The front-cover of America’s “Time” magazine featured an image of Osama Bin Laden with a red “X” marked across his face, meaning that he is dead, that we are now free of him forever. The last time the publication used this means of expression was when the Second World War ended, putting the same red cross across the face of Adolf Hitler, after he committed suicide in his famous Berlin bunker. However, the utilization of this same means of expression suggests parity between the two wars: the war against Nazism and the war on terror.
The first war was just another war waged between political entities, nations and rulers, over economic benefits and spheres of influence. Nothing happened during World War II that had not happened during a previous war; perhaps the death toll was far greater, but this was due to the evolution of technology and the planning and ideology that existed during this war, which meant that mass killings represented a favorable option. The United States, for example, did not find any ethical problem in using atomic bombs against Japan, after getting rid of Hitler.
The war on terror however is certainly different. Here, states and nations are less significant, unless there is an element of collusion, such as the collusion that some have alleged to exist between the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI], the Taliban, and groups of terrorists including Osama Bin Laden, who was found to be living under the nose of the Pakistani authorities. However, the war against Bin Laden was not a war between the United States and its allies against Pakistan. What we do know is that both Pakistan and the US consider each other allies, indeed strategic allies, because one’s affiliation in a war is not determined by geographic position so much as motivation that takes one to the point of conflict. Over the past 20 years, and particularly since the September 11 attacks, the war against the al-Qaeda organization and other terrorist groups has become a “war on terror”, which shortened the war against Osama Bin Laden.
The question now is: was the killing of Bin Laden similar to the killing of Hitler, which represented an end to Nazism, even if parties remain that still favor this ideology? So is the death of Osama Bin Laden, the emir, the holy warrior, the sheikh, the end of this historical story, or the beginning of a new one?
There are two schools of thought on this issue. Firstly, there are those who believe that the killing of Osama Bin Laden represented a kind of foregone conclusion. Al-Qaeda has been suffering a structural imbalance and weakness, and the CIA has been succeeding in apprehending or killing one al-Qaeda leader after another, most recently Osama Bin Laden. This imbalance was caused by a drop in support for the organization, especially following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, with certain groups within the Taliban trying to distance themselves from al-Qaeda. Yet most importantly for this organization [al-Qaeda] that sought to change the Arab and Islamic world, and even the wider world, is that young Muslims no longer accept Osama Bin Laden’s ignorant and bigoted methods, which have not liberated any Arab or Muslim country. Instead they have found a more effective means of change, namely the popular and peaceful demonstrations witnessed by the Arab world recently, and this is what we have seen over the past few months. Simply put, Bin Laden’s ideology no longer has a market within its traditional recruitment circles, for the Arab youth have found an alternative in the ballot box.
On the other hand, there are those who are of the opinion that the view that the killing of Osama Bin Laden represents the end of the era of terrorism is not just an exaggeration, but completely untrue. What allowed Bin Laden to lead a global movement to counter the Western world, and influence the contemporary way of thinking in the Arab and Muslim world, was not just his personality or the ideology he espoused – which convinced many Muslims around the world – but rather the existence of fundamental contradictions between the interests of the Muslim world and interests of the West, most importantly over the issue of Palestine. There are also disputes between the elites of Arab and Islamic countries, regarding the changes that have taken place in the political and daily lives of Arab and Islamic societies. Here we should view the case as a whole, forgetting about individual personalities, and instead base our analysis on objective grounds, returning to the confusion experienced by our countries and people, between their religion and the nature of the prevailing international regimes, which promotes modernity, a civil state, separation of religion and state, and equal citizenship. In this case, there is nothing to support the claims that the war on terror has ended. Firstly, Osama Bin Laden was ill with kidney problems and was no longer a key component in al-Qaeda’s operations; there were other leaders who were far more operationally involved in Al Qaeda than Bin Laden. Secondly, the al-Qaeda ideology is no longer issued solely from the central organization, but rather by different franchises and organizations [associated to Al Qaeda] in Iraq, the Levant and North Africa, all of whom have declared their affiliation to al-Qaeda. In some cases, such organizations have volunteered their affiliation to the Al Qaeda organization, without being asked to undertake such a step.
Is al-Qaeda alive or dead? Is the death of Bin Laden the beginning of the end for the terrorist organization, or will it be able to live on in the absence of its founding leader? This is an issue that merits observing what is already happening in the Arab arena. Perhaps the London-based “The Economist” magazine summarized the whole situation best with its front cover last week, which showed an image of Osama Bin Laden under the headline “Now, kill his dream.” The issue is no longer about a person who was suffering from kidney disease, and who would appear from time to time in a video recording offering provocative words…the issue now is about this man’s dream. This dream, for one reason or another, has been able to motivate dozens and perhaps hundreds of young people to kill and be killed, in extended battles across the world.
Osama Bin Laden was finally killed after costing the United States nearly a trillion dollars, including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a war that encompassed the entire world, and nobody knows when this [war on terror] will end. This, of course, does not reflect the material losses, or the enormous cost in terms of frustrating globalization. Simply put, Osama Bin Laden and his associates succeeded in stopping the wheel of history, or at least they had a hand in slowing this down, which led the entire world to face an economic crisis. Perhaps the main purpose of the September 11 attacks, and subsequent al-Qaeda operations, was to paralyze the global economy, in essence the economy of the United States and the European Union, as well as other economies that were subsequently affected. This means Osama Bin Laden will remain with us into the unknown future, his specter will remain overlooking all situations.