News that U.S. troops have killed Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was a stunning development that sparked a range of reactions — jubilation for many, anger for others, and for some believers, a debate over whether this was the moral and ethical course of action.
“Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama declared in his statement late on May 2, 2011. The future may not be as simple as that stark verdict.
As a New York Times reporter wrote: “What remains to be seen is whether the death of the leader of Al Qaeda galvanizes his followers by turning him into a martyr, or whether it serves as a turning of the page in the war in Afghanistan and gives further impetus to the Obama administration to bring American troops home.”
War or peace? Justice or revenge? And what of the legacy of Obama, who in 2009 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace?
This edition of ReligionLink tracks reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death and offers resources for reporters covering the religious, moral and ethical ramifications of the developments.
Torture and "assassination"
The killing of bin Laden, who apparently was not armed, has sparked a debate over whether deadly force was justified. It has also renewed debates over torture (or “enhanced interrogation” methods) because some argue such techniques aided in locating him.
Read an editorial in the May 23, 2011, edition of America magazine, the national weekly produced by the Jesuits, that questions whether the bin Laden operation means the U.S. is resorting too frequently to “extrajudicial” killings.
“Bin Laden’s Death Reignites Torture Debate”
A May 3, 2011, blog post rounds up news stories and religious reaction surrounding the torture issue.
“From Guantanamo to Abbottabad”
John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who served in the Justice Department from 2001-03, writes in The Wall Street Journal that the successful raid vindicates the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.
Revenge and forgiveness
The religious priority on forgiveness is challenged by bin Laden’s deeds.
“Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose?”
Read a May 4, 2011, essay in Scientific American, “Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose?” A psychologist who studies human behavior explains the complex desire for vengeance in the context of bin Laden’s death.
“Dalai Lama suggests Osama bin Laden’s death was justified”
On May 3, 2011, the Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said that while Buddhism, like most Western religions, calls for forgiveness, “Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take countermeasures, you have to take countermeasures.”
“Dalai Lama: Osama bin Laden Deserves Compassion”
The Dalai Lama’s aides clarified his statements on Osama bin Laden’s death and said the Buddhist leader believes bin Laden deserves “compassion.”
“For God’s Sake: Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death”
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov discusses Jewish views on the concept of God’s revenge in this May 2 essay at Patheos.com.
Security precautions and incidents
“Mosque vandalism, increased security follows bin Laden’s death”
A Muslim community center in Maine was vandalized May 2, 2011, and mosques in other cities have tightened security.
“Bin Laden death: Bomb-sniffing dogs, plainclothes officers out in force around L.A.”
Police in Los Angeles and other cities have heightened patrols near mosques, synagogues and other worship sites. Read about it in an article from the Los Angeles Times.
Handling of bin Laden's body
“Why Was bin Laden Buried at Sea So Quickly?”
Time.com gives an explanation of why bin Laden was buried so quickly, and at sea.
“My Take: Burying bin Laden at sea an elegant solution”
Stephen Prothero, a religion scholar at Boston University, writes on CNN’s Belief blog that burial at sea was “an elegant solution” to the quandary of what to do with the body, as it thwarts any tendency to turn bin Laden’s burial place into a pilgrimage site for extremists.
“Account Tells of One-Sided Battle in Bin Laden Raid”
On May 4, 2011, Obama decided not to release photos of the corpse. Read an article about the aftermath of the bin Laden raid from the New York Times.
“Osama bin Laden photos: To show or not to show?”
Before Obama’s decision to not publish photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, journalism groups pondered the ethics of publishing or airing any photos that might become available.
“Reuters Defends Decision to Publish Bin Laden Compound Photos”
On May 4, 2011, Reuters published a number of photos of the compound in the aftermath of the raid, including gruesome photos of bin Laden guards killed by U.S. forces. Reuters defended the decision as appropriate.
“The Case for Releasing the UBL Photos”
On May 5, 2011, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network argued that Obama should release photos of bin Laden’s corpse in part because they will come out eventually, and because not doing so violates Obama’s vow to be transparent and makes the president appear “arrogant.”
“CNN Poll: Majority in U.S. say bin Laden in hell”
A CNN poll published May 3, 2011, shows that 61 percent of Americans believe that bin Laden is in hell, with one in 10 saying no and nearly a quarter unsure.
“Rowan Williams in row over Osama bin Laden killing”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on May 5, 2011, voiced reservations about the killing of bin Laden and the varying accounts of the episode. Read an article from The Telegraph about the controversy his remarks generated.
“Vatican says bin Laden’s death cause for reflection, not rejoicing”
The Vatican called for reflection, not rejoicing, at the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing.
“How Should Christians Respond to Osama bin Laden’s Death?”
Christianity Today has a blog post titled “How Should Christians Respond to Osama bin Laden’s Death?” It rounds up some initial reactions to bin Laden’s 2011 killing.
“Huckabee says to bin Laden: ‘Welcome to hell'”
Former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee responded to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death by saying, “Welcome to hell, bin Laden.”
“The Trial that Still Must Come–The Death of Osama bin Laden and the Limits of Human Justice”
Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, cautions against celebratory reactions to Osama bin Laden’s death and says bin Laden did not have an earthly court trial but won’t escape God’s judgment. Mohler also describes the raid as fully acceptable under just-war theory.
“What is a Christian Response to bin Laden’s Death?”
Read a blog post at America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, titled “What is the Christian Response to Bin Laden’s Death?” It is written by the Rev. James Martin and argues that “as a Christian … I cannot rejoice at the death of a human being, no matter how monstrous he was.”
“Update: Reaction to Obama’s Bin Laden Speech”
David Brody, chief political correspondent for CBN News, criticized Obama’s somber tone in announcing the death. “How about showing a little joy?” wrote Brody, suggesting that the president was overly concerned about Arab reaction.
“Anthropos, Enemy, and Bin Laden”
Joe Carter, web editor for First Things, urges Christians to temper any relief at bin Laden’s death with humility and the understanding that those who commit evil acts are “fallen, sacred yet degraded,” human beings.
“The Death of Bin Laden.”
A contributor at Vox Nova, a Catholic group blog, writes that killing someone “will never be an act of justice … but rather, brings further loss onto the world.”
“MPAC Greets Bin Laden’s Death With Sense of Relief”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council issued a statement expressing “an immense sense of relief” at bin Laden’s death.
“CAIR Welcomes Elimination of Osama bin Laden”
CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a prominent Muslim advocacy group, issued a statement that “welcomed the announcement of the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a threat to America and the world.”
“Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf Praises Pres. Obama For Killing Osama Bin Laden”
Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric behind the controversial plan to build an Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site, praised Obama for ordering the killing of bin Laden.
“U.S. Muslims hope bin Laden death will ease pressure”
CNN reports that U.S. Muslims hope the death will ease pressure on their community.
“Opinion: For Muslims, a reason to rejoice”
Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer who is also founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and global managing editor for The Crescent Post in Washington, D.C., called bin Laden’s death a reason for rejoicing by Muslims.
“The mourners of bin Laden”
Leaders of Hamas and the Taliban mourned the death of Osama bin Laden and threatened retaliation.
“Bin Laden Killing Draws Praise From Allies but Concern About Reprisals”
In a New York Times article about reactions worldwide, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, former head of the militant Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, called bin Laden a martyr and predicted “he will be a role model to Muslim youth.”
“Muslim world had soured on bin Laden since 9/11”
A May 2, 2011, CNN story says the Muslim world had largely soured on bin Laden since 9/11.
“Pride and Justice”
An editorial in The Jewish Daily Forward welcomed the news and praised the Obama administration’s handling of the raid.
“How should Jews respond to bin Laden’s death?”
The Jewish news service JTA considers initial reactions of Jewish faith leaders to the death of Osama bin Laden.
“Bin Laden killing poses questions for moral debate”
A May 4, 2011, Catholic News Service story, “Bin Laden killing poses questions for moral debate,” includes comments from a range of experts and sources.
“New Mideast Turns Away From Terrorist”
The Wall Street Journal describes mixed reactions to Osama bin Laden’s death in the Mideast, particularly among Arabs on the street. One said the death was “good for everyone — for Muslims and Christians.” He added, though, that some view bin Laden sympathetically. “Some people loved him.”
“‘USA! USA!’ is the wrong response”
David Sirota, who in 2001 was a congressional staffer and had to flee the U.S. Capitol on 9/11, laments the public jubilation of some Americans at bin Laden’s death.
“Is it morally right to celebrate bin Laden’s death?”
A CNN article examines the morality of celebrating bin Laden’s demise.
Richard Barrett is the United Nations Coordinator of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Implementation Monitoring Team, also known as the al-Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team. Barrett advises the Security Council on the threat posed by al-Qaeda.
John Esposito is founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown. He is an expert on global terrorism, Islam and democracy, and international interfaith relations. His publications include Islamaphobia: The Challenges of Pluralism in the 21st Century and Islam: The Straight Path; The Oxford Dictionary of Islam; Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam; What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam; Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think; and Women in Muslim Family Law.
He has said he hopes bin Laden’s death will help reduce Islamophobia in the U.S.
Nicholas Fotion is a philosophy professor at Emory University in Atlanta and and an expert in military ethics. Fotion can talk about whether the killing of bin Laden was justified as an act of war, the differences and parallels in ethical considerations between conventional wars and wars on terrorism, and whether terrorism violates conditions of just-war theory. He is the author of War & Ethics: A New Just War Theory (2008).
Bruce Lawrence is professor emeritus of religion at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is author of Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (Verso, 2005). He is an expert on comparative fundamentalism and Muslim networks.
Flagg Miller is a religious studies professor at the University of California, Davis, who can talk about bin Laden’s influence among a diverse range of Islamic militant movements. Miller is writing a book, Becoming Bin Laden, that investigates the contents of the al-Qaeda leader’s own audiotape library, a collection of more than 1,500 tapes.
Rashied Omar is Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He says bin Laden defiled Islam. An expert on Islam, religion and violence, interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding, Omar trained in religious studies at the University of Cape Town and in Sudan, Pakistan and Malaysia.
Jonathan Tran is an assistant professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He specializes in theological ethics and can discuss the just-war tradition and the morality of celebrating bin Laden’s death.
Christian van Gorder
Christian van Gorder is an associate professor of religion at Baylor who teaches world religions. He can comment on the controversy over the at-sea burial and whether it violated Muslim burial tradition.
Keith David Watenpaugh
Keith David Watenpaugh is a contemporary Middle Eastern historian and Islamic studies specialist at the University of California, Davis, who can discuss human rights in the Middle East, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Christian-Muslim relations. Watenpaugh is the author of Being Modern in the Middle East and editor of The Arab Intellectual and the Question of Modernity (2009).
Resources and background
“Osama bin Laden buried at sea after being killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan”
Read The Washington Post’s news story on bin Laden’s death.
“Osama bin Laden killed: Leader of terrorist group al-Qaeda was 54”
Read The Washington Post’s obituary on Osama bin Laden.
“Osama bin Laden, the face of terror, killed in Pakistan”
Read CNN’s article and obituary on Osama bin Laden.
“Full Remarks: President Obama on the Death of Osama Bin Ladin”
Read the text of Obama’s initial remarks after the raid on Osama bin Ladin Pakistani compound, posted at Time.com.
“Bin Laden, who denied burial to many, buried with respect to Islam”
President Obama stressed that bin Laden was “not a Muslim leader,” as USA Today‘s Faith & Reason blog notes in an article about bin Laden’s death and burial.
See a Council on Foreign Relations’ media guide to the conflict in Afghanistan, featuring a list of experts and other resources.
“Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance”
Read “Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance,” a June 27, 2010, op-ed in The Washington Post by Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich is a Vietnam veteran, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, and a Catholic who often writes on issues of war and peace from a faith perspective. He is the author of the 2010 book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.
“Timeline: Messages from bin Laden”
Aljazeera.net posted a timeline of messages broadcast by bin Laden and his followers to the world since 2001.
Middle East Policy Council
The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. It works to educate Americans on the political, economic, and cultural issues in the Middle East relevant to the United States.