Baying crowds, a bloody execution by an occupying power, the speedy disposal of a body, conspiracy theories already abounding… All sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it?
As a ‘Christian’ nation, the US will understand more than anyone that killing your nemesis is only the beginning of another version of their lives – and that new version can be much much more difficult to manage than the physical one that you have been so desperate to eliminate.
Jesus’ death at the hands of the Roman occupiers in the Jewish capital was, in many ways, a PR disaster. Having thought that they had done everything they could to get rid of someone who threatened the status quo and was disturbing the peace – killed him in public after numerous trials and hearings and disposed of his body securely in a guarded stone tomb – they still could not prevent his followers coming up with a theory that he had escaped death and was still very much alive and leading their radical movement. More violence followed. Locally, Jewish leaders cast out followers from their religious meetings. At a wider level, crackdowns were ordered, and fanatics like Paul were sent to root out and bring to justice any further cells. The big powers of the time also used their might: locking up the most vocal believers, and then dragging them from their jails and using them for sport.
Still sound familiar?
Bin Laden’s death is probably a good thing. But it now presents the world with a whole host of new problems. When you bite the head off a chicken, you end up with a headless chicken. The Christian narrative of Easter and beyond can become so over-familiar that we forget how well it parallels with founding stories of other movements, and we would do well to consider how best to manage the reactions that some radical Muslims will have.
There will be conspiracy theories, and arguments about the body. But there will also be those who will take the end of Bin Laden’s physical life and be emboldened by internalising his spirit. How should we deal with them? Clearly, more violence and persecution is only going to strengthen their resolve. What we must show them is compassion – and hope that the grassroots movements in the Arab world in particular will show that the desire for democracy and freedom of expression is stronger than any ideology that seeks to overthrow and bind. And what we must also resist is celebration of the killing. That, one can be sure, will only end badly.