Bin Laden is gone, but what drove him is not

by | May 3, 2011 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It’s simple to kill a man. You point a gun at his head. You pull the trigger. The bullet does the rest.

It is far more difficult to kill an idea. And so a headline on cable news Monday – “The End of the War on Terror?” – was so pathetically inappropriate, you wanted to holler.

Osama bin Laden, shot in the head by a highly trained group of Navy Seals on Sunday, was not the world’s first terrorist.

He won’t be the last.

He was merely the latest biggest name, this generation’s Hitler. He died the way all men die from a bullet because he was not special. He was not made of steel. He was not a ghost, nor a spirit, nor a god, nor a magic man. Just another religious zealot who spent much of his life planning murders and who finished it having it done to him.

We do not know the name of the soldier who killed him, and if fates are kind, we never will. That person did his duty, and to turn him into some kind of celebrity would send a message to Muslims who glorified bin Laden for his killing that we are no different from them. And we are. Different.

And we must remain so. We are different because we do not murder to terrorize people, we do not target the most innocent of souls, and in our vision of a perfect world, all nations coexist in harmony and diversity – they do not bow to a single religion and a fanatical view.

How our lives changed

Having said that, when I first heard the words “bin Laden is dead,” I admit to a primal surge of satisfaction, an internal roar, the kind of thing that, in athletes, makes them pound their chest after a winning score.

But it was quickly followed by something else: anger. A surge of anger I have not felt in years. Like many of you, I had not been thinking about bin Laden for a while. Life went on. Holidays came and went. People flew on airplanes. And he hid in caves. We put bin Laden on life’s list of “bad stuff we have to deal with” and soldiered on.

Why, then, such rage upon news of his death? Perhaps because I was reminded anew of the colossal killing his evil mind concocted? Perhaps because you think of all the souls lost, all the changes in our way of life – from the distrust of Islam to the pat-downs of grandmothers at airports – and you want to hit something?

Perhaps because of the wars that have been fought – from the cities of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan – essentially due to this one man’s brutal scheme?

Perhaps because his defeat seemed so basic – after decades of searching, after feeling he was invisible, here came a group of Navy SEALs, no more than a couple dozen, dropping out of helicopters, storming a compound, finishing in less than an hour with not a single U.S. casualty? Perhaps I felt, “Why not sooner? Couldn’t we have avoided so much?”

The money and the power

Of course, “sooner” is a silly word. The intelligence that led to this final raid was years in the making. Hitler, too, died in an instant. But his final defeat was years – and uncountable deaths – in its coming.

And now the wicked face of al-Qaida is gone. But someone else will step up. Someone else will fancy himself a mastermind. It took money and cunning to do what bin Laden did, but there are plenty of both in the radical Islamic world. And now there is a dire need to prove relevance. Bin Laden only became a hero once he pulled off the Sept.11 attacks. We may – even as we feel safer – be entering a most dangerous time.

It’s simple to kill a man. We just did it. But whatever idea spawned his evil, inspired his followers and caused tears to flow in other parts of the world, that idea is still alive, squirming now to find a new host. We must sleep with one eye open, even if our sleep, with bin Laden buried in the water, comes a little easier.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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