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Osama bin Laden: How long will it take to kill his ideology?

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ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

(Read caption) A woman walks past a screen announcing the death of Osama bin Laden, on May 2, 2011 in a street of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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As Americans cheer the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan yesterday, here’s a sobering thought:

It took roughly 10 years to find and kill Osama bin Laden. It may take much longer to kill his ideology.

Take the US Civil War. General Lee’s surrender ended the Confederate rebellion. But it did not end the South’s leading idea: a rejection of the truth that “all men are created equal.” Ridding the South of that poison would take another 100 years – at least. Forceful federal action was needed, but so was the quieter work of changing attitudes in schools, churches, and homes.

At the heart of bin Laden’s hateful ideology is the concept that all men must submit to theological tyranny. He did not originate this teaching. He was simply the most visible modern figurehead of that radical Islamist slogan going back to the 7th century: “We love death more than you love life!”

Ridding the world of that extremist poison will be the work of generations. And like yesterday’s raid, this fight will sometimes be waged with arms. But the most important work will be wrought in mosques, markets, and madrassahs.

As President Bush put it in his address to Congress shortly after 9/11:

“Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.”

Perhaps the hardest part of the struggle will be breaking the hypnotic effect that radical Islamist sermons can have on young men. Years ago, I asked two of our European freelancers to investigate Britain’s “jihadi echo chambers.” I still recall the anecdote they published about an Irish man who converted to Islam:

By portraying militancy as the ultimate expression of piety, Abu Osama and preachers like him are leading young Muslims down the path toward violence.

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