THE world was taken by surprise on 2 May 2011 with the announcement that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed. Some mourned, whilst others cheered. And to a few, the death brought closure to the 11 Sept 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre.
But what was the thinking behind US President Barack Obama’s act to endorse the killing of Osama? Was it a simple act of revenge? Or did Obama think that without Osama, the Al-Qaeda network would somehow be crippled or at least deterred from further acts of terrorism?
I hope and pray that revenge was not the primary motive to take out Osama. Somehow, I would like to believe that the President of the United States would act more strategically than to rely on his base instinct for revenge and re-election. Surely of all presidents, this one would have understood the need for reconciliation as opposed to revenge.
But if the primary motive was to cripple or deter Al-Qaeda, then surely the entire manoeuvre was misguided, to say the least. After all, stories and accounts of communities thriving after the demise of their leader are certainly not alien to us.
Take the Abrahamic faiths, for instance. According to the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible, the patriarch Moses led his people out of Egypt to the “promised land”. Nations feared them when rumours of the Egyptian plagues made the rounds. Added to these rumours were incredible stories of how Moses could even command the sea to split in two.
Even Moses, however, had to face up to his own mortality. He died before the Israelites entered the promised land. But according to the stories, his death did not stop the Israelites from conquering the land of Canaan and inflicting terror on the residents there. And a new leader, Joshua, arose from their midst and brought down the walls of Jericho.
Then there’s the account of Jesus Christ. Preaching a message of love, forgiveness and repentance, he was said to have healed the sick, raised the dead, and carried out untold numbers of miracles.
But just as he was in his prime, he was betrayed and crucified. His followers dispersed in fear. His protégé, Simon Peter, denied him three times. The multitudes who were taught, healed and even fed by him, decided to call for his crucifixion. His movement came to a halting stop, destined to be reduced to insignificance.
But his death was not the end of the story. Three days later, rumours started to spread that he had in fact come back to life. Some claimed to have seen him. Suddenly, his cowardly band of followers who ran away helter-skelter became emboldened. Simon Peter found his voice. They [then] called themselves followers of The Way, and they grew in strength and numbers even when Christ was no longer physically there.
And then there is the last of the Abrahamic faiths, namely Islam. The Prophet Muhammad achieved much in his lifetime. He transformed an idolatrous and polytheistic nation into a monotheistic entity. He uplifted the status of women. He brought good news to the Arabs. From being an outcast, he returned to Mecca a triumphant prophet and ruler.
However, upon his death, no definite successor was identified, prompting a division amongst his followers which persists until today.
Yet, despite the tussle to succeed him, Islam did not fade away. The movement survived the demise of its founder. In fact, the movement expanded and grew, stronger than ever, and reached heights that exceeded the achievements during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Here’s the fact. A group of people on a divine mission does not cease upon the demise of its leader. On the contrary, the leader’s demise could even cause the movement to grow stronger, as members unite in grief. Grief is, after all, a powerful and uniting emotion for people who have collectively shared in its process. This is a unity forged in the crucible, and able to withstand future challenges.
So, should anyone celebrate the death of Osama? Think again. His death may very well turn out to be the lifeline for those who shared Osama’s ideologies. After all, wasn’t it one very revolutionary man who once said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Let the rejoicing world be warned that there may be many more Osamas who could arise.
Chan Kheng Hoe would not be caught dancing in the streets to celebrate Osama’s death. And that’s not only because he cannot dance.