The death and legacy of Osama Bin Laden

(C) Hamid Mir

By Devon-Jane Airey

This is one of the most recognisable faces of our age. Osama Bin Laden inspired a generation of Islamic radicals.

Though this wouldn’t have been apparent from any early account of him: relaxed, smiling, a typical teenager. No sign of what he would become. As a Saudi National, Osama Bin Laden became increasingly disenchanted with what he viewed as the greed of the ruling Saudi royal family. It was in Afghanistan that he found a cause fighting with the Muja Hadeen to drive out Soviet forces. By now Bin Laden’s opposition to America had already taken root. From his base in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden developed a network providing training and guidance for the foot soldiers who turned his Jihadist ideology into action: Al Qaida.

In 1998 Osama Bin Laden gave this interview to the American Network ABC: ‘We believe that the worst thieves in the world today, and the worst terrorists, are the Americans. Nothing could stop them except, perhaps, retaliation in kind. We don’t have to differentiate between Military or Civilian. As far as we are concerned they’re all targets and this is what the Fatwa says.’

Indeed, he meant every word. Al Qaida were blamed for bomb attacks in East Africa and against a US warship in Yemen in October 2000.

But it was 9/11 that changed everything. 3,000 people killed in a carefully planned and coordinated attack on American soil. Osama Bin Laden immediately became top of America’s hit list. George W. Bush was noted to have said: ‘I want justice and there’s an old American poster out west that says “Wanted: dead or alive.”’ – such a remark highlighting the birth of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

The caves where Osama Bin Laden was thought to be hiding were pounded relentlessly, but he survived. And from his hiding place Osama Bin Laden still managed to communicate to the world by tapes sent to Arabic television stations. Indeed, there was this from an Islamic Interview in 2004 – just before the American Presidential election: ‘American people’ he says, ‘My talk to you is about the best way to avoid another Manhattan – about the war and its causes.’ However, the underlying message was much simpler than that. A taunt to America and its coalition partners: ‘I’m still here.’ And after 9/11 other attacks inspired by Osama Bin Laden’s ideology followed: Barley, Madrid and London. The war in Iraq now provided a new focus for his cause.

His death in a compound in Pakistan has thus led to much speculation – a speculation that has led to emphasis on long-term caution over short-term relief. Analysts caution that Osama Bin Laden’s demise does not signal the end of the war on terror. Furthermore, they fear that the death of Bin Laden will influence reprisals of other extremist groups across the globe. Indeed, around the world Islamic extremist groups have spread – inspired by, but not necessarily connected to, Al-Qaida – and it is, perhaps, this that has proven to be Osama Bin Laden’s enduring legacy. Osama Bin Laden may be dead, but his ideas are not.

There is no debating that his death initiated much celebration across the globe – especially within America where citizens were seen gathering en masse to celebrate the assassination of their ‘Most Wanted’. Obama stated ‘Justice is done’ whilst political commentators heralded the affair as a ‘much-needed achievement for the Obama administration’. And, although many deemed the successful assassination to be of significance, there are those who suggest our reactions towards such events are to have greater repercussions. Indeed, in many news reports Osama bin Laden has been called ‘the personification of evil’, but this is more than simply saying he was very wicked. In fact, it is a bold theological claim. And a rather dangerous one. It is warned that we shouldn’t diminish his moral responsibility for his actions, nor cheer his demise – as it is the latter that is more likely to invoke conflict. That said, whatever viewpoint is taken towards such a historic moment in international affairs, it is clear that stability in US and allied diplomatic relations with the Muja Hadeen will require more than simply the extermination of their leader.


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