by Austin Bay
Sep 12, 2002
Last week, Al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, speaking toAl Jazeera, the Arabic CNN, referred to Osama bin Laden in the past tense.
A slip of a lieutenant's tongue reveals his death.Disinformation? I doubt it. The interview was an Al-Qaeda 9-11 boastsession. Two bin Laden pals bragged, not the terror chief. If he were alive,he'd have been on camera, chortling.
So I'm ripping the "Wanted" poster off the wall. Don't call thegravediggers. Disposing of Osama bin Laden's earthly remains is a job forstarving sharks, if remains exist. Most likely he's dust among bombfragments.
With bin Laden's death the Hollywood manhunt phase of theanti-terror war ends. Good. Getting Osama was an early chase scene, not theplot nor denouement. The war continues. The long task of decimating globalterrorism proceeds, for the echoes of bin Laden's evil persist as angryshouts throughout the world. The terror network Al Qaeda's leadership cliquecreated infests four-dozen countries. The resentments, jealousies, yearningsand hatreds that bred bin Laden, the nefarious passions that he inflamed andused, will continue to plague this generation. Likewise, the thousands ofAmericans killed on bin Laden's day of homicidal infamy will not beforgotten.
Mass murderer, religious zealot, caliph-in-waiting, cunningpropagandist, gambling strategist, nerdy rich kid, warrior dilettante,terrorist contractor, self-deluded fool: in hodge podge fashion, the man'scareer. Too much for an average tombstone. TV talk shows and the Internetwill serve as interactive mausoleums for the debate on what it meant, tryingto get the arc and aim of the man. The exaggerated, fabricated and hauntingdetails of his life and death will be examined for centuries.
The United States will continue to fight the myth bin Ladenmanufactured and attempted to live -- the myth of the global Islamicrevolutionary in the vanguard of holy war against the decadent West.
That's the myth. What deadly hokum, a vicious slapstick ofselective history, bad theology, and autocratic arrogance empowered by hateand a multimillion-dollar inheritance.
I know, his face achieved at least momentary iconic status onthat long, pitiful drag known as "the Arab and Islamic street." The globalvillage saw it every day -- bin Laden as a mythic rock star of violence andrevolt against that ill-defined planetary monster known as "Westernhegemony." A friend of mine, reporting from Peshawar, hooked one of thoseposters. On the front is Osama, with a background of fiery jet airplanes,the Dome of the Rock and Afghan warriors. On the back is an ad for SuperCrisp Peanuts, a Pakistani snack food.
To call it the clash of the 10th century and the 21st ignoresthe fact bin Laden, too, was a modern who believed the future lies in thepast, or at least his highly edited and Bowdlerized version of the lastthousand years.
I doubt bin Laden as "the warrior dilettante" will get much ink.It doesn't deserve much. I've seen the videotape at least 40 times, thegawky man in camouflage handling his Kalashnikov not as weapon, but as astage prop. He's the rich kid play-acting war, the symbol and not thesubstance of the soldier.
Credit bin Laden with a feel for grand strategy. He believed ananti-American brand of Islamic theology spread by committed zealots would,over time, create a global army. His "base," his Al Qaeda, would be theneural nexus of this ineradicable guerrilla force, and his influence wouldextend through theological, ideological, political and financial means.
Competent strategists, however, know their enemy. Enter theself-deluded fool accompanied by violent yes-men. Bin Laden utterly failedto understand America. He had no concept of the deep, fundamental sources ofAmerican strength. Bin Laden stated he intended to destroy "the myth ofAmerican might." Bin Laden thought smashing the icons of American power(like the Pentagon) would diminish that power. Instead, he motivated thereal source of American potency, it's free people and their creative energy.
His allies are the biggest losers. The noxious Taliban, whoendorsed his delusions, paid the price. Others, such as Saddam Hussein, arefuture object lessons. Radical Islamism won't disappear, but its politicalappeal is tattered, setting the stage for a 21st century IslamicReformation.
That isn't the legacy Osama bin Laden intended to leave.