Osama bin Laden’s death stirs global conversation

The Biola community considers the appropriate Christian response to the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, and the impact of the event on the Middle East.



Miles Aiello stood on the corner of Imperial and La Mirada Sunday night, May 1, 2011, to proclaim America’s victory in the war against terrorism with a few friends, waving flags and getting cars to honk in response. | Katie Juranek/THE CHIMES

Patricia Diaz, Writer

The death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a Navy Seal firefight Sunday finally brings to a close the chapter that has remained open since the Sept. 11 attacks which he helped mastermind and execute 10 years ago.

In the U.S., the triumphant cry “Osama bin Laden is dead” rang through the nation as people gathered in large crowds in Times Square and in front of the White House and celebrated on street corners waving flags and cheering.

In the Middle East, people –– particularly Afghani women who were abused by the Taliban at the encouragement of bin Laden –– are speaking to the Arabic media with confidence, relieved at the death of the terrorist leader.

Response to the death

Global reactions to bin Laden’s death have not been what many expected. Biola assistant professor of political science, Scott Waller said he has been surprised at the remarkable silence of Muslim countries, noting that even though bin Laden is arguably a hero in some quarters of the Muslim world, rioting because of his death has been minimal.

Victor Khalil, Arabic language professor, explained that the lack of response from Muslim nations may be directly tied to their recognition of President Obama as a Muslim. “Muslim leaders and Muslim people in the Middle East committed themselves to the idea that President Obama is a Muslim, so now he’s the one [who] killed Osama bin Laden. So the majority couldn’t open their mouths. No retribution or attack,” Khalil said.

Had former president George Bush, who is identified in the Middle East as a Christian leader, been responsible for bin Laden’s death, Khalil said backlash and rioting would have been significant.

Biola students and professors respond

At Biola, students have also been considering what their response should be. Political science professor David Peters said recent events have stirred spirited and emotional discussion in his classes this week.

“There were students that were really thinking through, for the first time, what our perspective should be as believers,” Peters said. “There was a whole continuum of what people thought was appropriate and not appropriate.”

Peters said some students in his classes believe strongly that it is unfair to take a life such as bin Laden’s knowing full well that the unsaved person is being condemned to eternal death. Christians have pointed out that they are not called to celebrate the death of their enemies or take the revenge that belongs to God. But other students argued for the upholding of the law, pointing to Bible passages referencing capital punishment and Christian responsibility to administer justice.

Viewing bin Laden as human

“My first thought was, ‘Someone’s been killed,’” Peters said. “It struck me in my stomach. I am a father, I am a husband, I am a grandparent. It stirs my heart when I realize that a man has died.”

The event has stirred a relevant conversation in the Biola community about the Christian stance towards war and appropriate response to violence.

“I feel personally that we were justified in taking the steps that we did in terms of violence,” Peters said. “There is a sense that the best and the right thing has been done, with a sense of bringing him to justice.”

Conversation stirred regarding Christian response to death

But not all would agree, and as students form their opinions, it is a time to challenge each other through rational, thoughtful discussion, and by turning to God’s Word, Peters encouraged.

“Hear the heartfelt reflections of other people,” Peters advised.

“From Christian point of view, I don’t really rejoice over anybody’s death because the Bible teaches me that,” Khalil said. “But as a human also, I have feelings. This is a man who killed thousands of our people. This is a man who caused America to get involved in wars in the Middle East. This is the man who caused us to send our young men and women to Iraq and to Afghanistan and to other countries to fight and we lost thousands of people either in wars or in the Twin Towers. Hundreds of thousands died on the hands of Osama bin Laden.”

Al Qaeda looking for new leader

The death of bin Laden leaves a gap in Al Qaeda leadership that has everyone wondering who will step up to fill his large shoes. Waller said there will definitely be jockeying for position within the organization in the near future.

“They are going to have a hard time rallying around another leader that possesses that sort of charismatic leadership and symbolic ‘I’ll die for you’ type of personality that Osama bin Laden had,” Waller said.

Bin Laden’s second in command, Egyptian-born physician and surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri, is expected to take his place, but will likely not draw the same support as the celebrated Al Qaeda leader. “He is not highly-respected,” said Khalil. “He’s Egyptian; Saudi Arabia is not going to support him.” Khalil said al-Zawahiri will struggle to effectively finance the Al Qaeda movement without Saudi Arabian backing.

While it is currently unknown just how involved bin Laden was in the command operations of Al Qaeda, the papers and hard drives recovered from his compound should reveal the extent of his leadership in recent months. But in a sense, bin Laden’s greatest value lay in his status as venerated figurehead. “Obviously as a symbolic leader, he carried great weight,” Waller said. “[His death] will be a great blow to Al Qaeda.”

“I think we are going to see the future of Al Qaeda will be really grim,” Khalil said. “It’s gonna be divided. In fact, Jesus said a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, and that’s what we are going to see.”

Middle East needs different approach

Lacking the faith that a leader as powerful as bin Laden will rise to take his place, all the terrorist groups are rethinking their strategies, Khalil said. And while they are shaken and regrouping, a valuable window of opportunity has been offered.

“We need to take a different approach right now, Khalil said by emphasizing first that violence and terrorism did not work, and second opening up the lines of communication. “We need to sit at the table, with our enemies –– Christians and Jews –– and talk and have a civil conversation in order to build our countries.”

It will take time, Khalil said, but it is not hopeless. “It’s going to take at least 10 years before we see really good progress. But i have hope. I am optimistic that things are going to get better in the Middle East. But it’s going to get worse first, before it gets better.”

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