Terrorism: Bin Laden’s legacy
2 May 2011
Symbolic as the death of the al-Qaeda leader is, it does not mark the end of the fight against terrorism, nor of its consequences for our way of life, writes Le Monde.
As luck would have it, perhaps. The man who embodied international jihadism died just as the “Arab Spring” was dealing a blow to this totalitarian fantasy. Since the Arab peoples are rising up in the name of democracy, not Islam or any return to the Caliphate advocated by al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was already dead in the water politically.
It was almost the second death of the al-Qaeda founder that was announced on Sunday night, May 1, by President Barack Obama as he revealed that U.S. special forces had killed bin Laden in Pakistan.
The first death certificate of the Saudi dissident, the political one, could be read in the slogans of the demonstrators in Tunis and Cairo. What shone through was not hatred of the West, of “the Crusaders and Jews”, of America – the usual rallying cries of bin Laden – but a desire for freedom and democracy, two “values” abhorred by the jihadist leader.
In the Arab world, at least, bin Laden had already lost the battle. The revolts underway do not celebrate Islamism, that deadly illusion fostered by the head of al-Qaeda that a return to the Caliphate and the origins of Islam was the answer to all the problems of Muslim countries – even those of the world. Bin Laden died just as Islamism’s capacity for mobilisation and training was on the decline.
This does not mean there will be no more attacks. Not even al-Qaeda and its affiliates Maghreb and Sahel will fade away quietly. There will always be groups claiming the trademark right to kill and kidnap, here and there. Morocco has seen this for itself.
This cult of indiscriminate violence is not the only legacy left by bin Laden. The man who is now gone made a deep impression – for worse – on the beginnings of the 21st century. Son of a wealthy Saudi family who made his armed debut in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has stamped the strategic landscape of our time.
Because they felt duty-bound to respond to the attacks of September 11, 2001 by going to war, the U.S. is still embroiled in two conflicts: in Iraq and, particularly, in Afghanistan. These adventures have exhausted them militarily and fiscally and have left an enduring stain on their image in the Arab-Muslim world.
Mr. Obama is going to benefit from the elimination of Bin Laden by the United States. But he still remains mired in the Afghan imbroglio.
And there’s the legacy. Al-Qaeda has shown that a small group can carry out a huge crime. If bin Laden, armed with a chemical or biological weapon, could have killed not 3,000 but three million people in New York, he would have.
This prospect has driven the fight against terrorism to top priority, and in the name of that struggle, the obsession with security has led to restrictions on civil liberties in America, Europe and elsewhere.
We have not quite finished with bin Laden.