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. badpav

    Wait a minute, You can't cheer for someone's death? You're an episcopal priest. Half of the old testament involves Israel cherering the death of their enemies at God's hand. No comprende?

    May 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • David Zhang

      wait we still live in Old Testament times?

      May 2, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Luigi

      How about citing a verse? Once that's done, reflect on how Jesus would have felt about it.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Guy

      Wait, God's Law and God's Word aren't timeless and forever-lasting? God made a mistake? Hold the phone!

      May 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Aneriz

      "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17)

      May 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  2. fantasticdan

    my thoughts exactly, when i saw the footage of the crowd cheering in front of the white house with a beach ball going across it immediately reminded me of middle eastern crowds cheering after the death of americans. it feels bizzare to see so many people rejoicing over the death of someone. i totally understand the importance of this event and there is some sense of satisfaction knowing justice has been served in someway, but what was really accomplished by killing one person? certainly no reason to dance in the streets..

    May 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  3. Chitown Jason

    Good article.

    However, to some of the commenters comparing last night's celebrations to those of Palestinians celebrating after 9/11...they are not the same. One group was celebrating the death of a mass murderer and symbol of an ideology that is cancerous to humanity, and the other group was celebrating the death of thousands of random people.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • fantasticdan

      the comparison is celebrating death in general and the question of its morality

      May 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • James

      Well i guess then we should be shocked and disgusted by the celebrations when it was announced that Hitler was dead. Were there not celebrations then too? And also all those people celebrating at the end of return of the jedi. THE EMPEROR WAS A HUMAN TOO! (last part is a joke :P)

      May 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  4. JennyDE

    One does not have to a person of faith to feel conflicted by the celebrations. I'm an atheist and do not rejoice in any death. I'm not sorry he's dead, but I don't feel elation from it, either. I worry that the celebrations will be used to further al Qaeda's agenda and end up being a recruiting aid.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Adam

      Do you think not celebrating would change their minds? WAKE UP, they hate us no matter what we do!

      May 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  5. Jason

    Heck yes we can cheer for the violent death of Bin Laden. This guy is just a step below Hitler on the all time bad guy's list and as such he does not receive the privilege of being treated with any respect. I'm not particularly concerned if we as Americans take the moral high ground on this one. After 10 years, we deserve a little joy regarding the war on terror. Bin Laden needed to be killed, and the fact that it was from an American bullet makes it that much better.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  6. emetul

    In New York more than 3000 humans were killed. How about more than 200 thousand innocent civilians killed in Iraq and Afganistan. Don't they have a mother, father, children? Unfortunately the mentality of the majority of Americans is that if it is not American his/hers life worth nothing. Such mentality produces Bin Ladins. !

    May 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • James

      Some of what you say might be true however don't overlook the fact that alot of Arab governments slaughter and oppress their people daily. People blame the US for damn near everything in the middle east and it needs to end. Yeah the US has done some major bone headed moves. Supporting dictators is a big one that really got rolling in the 60's and 70's? While that was very short sighted on Americas part the USSR was attempting to do the same so our government said better a dictator loyal to us then Russia. Then you have the gulf war yeah America the big bad evil empire helped SAVE a arab country but again we failed to do the right thing and take Saddam out then and there. Then you have Afghanistan which was a correct war imo. Then Iraq 2 which i will FULLY agree was a stupid move motivated by Jr wanting to impress daddy bush. But yeah not saying the US hasn't messed up big time but don't try and act like the US is some evil empire. the US is by no means near perfect but i can bet you my life our government treats the people of a occupied country a WHOLE hell of alot better then most other arab nations treat their OWN people.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • b27607

      I'd like to see proof of your "200,000 civilian" deaths. It's nowhere even close to that, perhaps 5,000 at worst. If they're carrying a rifle and shooting at our troops they're not "civilian", they're part of an armed force that just isn't wearing a uniform.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  7. Michael Day

    why does a discussion on morality always have to begin with people of faith. annoying.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  8. LiberateUs

    My classmates are happy that he's dead, but I wasn't. I felt angry and ashamed that people in this country would rejoice because someone was MURDERED by our soldiers. Bin Laden was to be arrested and tried at the request of the U.N, but Obama issued the death warrant. I'm ashamed...ashamed of being an American. Thats how I feel

    May 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Adam

      How old are you? That will help me understand your POV a little better. Are you saying you're angry he was "murdered" as you call it? Did you expect him to put his gun down and surrender? He got exactly what he deserved, except for the fact that he died a quick death.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  9. abw

    Why does one have to be religious to think it's wrong to cheer someone's death? I don't consider myself to be religious, but I thought the cheering and chanting were wrong

    May 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Jester

      Wrong for you but RIGHT for them !

      May 3, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  10. Reality

    Bin Laden is dead but unfortunately Islam, his religion and operating manual, is not but there is a quick cure:

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism at your request.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • LiberateUs

      Hey Reality! Stop bing a HYPOCRITE!

      May 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Jester

      Please post steps for christianity de-programing soon. Your wit and logic are a sound for sore ears !

      May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  11. Anon in DC

    Thank you John Blake for bringing up this import aspect of yesterday's events. I think many people–not just religious leaders–feel the moral dilemma of taking a life as well as celebrating the taking of that life, no matter how evil that life may have been.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  12. zzzz

    ‎"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." – Mark Twain

    May 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Special Moments

      I like that. 🙂

      May 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  13. B.

    MLK Jr: 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. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. ... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  14. Religious sects

    CNN really needs to stop putting questions of morals in the belief blog, it implies religion holds the rights to morals and not so subtly implies human morality is not human.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Sunda

      Thank you!! I am not a Christian, and my revulsion at the sight of these gatherings is not informed by religion. Religion has not cornered the market on morality, not even close.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • CJG

      Thank you for your comment. It summed up the main problem I have with this article. It makes it sound like non-believers are out partying it up, whereas the theists are moral enough to take the time to quietly reflect on this. Well, I'm an atheist and I've been struggling with this all day. I refuse to celebrate the death of anyone. I agree justice was served but I'm not going to be chanting USA any time soon. And that has nothing to do with God. That has to do with me having a personal conscience and feeling uncomfortable celebrating a person's death.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Adam

      CJG- I myself am also an atheist, but I have no problem feeling great joy for the death of OBL. He is not a human being, he's the Muslim Hitler. Im not joining any rally to celebrate this event, but Im extremely proud of our service men and women and for the cajones Obama showed in approving this mission. If im going out to celebrate anything, its the fact that justice is served and that 3000 victims are smiling down on us knowing this POS won't kill anymore!

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

      @Adam .... um, you're an atheist so they're "smiling down on you" from exactly where?

      May 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  15. JO

    I'm not a bleeding heart liberal, by far. But I too feel the tension in this. As a Christian I look to Jeus' teaching on loving our enemies. OBL was a wicked man, no doubt. I'm grateful that he's gone. I'm grateful that justice has been served. But as we all remember, probably with much hurt and anger, on 9-11 the people dancing in the streets and shooting guns in celebration. It was a terrible display of disrespect for human life. I think on a root level, we are Americans and above such disgusting behavior. Secondly, as a Christian, I still have to wrestle with the teachings of Jesus that go against my natural response and the response of the world. I am definitely glad OBL is dead. I'm grateful for our military and CIA working tirelessly for over a decade to find and kill him. The world is better today, than yesterday. I just haven't felt the desire to dance about it.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  16. RV

    This is "Diwali" Celebrations – End of Evil.
    Think of not only the 1000s of innocent lives lost, but 1000s of innocent lives that is saved from him..

    May 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  17. paul

    it's more about an evil dying than a man dying.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  18. Tom

    I read about a WWII bomber pilot who asked forgiveness in prayer after missions over Germany. There is a certain dignity in that. When we celebrate victory over an enemy in battle I am sure God does not go there with us. But there was no other way to handle this man. We took care of it the only way we could. Let's earn this victory with our determination to continue to develop a just and peaceful society.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  19. Cdn Bruce

    “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?”

    I think this puts it best. It's understandable that people celebrated, but most looked to be very young and looking to have some fun. But I know when I see people in what is perceived as a third world or more backward country, cheering for some event against the west, I think how foolish they look. They look ignorant to me. Like I said it's understandable that people celebrated – maybe it was just letting off 10 years of steam. But what an opportunity the West had to show the Middle East that we could accept this with maturity.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • StandFast

      And, let's face it, Americans have little to celebrate. They have bankrupted themselves.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Ryan

      And whatever country you come from is most certainly far worse off than we are. EU maybe?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • StandFast

      @Ryan. So sorry to disappoint! I'm from Canada. Our per capita debt is 1/2 of yours. We've had no banks fail here and less than 1% of mortgages are in arrears, let alone foreclosed. We are your #1 trading partner and your #1 supplier of oil. We are not perfect but economically we are not "far worse off" than you.

      My statement was meant to point out that as a nation you have had little to celebrate and you are facing very tough times ahead so maybe Cdn Bruce's comment about blowing off steam has merit. I fully agree with him, though, that you missed a golden opportunity here to take the moral high ground. How refreshing it would have been to have seen a solemn peace march or a vigil. Something with dignity and honor. Instead, there is this tendency to treat everything like its a sporting event. Get drunk. Get angry. Chant USA USA. This is the type of behavior I cannot understand. War is not a game.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  20. bob

    We cannot pretend that we are any better than those who cheered on 9-11-01 if we cheer now. To do so gives the tone to this event of a soccer (football) match. The game is far from over. We just scored a goal. Yea... (sarcasm)
    That we had the right to kill him is not the point. Does God want us to celebrate? I think not. I prefer now to pray. Pray for the families he destroyed on 9-11 that this may bring them peace, pray for the families' we destroyed (UBL's and many others since 9-11) so that they find peace., pray for the many who will die tommorow, because we danced in the streets today.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Mike

      I disagree. 9/11 was an attack that killed almost 3,000 innocent people. This was justice on the perpetrator. I'll bet the families of the 9/11 victims can feel a sort of closure now that all the praying in the world could not.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:22 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.