Time to smash al Qaeda, bin Laden’s legacy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The Arab Spring pop­u­lar re­volts caught alQaida by sur­prise. The re­volts are not alQaida’s op­er­a­tional hand­i­work, and they cer­tainly do not fit the ide­o­log­i­cally driven his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive spun by al-Qaida elites, such as the late Osama bin Laden.

Of course, mil­i­tant Is­lamists are ex­ploit­ing the re­volts. Egyp­tian Is­lamist ex­trem­ists have launched at­tacks on Cop­tic Chris­tians, seek­ing to ig­nite a sec­tar­ian civil war and de­rail Egypt’s tran­si­tion process. AlQaida’s Musab al-Zar­qawi at­tempted the same ploy in Iraq, pit­ting Sun­nis against Shias.

How­ever, de­mands for jobs and free­dom swamp calls for a caliphate.

Bin Laden’s death at any time would have been a coup, but his death now, in this fas­ci­nat­ing Arab Spring, pro­vides Arab mod­ern­iz­ers with a po­lit­i­cal tool to chal­lenge the utopian pop­py­cock of mil­i­tant Is­lamist ex­trem­ists and for­ward the goal of marginal­iz­ing them in Egypt, Tu­nisia, Libya and Syria.

Al-Qaida has al­ways been first and fore­most an in­for­ma­tion power whose most po­tent weapons are psy­cho­log­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion, ide­o­log­i­cal in­flu­ence and me­dia ex­ploita­tion.

Bin Laden’s death gives the en­tire civ­i­lized world an op­por- tu­nity to at­tack alQaida’s strengths.

Al-Qaida’s dark ge­nius was to link the Mus­lim world’s an­gry, hu­mil­i­ated and iso­lated young men to a utopian fan­tasy ex­tolling the virtues of vi­o­lence. AlQaida’s ap­peal to per­ceived griev­ance and its prom­ise to re­dress 800 years of Mus­lim de­cline (by forg­ing a global caliphate) made it a re­gional in­for­ma­tion power. The 9-11 at­tacks made al-Qaida a global in­for­ma­tion power. Sept. 11 was bin Laden’s in­ter­na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign. He was alQaida’s CEO, cor­po­rate spokesman and AK-47 armed icon, all in one. His mes­sage: Young Mus­lims could be­lieve in his courage and rec­ti­tude.

He failed to cre­ate his caliphate, how­ever, and, oh, he wanted one, so des­per­ately. The worldly power of the Is­lamic em­pire he en­vi­sioned would con­firm the divine sanc­tion of bin Laden-in­ter­preted re­li­gious law.

It didn’t hap­pen. He’s dead. And Mus­lim ex­trem­ists won’t bring jobs to Egypt, ei­ther.

Bin Laden’s also failed, ut­terly, to buckle Amer­ica. Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Osama’s nar­ra­tive, was ul­ti­mately to blame for the wretched­ness of Mus­lim lands. The U.S. sup­ported cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, both feu­dal king­doms (Saudi Ara­bia) and au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes (Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt).

Bin Laden would take the war to the U.S., the dis­tant en­emy. Sept. 11 and sub­se­quent at­tacks would ex­pose Amer­ica’s cow­ardice, brit­tle­ness, colos­sal ineptitude and, here’s the cru­cial pro­pa­ganda point, its weak­ness of will and spirit. Amer­ica would quail. As Amer­ica took ca­su­al­ties, it would flee, like it did in So­ma­lia. The West would re­treat from Mus­lim na­tions. Al-Qaida would take con­trol of Saudi Ara­bia and Egypt.

It didn’t hap­pen. Amer­ica didn’t quit. U.S. Navy SEALs found Osama in a bed­room then shot him, man-toman. Crack Amer­i­can com­bat troops had the weapons and the will.

In Septem­ber 2008, I wrote a col­umn ar­gu­ing that bin Laden’s rep­u­ta­tion had al­ready suf­fered a long, slow rot that in a cu­ri­ous way worked to Amer­ica’s ad­van­tage. Al-Qaida’s in­sis­tent mur­der of Mus­lim civil­ians had dam­aged its stand­ing in the Arab world. Bin Laden re­tained a “gangsta” ap­peal, but mere sur­vival was not his goal, he had big plans based on the cal­cu­lated mar­riage of apoc­a­lyp­tic vi­o­lence and the­o­log­i­cal con­vic­tion.

Bin Laden’s legacy of fail­ure es­tab­lishes a counter-nar­ra­tive to mil­i­tant ex­trem­ists who claim an armed theoc­racy is the Arab Mus­lim fu­ture. Now is the time to em­pha­size his great his­tor­i­cal flops.

Over the past two weeks, the U.S. gov­ern­ment has se­lec­tively re­leased videos seized in the SEAL raid. If bin Laden’s rep­u­ta­tion is frac­tured stat­u­ary, some of the im­agery is a sledge­ham­mer for smash­ing it to dirty powder. Bin Laden in his Pak­istan pad isn’t an Al­lah-in­spired war­rior bear­ing an as­sault ri­fle. One video outs him as a nar­cis­sist with a TV re­mote con­trol, seated on pil­lows and watch­ing him­self on Al-Jazeera. But where’s the sui­cide bomb belt, Osama? Oh, right, he’s not wear­ing one. Those are for the ex­pend­able faith­ful.

Osama bin Laden, vi­o­lent vi­sion­ary? No: he’s a pa­thetic, self-ab­sorbed, gray-headed old man squint­ing be­neath a bad light.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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