Note: The Tuesday print edition of the AJC will include columns by a number of our writers about the killing of Osama bin Laden (I’ll add more links as they’re posted online). The following is my contribution.
On a visit to Berlin three years ago, my wife and I took a bicycle tour of the German capital’s World War II and Cold War sites. About halfway through the tour, we stopped on a patch of grass and asphalt outside an apartment building. There was nothing to see, the guide explained, but she did want us to know that we were standing above the bunker where Adolf Hitler killed himself. (You might say they paved perdition and put up a parking lot.)
When the news hit the airwaves late Sunday night that Navy SEALs had shot Osama bin Laden dead — 66 years and a day after Hitler’s own death — I felt strangely relieved and heartened. The scene of passersby breaking out into spontaneous, patriotic melody outside the White House marked a moment of clear, unifying victory for a nation in sore need of one. But I also recalled a lesson of the Führerbunker:
We can slay another people’s monster, but only they can slay his ghost.
When U.S. officials warn of reprisals against Americans and say the war on Islamic terror did not expire when bin Laden did, this is in part what they mean. Al Qaida did not die Sunday. But it goes deeper, to the streets where al Qaida’s franchises across the world recruit their new foot soldiers.
The bunker in Berlin was sealed and covered so as not to render it a shrine for latter-day Nazis; only in 2006 was so much as a sign posted there. Likewise, bin Laden’s watery grave was explained as a way to ensure no terror-pilgrims could pay homage to his remains.
But the particulars of bin Laden’s death raise a question: What kind of respect could a potential jihadist have for a supposed spiritual leader who lived in relative opulence — bin Laden’s million-dollar mansion in Pakistani suburbia was a far cry from the caves of Tora Bora and Waziristan — and shielded himself from the American bullets with a woman’s body?
A liar and a coward to the very end, this supposed giant who exhorted followers to sacrifice themselves for his false holy war. Let that truth ring wherever bin Laden’s minions are burrowed in.
And let ring, as well, our message to al Qaida’s recruits, via the successful end to a 13-year manhunt for bin Laden: The determination of a free people seeking justice will outlast that of murderous charlatans preying on others’ oppression. Liberty is deliverance from, not through, the likes of Osama bin Laden. The power to bury his ghost is theirs.
– By Kyle Wingfield