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We shouldn't see Osama's death as part of holy war


Robert Giroux

Two days ago I received an e-mail from a stranger who claimed that he was a member of the US hit squad who tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden.

The man said that he had important material to send on to me and asked if he could trust me. This was an offer which I could safely refuse but it illustrated the scams and the myths which are now resulting from the dramatic execution of one of the world's most wanted terrorists.

The manner of his apprehension and his death will be seen as one of the most important moments in recent American history, as was the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York a decade ago with such loss of life - all of which was part of the master plan of bin Laden.

One of the important developments following his death was the announcement by the Americans that they had buried him at sea with the full rites of the Muslim religion. This is something which many of the Christian and Muslim victims of bin Laden's terrorism had not been afforded.

Religion played a significant part not only in his life and also in his death but also in the reaction of those who killed him. A US official reported bin Laden's death to a senior officer with the observation "For God and country".

This implied that the good guys had won and that the bad guy had been eliminated. This is no doubt the view of most people.

One man whose wife was killed in the Twin Towers attack said that she is now in Heaven and would approve of God casting the soul of bin Ladin into Hell. The symbolism might be a bit dodgy but many people might agree with this "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" theology. Osama bin Laden, like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam and others would be high on anyone's list of the world's greatest baddies.

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It is notable, however, that the life story of bin Laden was woven into the fabric of bad religion.

Here was a rich man who, after a period as a playboy, became a religious ascetic and used his money to bankroll militant Islam.

He used violence to promote a fundamentalist religious ethic which was aimed at the 'infidels' of Western militarism and at cleaning up the alleged moral corruption of its parent societies.

To that extent it was a holy war, and the death of bin Laden is unlikely to end this but rather to move it into another phase. The Islamic militants have lost an iconic leader but others will take up the battle.

Christians, of course, cannot adopt a 'holier than thou' attitude because many atrocities have been committed historically in the name of Christianity, and not least during the Crusades. These took place a long time ago but religion continues to play an important role in the minds of those militant Muslims who want to rid the world of what they regard as the cancer of moral corruption at the heart of Western and neo-Christian societies.

In the West itself there are also those who point out the irony of a US President, himself a committed Christian, who sanctions a military mission to capture bin Laden or to kill him if necessary - thus breaking one of the fundamental Christian commandments, 'Thou shalt not kill'.

The point is not lost on others also that bin Laden was unarmed when he was summarily executed by the American hit squad, though most people might not be bothered too much by the killing of a man who brought death to so many others. Perhaps one of the lessons of Osama bin Laden's life and death is that the concept of a 'holy war' is, and always has been, a contradiction in terms.

The idea of 'holy' and 'war' are mutually exclusive and the only way in which religion can flourish is for its adherents to show the regard and respect for their neighbours which is inherent in most of the world's great faiths.

It is something which we should not forget here at home, where we have learned the hard way about 'bad' religion.

Tribal labels should have nothing to do with religion in any form.

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