Bin Laden’s death will encourage apologists to say the war on terror can now stop, but we must redouble our efforts from Palestine to Afghanistan
Hamas has already decried the “assassination” of an “Arab Holy Warrior.” The world’s terrorists will be itching to hit back.
Who could not rejoice at the death of Osama bin Laden? If only that question were rhetorical.
As Americans and their allies celebrate the demise of the modern world’s greatest figurehead for international terrorism the current wave of euphoria is an understandable, human reaction.
But if there is one thing the last decade should have taught us about what President George W. Bush and his team christened the “war on terror” it is that we are fighting a global ideology as much as a particular cadre of terrorists.
Even after the decapitation of the al Qaeda leadership, it is vital to remind ourselves that there are tens of millions of people across the Muslim world who share, in part or in whole, bin Laden’s cruel and unyielding vision of a global caliphate in which all vestiges of civilised values have been extinguished.
Among those tens of millions are thousands if not tens of thousands of activists and militants ready to bring terror to our streets as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Calls from President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron for vigilance are well made. It is inevitable that bin Laden’s supporters will be looking for a quick and emphatic statement that they are not accepting defeat.
One of the first proclamations of defiance from the Muslim world has already come from Hamas, the Jew-loathing terror group that runs Gaza and that has recently agreed to join forces again with its “moderate” Palestinian rival, Fatah. Hamas spoke of America’s “assassination” of an “Arab Holy Warrior.”
It is an uncomfortable reminder of the kind of support bin Laden and his ilk retain across the Muslim world. But it is also an uncomfortable reminder of the mixed messages that far too many in the West have been sending in recent years on the problem of terrorism generally.
Let us not forget that the British Foreign Office and its counterparts across the European Union have been quick in the last decade to condemn Israel for conducting precisely the kind of “targeted assassination” against Hamas terror leaders in Gaza as the United States has just conducted against Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. (The United States has now confirmed that the mission was designed to kill bin Laden not capture him.)
The hypocrisy is the least of it. The real tragedy is that we have been sending signals that al Qaeda-style terror groups are not always to be condemned, that sometimes we can sympathise with their aims, that terrorism can in some cases be a reasonable response to “grievances” – that much beloved word of apologists for terror across the West.
And that in turn reminds us that the battle of ideas is not merely something that still needs to be fought and won in the Muslim world, but here at home too.
For as sure as night follows day, it is only a question of time when those in our midst who never had much stomach for the fight in the first place renew their calls for a softening of our approach – surrender by any other name.
On the contrary, now is the time to hit the enemy harder, to press home our advantage and to restate our commitment to all that we stand for.
It is good that bin Laden is dead. But the war for the future of the West continues, both at home and abroad.
Robin Shepherd is owner-publisher of the Commentator and director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society
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