Tag Archives: Osama bin Laden
With the 2nd May 2011 official demise of the world’s most infamous incendiary, it seems fairly clear that in at least one important sense, an era has come to a close. This blog has already outlined what we believe will be the three most salient consequences of the death of Osama bin Laden, but what of the lessons – for both American policymakers and the world at large – that can be drawn from the period 2001-2011, which in many respects represents a lost decade?
1. Don’t believe the hype. In their 1999 classic Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance, Swedish authors Jonas Ridderstråle and Kjell Nordström presciently noted: ‘you never know where private terrorist Osama bin Laden will strike next’. The presence of bin Laden in this seminal management text illustrates that even before the tragic events of 11th September 2001, he had made some kind of imprint on the global public consciousness. With his pseudo-religious garb, remote hideouts and quasi-messianic language, bin Laden’s biggest asset was his image; in an epoch dominated by the visual, this amplified his significance.
However, the potency of bin Laden’s iconography was mirrored by the virtually negligible actual capabilities of his organisation, Al-Qaeda. Despite lavish funding and huge amounts of exposure, to date this entity has never come close to acquiring critical mass, with active membership numbering perhaps in the hundreds of people. While this does not mean that counterterrorism measures against Al-Qaeda should cease, or that this group’s threat to the global public should be ignored, it does indicate that good intelligence and reasonable precautions should be more than sufficient to address the danger that Al-Qaeda poses.
2. React proportionately and intelligently. The 2nd May 2011 operation in Abbottabad has been widely regarded as a success, with bin Laden’s death being recognised as perhaps the most significant blow to Al-Qaeda yet and the very future of the group now being debated. While this is a development of great import, it underscores the reservations that many hold about the war in Afghanistan, a conflict explicitly prosecuted with the aim of dismantling Al-Qaeda and neutralising its networks in the troubled South Asian republic but which has yielded results which do not seem to match those attained by one relatively simple US operation in Pakistan; Afghanistan itself has suffered – at the very least – tens of thousands of civilian casualties. Actions costing hundreds of billions of dollars and engendering human misery on an epic scale must be evaluated by their efficacy.
3. Develop new analytical frameworks. The causes and consequences of the events of 11th September 2001 were far too often seen in binary terms – good versus evil, the West against the Islamic world, civilisation against barbarism – which were at best often unhelpful and simplistic; at their worst, these presented a decade of incredible bloodshed in a way that normalised aggression and polarisation. A framework that recognised that – like so many other matters – Islamist, or to be precise, extremist Salafist violence is at the very least an issue of shared concern would have done much to provide a solid analytical base from which adequate solutions could be devised. A 2005 report by Rik Coolsaet, Professor of International Relations at the University of Ghent, is particularly instructive: from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, of an estimated 179,000 victims of this variant of terrorism, approximately 175,000 (97.7%+) were located in the Muslim world.
At the time of writing this piece, the international media is predictably saturated with coverage of the official death of the world’s most notorious fugitive, Osama bin Laden. Given that his name is connected with mayhem of an apocalyptic hue, bin Laden’s demise was all the more anti-climactic: like the father in the 1991 Sting composition All This Time - though subsequent to a brisk 40 minute US military operation executed in the city of Abbottabad, an educational hub near the Pakistani capital Islamabad - he was buried at sea.
Over the coming months and years, huge amounts of managed Scandinavian forest will be utilised in analysing this occurrence and its ultimate significance, but here at Mediolana we think we may have already identified the three most salient consequences of the death of the ‘Chief Executive Officer’ of Al-Qaeda:
1. The end of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The NATO mission has been stuck at International Security Assistance Force (‘ISAF’) Post Stage 4 since October 2006, with a war that began on 7th October 2001 having shown no sign of attaining any kind of meaningful resolution – until now. Bin Laden’s death gives NATO – an organisation which is presently scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 – the perfect opportunity to declare mission accomplished and hasten its exit. The fact that Afghanistan is now a failed state where even the United Nations cannot operate without its employees risking decapitation is unlikely to deter the curtailment of operations in the decimated South Asian republic.
2. A new narrative for the Islamic world in the West. For the last 9 1/2 years, bin Laden has arguably been the key figure – whether implicitly or explicitly – whenever the matters of Muslims or Islam have been discussed in the West. This has always been logically specious given that bin Laden himself was an advocate of an extreme interpretation of Wahabbism, an ideology which regards many if not most Muslims as heretics. The death of bin Laden and the recent seismic shifts in the Middle East and North Africa yet further illustrate that the discourse of the past decade lacks relevance, and is likely to further erode.
3. The possible identification of a new existential threat. The basic idea of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis penned by the late Samuel P. Huntington is widely-known even by those who are unaware of much of its details. What is less well-known is that by 2004, Huntington – who only ever saw the Islamic world as a temporary challenge to the West – had already focused his attentions towards what he saw as the real long-term existential threat to the United States: its ever-growing Hispanic population. Whether Huntington is correct in this assessment – or whether the Confucian peril also underlined in the ‘Clash’ comes to pass – is less important than the fact that his actions show the need to identify threats, purported or genuine. If the communist and now bin Laden tropes have run their course, what next?