A couple of nights ago I heard a TV commentator (can’t recall who) note that al Qaeda officials often clashed with Osama bin Laden over tactics. Bin Laden remained in thrall to his dream of another attack on a grand scale against the United States like 9/11, which he professed to believe was required to convince the United States to leave the Middle East. Others in the organization, more active on a day-to-day basis in its logistics, advocated a more realistic approach, which entailed smaller attacks that were more manageable, as well as local. In fact, their conflict echoed a long-time division in Islamic extremists: whether to attack the “far” enemy, as they call the United States, or the “near,” as they refer to autocratic regimes under which they live.
In his May 7 column for the Toronto Globe and Mail, Bin Laden died in Sidi Bouzid before he died in Abbottabad, Doug Saunders, the chief of its European bureau, wrote:
It was never difficult to find fans of Osama bin Laden. You ran across them almost daily if you spent time in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf or Pakistan. . . . He was a rock star. . . . If you talk to the kids wearing him on their T-shirts, you find they admire him as an Arab who took on the United States, who ran his own show, and who wouldn’t bow to anyone else’s agenda. It’s the way many blacks admire Malcolm X, as an icon of self-sufficient resistance, without any interest in the Marxist-tinged racial separatism he sought. . . . But it’s been almost impossible, in recent years, to find anyone who subscribes to his ascetic and medieval view of the role of religion in politics, who has any interest in installing his endlessly touted Islamic caliphate in their country. The ideas died long before the man.
“The demand for freedom and democracy in a national context has displaced the imaginary umma, the world community of Muslims, in its struggle with the West,” [writes French scholar] Olivier Roy. . . . “Charismatic authoritarian personalities such as bin Laden no longer exert any fascination on an individualistic and rather pragmatic younger generation.”
With his severity and grandiosity, bin Laden had outlived not only his tactical and strategic usefulness, but his philosophic as well, with his idle dreams of a global caliphate and shariah rule. Saunders again:
Osama bin Laden, in his efforts to fit the world into a single identity, was a man of a previous era.
If it’s any consolation to his spirit, where ‘ere it roams, he at least retains some symbolic value to Islamic extremists.