A FEW bullets were enough. But the shots that killed Osama bin Laden in the dead of night on May 2 in a fortified compound not far from Islamabad came after 15 years of dogged pursuit, two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, well over $1 trillion of spending and around 150 ,000 deaths. It is a heavy reckoning for one man’s life. Barack Obama, America’s president, will justifiably savour a moment so dearly bought. A reluctant warrior in other ways, he has not wavered in hunting down the foot soldiers and commanders of al-Qaeda as well as its elusive leader. The president chose a manned assault directly on Mr bin Laden rather than an air strike on his compound, as some of his advisers wished, and it paid off. Mr Obama was lucky, but he made his luck—and he deserves the credit that will now come his way (see Lexington ). Mr Obama has been careful to warn that violent Islamism is still a dangerous force. Al-Qaeda is active, even without Mr bin Laden (see article ). The alarming problems of Pakistan, Yemen and so many other places threaten to feed more violence. And yet the death of the world’s most wanted man comes just when radical Islam looks vulnerable to the changes sweeping across the Middle East and north Africa. The task now facing all those who yearn for a safer world is to isolate Mr bin Laden’s savage jihad just as surely as its creator was isolated behind his compound walls. The man who warped a faith Mr bin Laden matters because he swept up a ragbag of local grievances into a brand of intoxicating and violent jihad with worldwide pretensions. His vision, however impractical, of purging Islam and establishing a single Islamic caliphate appealed to Muslims disgusted by the venality of their own elites. His means of bringing it about embraced an orgy of murder and martyrdom partly directed against the “ Crusader” West, particularly America. Sad to say, that also appealed to many Muslims for a while. And the whole package was decked with the riches-to- rags story of Mr bin Laden himself—a man who had given up power and wealth in Saudi Arabia, lived simply and seemed almost charmed in his capacity to defy the mightiest army in history ( see Obituary ). Terrorists dream of setting the agenda, and in two ways Mr bin Laden succeeded beyond imagination. For many people, especially non-Muslims, the central place he reserved for violence tainted the whole of Islam. Even as Westerners came to fear bloodthirsty and barbaric Muslims, Muslims deplored degenerate and imperialist Christians. Mr bin Laden’s brand of hatred thrived on both those grotesque stereotypes. And by framing the fight as a clash of civilisations, he could draw the West into a global war on terror. The attacks of September 11 th 2001 tipped America and the West into a fight that exacted a terrible price in blood and treasure. At home, America has diverted vast resources into a security bureaucracy. Abroad, it has been distracted from the historic challenge that American power faces in Asia. Along the way, America has compromised the values that are its greatest strength. This was partly by accident, because war is always cruel and messy, but also by design, through the torture of jihadist detainees and the oblivion of Guantánamo. It is not yet clear whether finding Mr bin Laden depended on torture (it probably never will be clear, given that the interrogator’s lead identifying Mr bin Laden’s courier took years to bear fruit). What is certain is that his message prospered because he could dismiss America’s commitment to freedom and human rights and claim that the country abused Muslims. That message is potent enough to survive Mr bin Laden’s death. Stuck in his compound, without a telephone or the internet, he had anyway become a remote figure. The al-Qaeda franchise, spread across the Sahel, in the Arabian peninsula and in cells around the world, will surely now seek to prove its potency. The hope is that the computers, discs and drives American special forces seized during their raid will wreck such plans. Terrorism being what it is, though, an attack sooner or later has every chance of succeeding. Strategic failure Even if it does, that should not obscure the fact that Mr bin Laden’s infamy in the West is losing its power to inspire his own people. This partly reflects the failure of violence to accomplish the goals he set himself in the Muslim world. Despite years of bloody strife, the Western way of life has continued to encroach on Muslims. Jihad has failed to banish non-Muslim troops from Islamic countries. Western forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kashmir is home to the Indian army, and Chechnya to the Russians. Israel still flourishes. Not one treacherous Arab government has yielded to the caliphate. More than that, Mr bin Laden’s desire to murder his way to salvation has at last aroused widespread disgust among Muslims. After al-Qaeda slaughtered Shia and Sunni Muslims in their thousands in Iraq, even fellow jihadis began to condemn his doctrine of takfir , under which radicals took it upon themselves to declare other Muslim apostates and kill them. According to a poll by the Pew Research Centre, confidence in Mr bin Laden in the Palestinian territories has fallen from 72 % in 2003 to 34 % now. In Jordan it is down from 56 % to 13 %. That still leaves a huge reservoir for recruits, but they have been hard to spot in the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. So far the Arab spring has cast violent jihad to the margins. When young Egyptians crowded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, they wanted rights, not a caliph. Even the Muslim Brothers look as if they will opt for civil society rather than theocracy. Political change in the Arab world will be neither smooth nor immediate. In some places it is sure to go wrong; in others it may yield to hardline Islam. And yet, thanks to the Arab spring, Islam stands its best chance in generations of re-engaging with politics to found institutions in which religious and civil life can coexist. That would be a devastating refutation of Mr bin Laden’s ideology of universal Muslim struggle. How to encourage it? First, don’t relent on counter-terrorism. Al-Qaeda will need stopping for years to come. Second, recognise that jihadists will be defeated mainly by Muslims themselves. That means stabilising the crescent of Muslim countries, mostly outside the Arab world, where broken government has allowed terrorism to gain a hold. All are hard cases. Some, like Somalia and Mali, are only susceptible to containment at best. Afghanistan is close enough to the drawdown of NATO troops in 2014 not to pull out in haste. Most worrying of all is Pakistan (see Banyan ). In spite of what looks like duplicity over Mr bin Laden’s hiding place, the nuclear power is too dangerous to abandon. Better for America to hold Pakistan close than cut it loose. And last there are the Arab countries. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would help (see article ); but more vital is Western support for the aspirations of the Arab spring. When Mr bin Laden struck on 9 /11 the West had few means of defending itself but by attacking him directly and by striking a Faustian bargain with the Arab world’ s oppressive rulers. His death comes when Arab opinion is at last flowing in a new direction. It is too good a chance to waste.