As people of faith how should we react to bin Laden’s death? It is certainly hard to mourn the demise of such an evil man. But is it right to celebrate the death of such a person? Crowds of people gathered at ground zero and in front of the White House cheering, waving American flags, and chanting USA. Although these demonstrations seem to be in poor taste, it is hard to condemn these people for feeling relief at the death of our enemy and pride in our country.
What does his death mean? Will we be safer with bin Laden out of the picture? Only time will tell. We don’t know the inner workings of Al Qaeda but this must be a setback to them as they scramble to reorganize. Let us hope the setback is more than temporary. To the thousands who lost loved ones due to bin Laden this should bring closure to them. They can feel a bit of satisfaction that the head of the snake is gone. There will be no more venomous strikes from this snake.
But is it ever acceptable to take another life and rejoice? Several religious leaders around the world have weighed in on this lately. All seem to agree that human life is precious but there are times justice needs to be served. Imam Hassan al-Qazwini, leader of one of the country’s largest mosques in a Detroit suburb said, “There is no doubt that this man was a thug. He was a murderer. His hands were stained by the blood of thousands of innocent people—Muslims and non-Muslims alike….We’re happy to see the man who caused so much pain for Muslims in this country is gone…finally.” He also explained Muslims are discouraged from showing jubilation over death, but cheering the news of bin Laden’s demise marks an occasion where “justice was served.”
Rev. Stephen Mimnaugh of Manhattan’s St. Francis of Assisi church said, “Justice may have been served, but we Catholics never rejoice in the death of a human being.” The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader and winner of the Nobel Peace prize, said that although bin Laden might have deserved compassion and even forgiveness as a human being, it is sometimes necessary to take counter-measures. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget what happened.”
Paul Miller, director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin, Ohio, said that although bin Laden’s killing clashes with their ethic of valuing every person as a son or daughter of God, they also believe that God allows a government to do what is necessary to protect its people.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the Bible makes a distinction between individual Christians, who should pray for and forgive their enemies, and the state which has a different responsibility. “God says they are to punish the evildoers.” He continued that the moral symmetry of the universe demands that a person who has perpetrated the terrible crimes against humanity that he has deserves to be executed. Land said, “And I look upon what happened to him not as a killing, not as an assassination, but an execution for crimes he freely admitted to and bragged about.”
Congregation Neve Shalom’s rabbi, Gerald Zelizer, said in an interview that according to the Talmud, a central Jewish text, if someone is trying to kill you, “you are obligated — not permitted — to kill that person before he kills you.”
In his Saturday morning sermon, Zelizer reminded congregants that the day bin Laden was killed was also Holocaust Remembrance Day. He suggested that the phrase often used in reference to Hitler might also be appropriate for bin Laden: “May his name be blotted out and his memory forgotten.”
Bin Laden is gone—let us rejoice that justice has been done. I propose we celebrate by following Rabbi Zelizer’s suggestion that we eradicate his name from all of history. That is the best punishment for an egomaniac.