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. Dywlf

    What a bunch of sanctimonius hypocrisy. Some people need to be removed from the face of the earth.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • YeahRight

      Who will be the judge of that you? You who is making assumptions about others, not wanting to understand their side of it? With blind hatred like yours it proves hatred is built on the foundation of ignorance.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • cecilia

      it was probably just over your head

      May 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • northernwarrior

      Right on. The pakkies should be put on notice. Harboring a fugitive is the same as supporting one. Can't wait to see his bullet ridden bloody corpse!

      May 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Johnny Five

    Yes it is 100% wrong. No matter if you believe Bin Laden has been dead for many years (which he has been), cheering over anothers death is not acceptable. Jesus wouldn't do it. Those who cheer are either ignorant of love or robots.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  3. Jesse R

    All I can remember are those poor people on that September morning throwing themselves off of the burning towers. It was awful that day and to finally, finally, kill the animal that was responsible for it is worthy of a celebration. This was an animal, a monster, not human. Doesn't deserve any respect. What is really sickening are the people who continue to judge us as Americans. We can't breathe without being judged on how we exhaled and inhaled. Or whether the exhale was offensive or was it the inhale? Give me a break. PARTY ON! And BRING IT you America haters! USA USA USA! I love being an American.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "We can't breathe without being judged on how we exhaled and inhaled. "

      The Muslims feel the same way. Typical selfish American.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • kip

      being american, which millions in the watching world admire, love and emulate, should not equate with being an obnoxious brat. it is because of that world leadership and spotlight that barbaric conduct matters. you may cheer a baseball game, not a death. otherwise you cannot complain when others cheer the deaths of americans. see? how sick it is when you turn it round? america must rise above its enemies, not sink to their level.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  4. ani

    Why are some people saying that 'we killed evil' and stuff like that? Do you really think that anything is going to change? Bin Laden's second-in-command–whoever that may be–will just take his place. The war is far from over. And we shouldnt even be celebrating that fact that someone got killed anyway. It's not a religious issue, its a moral issue. And i AM a religious person.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  5. mn

    it says in the bible that God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. who then are we to. it is repugnant and inhumane to exult in killing and death of others whilst we mourn our own. we do not know now where he is or what God will do on judgement day, or how he will deal with us too. i take no pleasure in his death. he was once a child who became by some reports a gentle, softly spoken man who was also a mass murderer. that mix is the sadest aspect in wondering how and why these people are driven to mercilessly harm others. we also therefore should not be gentle and softspoken whilst in our hearts murdering others, or vicariously exulting in their execution. it perpetuates the cycle of hate which is the easiest, most natural way to feel when so wronged but we must try to get it in Godly perspective. neither is it real justice for all those maimed and killed by this movement. more to the point there are many others where he came from and we must quickly do everything to counter but not provoke the hostility and hate rejoicing in the streets will attract.there is something backward and saddening about young men and women dressed in the height of fashion of the modern western world, yet cheering someone's death as if its the middleages and a public stoning.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  6. SoCalDave

    This atheist is also disgusted by the celebration of his death. I don't think it's right to celebrate anyone's death, no matter how sinister they were.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  7. sam

    Osama is going to rot. Not in hell, but rather underwater where his body will decompose and become fish food.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  8. Charlie

    While the Egyptians were drowning, the angels broke into a song of victory. God interrupts the jubilation and rebukes the heavenly hosts, “How dare you sing while My children [the Egyptians] are drowning!” God created the slaveholders.

    That is why at the ceremonial meal of Passover that inaugurated our Jewish festival of freedom there is a remarkable ritual. We remove a drop of wine from the cup each time one of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians was mentioned. Wine is a traditional symbol of joy. Our cup of joy is necessarily diminished when any human being suffers, regardless of the reason. http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/CT_gutterman3_04-03-07_6D50OSC.1baa134.html

    Let them ask, then, whether it is quite fitting for good men to rejoice in extended empire. The rot of those with whom just wars are carried on favors the growth of a kingdom. This would certainly have been small if the peace and justice of neighbors had not by any wrong provoked the carrying on of war against them. Human affairs being thus more happy, all kingdoms would have been small, rejoicing in neighborly concord. Therefore, there would have been very many kingdoms of nations in the world, as there are very many houses of citizens in a city.

    Therefore, to carry on war and extend a kingdom over wholly subdued nations seems to bad men to be felicity, to good men necessity. Your wishes are bad, when you desire that one whom you hate or fear should be in such a condition that you should conquer him. Beyond doubt, it is greater felicity to have a good neighbor at peace, than to conquer a bad one by making war.

    If, therefore, by carrying on wars that were just, not unkind or uncharitable, the Romans could have acquired so great an empire, ought they not to worship as a goddess even the injustice of foreigners? For we see that this has cooperated much in extending the empire, by making foreigners so unjust that they became people with whom just wars might be carried on, and the empire increased. St. Augustine, The City of God Book 4 Chapter 15


    On June 14, 1876, Sitting Bull has a vision during a sacred Sun Dance ceremony. He sees a battle that ends in victory for his people. The vision comes with a warning: the warriors must not steal their enemies' possessions. Ignoring Sitting Bull's warning, the warriors raid the soldiers' possessions. The Battle of Little Bighorn is perhaps one of the worst fiascos in American military history. While it stands as a great victory for the Sioux Nation, the battle now symbolizes the beginning of the end of their freedom. http://www.galafilm.com/chiefs/htmlen/sioux/ev_bighorn.html

    The warriors did not heed the advise of Sitting Bull, but celebrated at the death of the dreaded enemy. When we celebrate the death of our enemies, we likewise show that we do not learn the lesson of Sitting Bull. True enough, for the Lakota, the death of the dreaded Custer was necessary. The celebration, and all that went with it, only caused the Anglo nation to bring more death and more destruction. When are we ever going to learn the lesson of the great chief of what we refer to as a primitive tribe?

    While everyone else writes with great glee about the death of the murderous terrorist, which he was, it is necessary for somebody to stand up for Judeo-Christian principles. We wailed in anger as we watched Arabs shout for joy when the Lockerbie bombers returned home, and when the Twin towers fell. Revenge was the key word. Are the Arab extremists to think otherwise to think otherwise as we celebrate? The Arab nations and the Jewish nations have been in a slug fest for sixty years. Each side's getting even for the last slug is not greeted with some version of "I had it coming," But "Now it is my turn." Passover and Easter at times to celebrate a new era, a Judea Christian Era when this is finally over. No! Christians and Jews do not celebrate the death of the tyrant and terrorist who died this Sunday. We wail with the angels in heaven that God's creature ended up so bad that it became necessary to take him out. We mourn his death with our Arab brothers, not because we think he was a nice guy, he was not, but because he was a human being made in the image of God, with all the rights, privileges, and obligations that come with that.

    We cry with our Arab brothers that this human being ended up so bad that it became necessary for him to be removed from this world. We cry with our Arab brothers that he chose to become a threat to himself and others. Then we cry to God that we all learn from his mistakes, and learn to trust in the One True God, allowing us to see his actions for the evil that the are.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Jesse R

      Osama was not human. He was a monster, an animal. Actually even animals have souls. He's at the bottom of the ocean where his body is being picked apart by the ravenous creatures like himself. It is a good thing too otherwise there would be some idiotic shrine set up where his body would have been buried only to fuel more anger and hatred towards us, America.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Actually even animals have souls"

      No they don't where does that say that in the Bible?

      May 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "It is a good thing too otherwise there would be some idiotic shrine set up where his body would have been buried only to fuel more anger and hatred towards us, America."

      The shrine will now be the home where he was killed.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  9. Like_Facts

    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?” ....... Are you kidding me? You could argue about celebrating death, but don't equate celebrating killing of innocent civilians with celebrating the killing of the most heinous terrorist of our times! Seriously, how do these idiots get to work for Amnesty International?

    May 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  10. Robyn Harris

    I take no joy in the death of bin Laden or anyone else,
    but he freely and repeatedly chose to commit acts of
    profound evil and had to be stopped.

    I shed no tears at his death, nor will I cheer.
    I do offer my profound thanks to those brave persons
    who risked their own lives to end this dangerous menace.

    I hope for a little more peace in the future for everyone.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  11. Guedde

    I'm very happy that he was killed. He was killed early in the morning on Monday, May 2nd. This has been my best birthday present in a long time!

    May 2, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Ed

      Happy Birthday

      May 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  12. JP

    Meanwhile, beware. To kill the bad guys without bringing them to trial is contrary to everything America stands for - and makes those, including the president, who ordered bin Laden's murder, and that's what it ultimately is, not much better than tyrants they order killed.
    This is a sad day for freedom and democracy.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Craig Shearer

      He wasn't American. He wasn't on American soil. He did not deserve, nor was he afforded any additional courtesy. I am glad when a local thug gets killed committing a crime. Why wouldn't I rejoice at the death of this guy?

      May 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Jesse R

      Oh yes... of course. We should have ASKED him if he wanted to be captured. Then, we could have put him on Dr. Phil and find out what his real problem is... maybe mommy issues? Only child? Abuse? GIVE ME A BREAK! This was an animal, a monster. It was surrender or die. That simple.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • paul

      Do you really think that anyone in an American court would give him anything less then the death sentence? Maybe it was a mercy that he was killed then, instead of waiting months being held in prison (where he'd either be mistreated by the guards of the inmates) and then be sentenced to death?

      Of course, I was glad that he was killed. My father was killed during 9/11. It made me feel a little better that the man had been brought to justice somehow.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  13. Andy

    Repulsion to people celebrating death has nothing to do with faith or religion. It has to do with human decency. I believe there is no god, and am repulsed by the celebrations I've seen. I am also repulsed by religious people and this columnist making it an issue of religion when there is a moral stance to be made. I don't like killing, I don't like this country continuing to kill in my name with my money, and I don't like people who believe in god thinking they have cornered the market on moral correctness or even common sense.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • airwx

      Thank you for being a decent person. I agree that no group, the religious or non-religious should celebrate death, even of am enemy.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  14. Bill

    What is behind the cheering and revelry is hatred. The real question is – Is it wrong to hate? Is it human to not hate? Should we always forgive? Bin Laden help orchestrate the deaths of thousands of people, is it wrong to hate him for that? Should he be forgiven? No matter how many times someone slaps you in the face should you not feel hatred and should you continuously forgive the person? These may be Christian ideals we should live by but they are nearly impossible to achieve.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Peter F

      It is the easier thing to do join in the celebration of his death... but that doesn't mean it is the right thing. WWJD?

      May 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • airwx

      You just articulated the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament Law beautifully. One is based on revenge, the other on love. I prefer the latter. Yes it is hard to follow....we are prone to failure... but that should not stop us from the trying. Peace

      May 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • YeahRight

      Do you also hate Hitler? Hate the US for starting a war in Iraq under false pretenses? Do you hate the leader of Libya? Do you hate those killing in South Africa? The question is where does it stop, when will it stop? If humanity continues on the path they are on, peace on earth will always be an unattainable goal.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • cocoloco

      For the one about the difference of the Old Testament and New Testament: Read both statements and you will see, neither,in the Old or the New, and especially the Old, the topic of "revenge" is the result of "tooth by tooth..." The subject is "JUSTICE", and not 'revenge'. At the end, the New Testament applies since the Old Testament is a dead law: Jehovah God can avenge anything and He only can give life or take it away, and, "Yes:, God has "his ministers" to impose the death penalty if necessary in extreme cases:: Romans 13:1-7


      May 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • pam

      The problem with Hate is that it usually does more harm to the "hater" than the person being hated. None of us can live a perfect life, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  15. j01

    morally right?....if it was up to me I would dance down 5th ave. with his head on a stick.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • G Culver

      Good comment!

      May 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  16. rj

    ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE HIM "he without sin should cast the first stone" ...

    May 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • paul

      -Throws Stone-

      May 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  17. GetReal

    This is not a politically correct moment. This is not a time when you can tell people what to think and feel.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • M

      Who's doing that?

      May 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  18. Dywlf

    I'm not allowed to say what I want, apparently I will offend the blushing violets found only on cnn.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  19. joepa

    If you show mercy for a killer and that act of mercy results in another innocent person getting killed by the murderer that benefitted from the act of mercy than the blood of his future victims is on your hands. I celebrate Bin Laden's death because it means no others will die by his hand.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • GetReal

      Joepa, THANK YOU for reminding us that this was a bloodthirsty killer we executed.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • B

      We're not talking about a NAVY Seal showing mercy on Bin Laden ... your comment would obviously apply if one of these men or women involved in this operation decided to show mercy on him and let him go, but has absolutely no connection to this article or the situation in general. I am glad Bin Laden has gotten what he deserves, but hearing the news of his death and maybe even expressing your joy or relief to yourself or your family rather than dancing in the streets is not showing mercy, it's being honorable, American and demonstrating why we're the greatest citizens on earth, because we respect life.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  20. stu

    ah, the good Christians of America celebrating another's death. Just as God intended I'm sure. Make fun of Arabs yelling in the streets all you want – but don't think for a second you're not just like them.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • airwx

      As a Christian I must agree with you. I don't know about others, but I've seen enough death to know that it is never a source of comfort.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Jane Marie Law

      We have a biblical tale telling us what God thinks: IN the story of nthe Exodus, as the sea engulfs the Egyptians chasing the fleeing Israelites, the angels rejoice. God says, "My creatures are dying and you rejoice?" Osama bin Laden is an evil man. But to rejoice at the death of another human being is wrong.

      May 2, 2011 at 7:16 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.