So how should we react?

Well there is a huge amount of coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden everywhere. And some of the questions that need to be asked are to do with how we should react to this news.

For some there has been a near euphoria with scenes in the US of people celebrating on the streets.

For others there is the worry of the consequences of killing him and whether he will be treated as a martyr and will end up with others following him into violence and bloodshed.

bin Laden was a totemic figure who while he was alive acted as a rallying point for those who believed in terrorism. He believed in mass murder. He has been the cause of the death of thousands upon thousands of people around the world. Indeed when we get angry about the West’s intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq we need to remember that Al Qaeda stirred up the most awful response with thousands upon thousands innocent people killed by suicide bombings and shootings.

So I don’t regret that bin Laden is dead.

However, if we leave it there then we will not break the cycle of violence.

For me this seems to be an opportunity for peace. Indeed this allows a far bigger and better chance for peace than might otherwise be possible.

With the Arab spring and the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East there is a real chance that an alternative reality can take root.  A reality that sees justice and democratic freedom take root. As the Quilliam foundation said in a press release yesterday:

‘Bin Laden’s death – combined with the events of Arab Spring – offers a clear chance for Muslims throughout the world to move on from the era of al-Qaeda and to find ways to achieve dignity, prosperity and social justice without resorting to violence.  It is a chance too for jihadist groups around the world to reconsider their aims and methods, and to consider how they can help Muslims around the world rather than attacking them.’

So although there is a huge focus on bin Laden he was already becoming yesterday’s man with fewer and fewer muslims around the world wishing to follow his advice into jihad. I suspect that there is a real risk of some short term upsurge in violence to “avenge” bin Laden’s death but I also suspect that those saying his death will cause more people than ever to join the jihadist cause will prove to be unfounded.

In the longer term if we show continued support for democracy and self-determination in the middle east then I believe that there is a real chance to see a new future and reality gaining ground there. A future not determined by a mass murderer and his deluded followers, nor by the countries of the west but rather by the people of the middle east themselves.

That’s what I believe that we must pray for and encourage governments to work for.

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