“It’s one thing to be satisfied that the world’s most wanted terrorist has been brought to justice. But where does satisfaction end and gloating begin? It’s a question being posed online by ordinary Americans, religious figures, various commentators and several 9/11 widows. And it’s bound to be on President Barack Obama’s mind as he treads that fine line in a visit Thursday to ground zero…

“[F]or three women who lost husbands on Sept. 11, the jubilant scenes were disturbing…

“‘Forgive me, but I don’t want to watch uncorked champagne spill onto hallowed ground where thousands were murdered in cold blood,’ [Kristen Breitweiser] wrote Monday on The Huffington Post. ‘And it breaks my heart to witness young Americans cheer any death — even the death of a horrible, evil, murderous person — like it is some raucous tailgate party on a college campus. Why are we not somber?’…

“‘To say that I’m happy that he was killed just seems odd, and it goes against my Christian faith,’ [Deena Burnett Bailey] said. ‘The girls and I were talking about it. … One of them said, ‘What can we say, Mom? We can’t say praise the Lord, he’s dead.’ I said, ‘I know. You just have to know that someone else made that decision, and that he will now stand before judgment for having killed so many people.'”

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SPIEGEL ONLINE: At Ground Zero in New York, people openly rejoiced about the death of bin Laden. The images were reminiscent of Muslims celebrating in the Gaza Strip after the 9/11 attacks. Do you think that is acceptable?

Münkler: For European observers, these kinds of public gatherings are indeed somewhat embarrassing, because they demonstrate a kind of unthinking naïveté, and also because there is something provocative about them. But it was only a small number of Americans who demonstrated their feelings so openly, just as in 2001 it was only a few Muslims who were happy about the thousands who were killed in the terror attacks. Nevertheless, the photos of the revelers at Ground Zero have now become the definitive symbol of the entire nation’s mood. That is something that cannot be changed, unfortunately.

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“The Christian tradition, to which I try to adhere, famously and unnaturally commands that we love our enemies. It categorically forbids revenge. Christians are not supposed to will the suffering of someone they hate—even if he has given them very good reason to hate him. We are supposed to believe that even Osama bin Laden, a man who turned himself into a monster, was made in the image of God.

“On the other hand, the tradition also upholds the need for retribution. When wrongful acts put society out of balance, justice demands that balance be restored. So the tradition smiles upon our natural instinct to celebrate when criminals are captured and punished. The distinction between retribution and revenge is that between a real and objective good on the one hand, and a desire for a kind of emotional satisfaction on the other.

“The implication of the traditional Christian view of these matters, it seems to me, is that we may rightly celebrate the fact that Americans have stopped bin Laden from being able to do further harm, have brought him to justice, and have struck a great blow (even if partly symbolic) against his evil cause. What those of us who accept the tradition may not do, however, is celebrate his death as such. That is, we should not be happier that he is dead than we would be if he had been captured and committed for punishment. (Even that statement comes with a qualifier, though, since we may rightly be pleased about some of the consequences of his being dead rather than captured.)”

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“So do Americans think that the founder and leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network is now in hell?

“According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday, 61 percent of the public says yes, with one in ten saying no and nearly a quarter unsure.

“‘Not all Americans believe in hell – a point of view reflected in the relatively large number of ‘don’t know’ responses – and many religions don’t include punishment in an afterlife as part of their teachings,’ says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. ‘Nonetheless, the six in ten who say bin Laden is in hell reflects how strongly many Americans feel that bin Laden was an evil figure.'”

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“I’m one atheist who is choosing to believe that while he may not have endured hell on earth at the hands of our justice system, penal system, prison system, or the Kardashians, in the end, he got his. Trust me…

“When I think about the pathetic excuse for a man who spent much of his adult life in hiding, a man whose ‘faith’ must have been little comfort in the dead of night when his mansion became OUR Ground Zero, I am certain that he was totally alone in his own private hell. Even if just for a matter of minutes.

“Now those minutes of sheer terror and cowardice won’t compare to the lifetimes of pain and suffering he has inflicted on us — for that there is no justice great enough to erase the heartbreak many American and Muslim families have endured at his hands. But in delivering such a perfunctory and immediate death, in the ignoble and utterly average setting of a sparse bedroom in a suburban Pakistani house — a cave would have been too biblical, too noble even — we robbed him of the one thing he hoped he’d get. Glory. He went out with as much fanfare as he deserved. And for that, I will sleep easy knowing that he is not in hell, and he is not with 72 virgins. But he is shark bait.”

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