Fareed Zakaria argues that those reminding us that al Qaeda does not live or die with bin Laden are merely being cautious. He agrees with me that al Qaeda is a virtual organization held together by its “message and the inspiration it provided”. Where we disagree is his assertion “the central organizing ideology that presented an existential seduction to the Muslim world and an existential threat to the Western world is damaged beyond repair” with his death. He asserts, without substantiation, that bin Laden’s inspirational status will be any less now that he is gone. This is far from clear. Ideologies often survive the passing of their founders or figureheads. People can fight in his name or his memory as well after his death, in fact perhaps even more emboldened by his martyrdom. Sure, as Zakaria points out, loosely affiliated groups of terrorist thugs have always existed, but they have not always been in a pitched battle against the American Shaitan.
The other component of Zakaria’s argument is that the ‘Arab spring’ undercuts the rationale for al Qaeda, the idea that oppressive Middle Eastern regimes were propped up by the West and that the only was to achieve change was by terrorist acts against the US and its Allies. Zakaria notes that, “(i)n the past few months, we have seen democratic, peaceful, non-Islamic revolutions transform Egypt and Tunisia. We are seeing these forces changing almost every government in the Arab world. Al Qaeda is not in the picture.” The verdict is not in on this assertion. Already it is starting to seem naive to some to see Egypt as a power-to-the-people scenario, the role of Islamic fundamentalists in the upheavals is far from determined, and the uprisings in different countries are heterogeneous. (Think for instance of the recent revelation that one of the released Guantanamo detainees is now training Libyan resistance fighters.) In any case, my guess is that the wind will not be so easily taken out of the sails of the anti-Americans. (via Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs)
Although there was no tone of triumphalism in Pres. Obama’s announcement of bin Laden’s killing, there certainly was in the rejoicing in the streets. Very much like I saw in the streets around here after the Red Sox won the World Series or the Patriots the Super Bowl. But there’s no blowback for gloating then; all that we have done in concluding this chapter in this manner has been to perpetuate the arrogant unilateral projection of power for which 9-11 was blowback in the first place.
There does not seem to be any indication that there was an attempt to take bin Laden into custody alive and bring him to justice rather than assassinating him. In fact, indications are that Pres. Obama considered bombing the compound rather than storming it and that the decision hinged only on the capability of recovering bin Laden’s body.
What is at stake in how we react to this is the perpetuation of our use of the war on terror as an excuse to continue to do whatever we want in the world. There has been much talk about the potential short-term risk of retaliation.But can’t you imagine that this confirmation of American hegemonism may in fact lead to a long-term exacerbation rather than an alleviation of terrorist activity?
Bin Laden’s death has very little strategic significance but is rather being played for its symbolic value. He was not germane to the conduct of most terrorist actions around the world. Al Qaeda has never been a structured organization so much as a cluster of affiliates operating independently, without central planning, united only by sharing jihadist ends.
The rejoicing in the streets reminded me of nothing so much as the
barbarity of anti-American mob scenes that have perennially graced the
evening news reports, including the scenes of jubilation at various places around the world when the Twin Towers came down.