And there’s the problem.
Osama bin Laden is no hero of mine and no hero of most people in the Western world. But he is a hero to many others and his death will, I suspect, lead to more trouble rather than less.
Right at the end of Bertold Brecht’s satire on the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, the actor playing the now dead ‘Cauliflower King’ Ui comes onto the blacked-out stage, rips off his false moustache and says (bluntly):
The bastard may be dead, but the bitch is back on heat.
Or something to that effect. Bin Laden might be dead, but he will continue to be an icon of violent resistance to those who need him to justify their fear and anger and self-justifying sense of victimhood.
The lesson for the West must surely be to adopt policies around the world which are ‘right’ and promote justice… and not simply use wealth and military power to promote our own political or economic expediency. I remember well covering the original Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, during which Bin Laden was deemed someone to support. Remember Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the early 1980s and how the least worst dictator could be equipped for what turned out to be a rather short-term benefit. Remember Libya. Or Egypt.
Bin Laden should be remembered primarily for committing the biggest sin of all: using God to justify actions which deny the very character of God. If God is all-merciful, then his people had better show mercy. To brutalise and destroy human life (including those whose minds get wilfully perverted) denies the fundamental nature of God himself – the one who creates and gives life.
Despite the euphoria in the USA today, I suspect celebration might not the best response to the death of Bin Laden. Humble reflection might be more appropriate once the immediate shock has died down. And this was the message I heard from a young Muslim leader on TV this evening: bin Laden has been a disaster for most Muslims who have experienced some degree of Islamophobia in the West; but jubilation on the streets will not ultimately prove to be very helpful. Obama might think ‘justice has been done’; but, despite overtones of ‘atonement’, we might reflect that vengeance isn’t necessarily the same as justice.