The very place connected with Osama bin Laden's death offers us an alternative to his violent, nihilistic version of Islam.
Abbottabad, the quiet, picturesque hill town where bin Laden was found and killed, held another resident back in 1939. He was a person with a different worldview, a person whose global name recognition rivals that of Al Qaeda's founder, a person by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi was there as a guest of the great Pashtun pacifist Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whose interpretation of Islam starkly contrasts with that of bin Laden.
"There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pashtun like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence," Khan said. "It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the prophet all the time when he was in Mecca."
Khan was a close friend of Gandhi and invited him a number of times to the frontier region on the Afghanistan border of undivided India, an area tragically synonymous today with lawlessness, violence, and terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In this inhospitable terrain, Khan founded in 1929 a nonviolent movement of more than 100,000 Pashtuns called the Khudai Khidmatgar (the Servants of God) dedicated to social reform and to ending British rule in one of the most remarkable social and political experiments in modern history.
In 1938, Gandhi made his first trip to the frontier, dropping by villages and being greeted by enthusiastic Khidmatgar members. Gandhi noted that there were more adherents to nonviolence in this region than in the rest of India. A few months later, Gandhi visited the frontier again. Gandhi came to the region a third time in 1939 but had to curtail his tour due to ill health.
Here's where Abbottabad comes in. Khan chose for his honored guest the very same place (due to its agreeable climate) for rest and recuperation where many decades later another person of a different temperament would choose to pitch his tent, sullying its name forever.
In another incredible coincidence, bin Laden's Abbottabad hosts were from the same district (Charsadda) as Ghaffar Khan. Due to a remarkable process of socialization into nonviolence (the details are in my new book " 'Islam' Means Peace"), Khan became the polar opposite of these enablers of a psychopathic mass murderer.
Fortunately, nonviolent disobedience in the Muslim world did not end with Khan's death in January 1988. Instead, it persevered down the years. And 2011 has been the most remarkable ever, with peaceful agitation resonating throughout the Middle East, in countries ranging from Tunisia and Egypt, where mass protests have overthrown tyrants, to Syria and Yemen, where demonstrators have mostly adhered to the peaceful path even in the face of massive repression.
Between Ghaffar Khan's and bin Laden's competing visions, it is the peaceful one that is emerging triumphant.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Drone Attacks in Pakistan Counterproductive."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter.