death of a person

    May 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  10. Sean

    Like many other people, I am happy Bin Laden is dead, but to run out into the streets and cheering might just be a little too over doing it. I am but a student in High School, so I do not fully understand his actions, but I'm sure you don't party for his death. Relating to what Ohev Sholom, I do not think God approves of the actions of people on Bin Ladens death. Bin Laden is like the Pharaoh, he abused many people but ended up dying. When the people rejoiced, they were rebuked by God. We should have learned this. It is clearly shown that even in Judaism, no matter how bad the person is, you should not run out into the streets and start partying.

    May 5, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  11. 140045

    I find the celebration really absurd because in most religions such as Christianity, love your enemy as your neighbor is a really important concept. It's the golden rule and you are probably taught this rule before you are even exposed to the bible. I think that what these people are doing is not right because although Osama has killed many people and have done many terrible things, but I really do not think it is right for people to celebrate. Expecting Americans that are affected to love him is probably too much but celebrating is definitely non-biblical and I think people should just forgive him and think that justice is served in a way.

    May 5, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  12. PRISM 1234

    When Jesus encountered demon possessed man on one occasion, and asked him what his name was, he answered "Legion". There was legion of demons in that man. They begged Him not to cast them out in the open, an HE cast them into the herd of swine. Swine run down the cliff into the sea, because they couldn't contain the legion of demons... BUT ONE MAN COULD!
    Here you have it demonstrated WHY a man can do such evil... Osama Bin Laden was one of those.... The truth is, many people in this day and time are literally possessed by demonic spirits. That's why we have evil so rampant in the world today, but we haven't seen nothing yet, what we will see, before all things are accomplished! We are NOT living in ordinary times, that's for certain!

    May 5, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  13. Curtis W

    From a Christian point of view, I think what many people did in the US was very irrational and cold. Yes, I think everyone agrees that Osama bin Laden was a big terrorist, and he did a lot of bad things. But the bible teaches us that people have to treat enemies with love, and not hate. In 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Jesus says "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." bin Laden was a very bad person, but by treating them with compassion, we may be able to win them over and stop this notorious cycle of endless killing and blood.

    May 5, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  14. Jonathan

    I do not think that we should be celebrating the death of anybody – yes, Osama Bin Laden was a killer. That is for sure. He did paint a bad image for Islam, and he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. However, he is still a human being, and that is for sure. Even though he did all these bad deeds, we still shouldn't be happy for the lost of a human soul.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  15. akut

    Well there are people and there are monsters. Its fine to celebrate the death of monsters and for a potentially more safe suture!

    May 5, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  16. Clark Kent

    I was cereblating the justice but not OBL's death.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:03 am |
  17. Cheri

    i think that no matter how much pain osama bin laden caused america, we need to remember that its the same amount of pain that america has caused the people who followed him. although i think that osama was an evil man who needed to be stopped, i dont understand why everyone can rejoice at the murder of another person. i understand people being glad that 'justice' has been served and pleased that they are going to be safe again but does no one think that killing their hero is going to make them angrier? i cannot imagine ever hating a person so much that their death leaves me feeling ecstatic! i think partying after men and women are killed is morally wrong, which is exactly what happened

    May 5, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Schweiny91

      i agree doesnt feel right

      May 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  18. Muneef

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    WPVS is offering a course to start (April 29, 2011 ~ August 26, 2011) Inshallah. Details are as follows:

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    May 4, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  19. The Thinker

    Morality is not universal. Everyone lives by their own moral code, so the answer is: it depends. There's no objective way to determine that one moral code is better than another, so there's no universal answer for question of morality.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Schweiny91

      every1 has a moral belief in something and yes it is different but i dont believe in dancing on his grave which is basically what celebrating about it seems like to me

      May 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  20. Patriot99

    Is it morally right to celebrate OBL's death- SURE...what that SOB did to us and our nation, why the should we show him an iota of respect. He knew what he was doing and intended to kill many americans. The american citizens in the WTC did nothing to him, he wanted to prove that he was powerful enough to go against a strong nation like America. Did you cry when timothy mcvay, john wayne gayce, and aileen wuornos were executed? They killed far less people in total. I say let OBL rot in hell...Its a victory for America

    May 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Clarence

      I believe that many of you have got it incorrect. I think that people should believe that like all criminals, they should be jailed no matter how bad their action is. In U.S. Law, there is supposedly no "Cruel and Unusual punishment allowed. Shooting somebody in the head is rather cruel. Also, in the Story, they said that Osama had attempted to resist arrest and so was shot. This just doesnt make sense, because their were 24 navy seals against a person 55 years of age. It just would not make sense.

      May 5, 2011 at 7:36 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.