MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/5 May) – In life, Osama bin Laden struck fear in the hearts of millions worldwide, particularly after the 9/11 attack which the United States has used in justifying military actions in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and the detention without charges of suspected terrorists at the American base in Guantanamo, Cuba. In death, the name of the enigmatic Al-Qaeda leader and everything that it represents has all but become passé.
Americans, especially the families of the victims of 9/11, were overjoyed by the death of a most wanted man in recent times. For his part, President Obama found an excellent opportunity to stand tall and proud both at home and before the world. “We killed him,” he curtly replied to a query if the US military had indeed finished off the right target, his voice certain, and his suppressed smile that of a winner. I’m not saying Obama can already smell the sweet scent of reelection; it’s a long way from Pakistan to the next polls even if the commando operation may have shored up his popularity.
Some troubling twists however may unfold with bin Laden’s death. I’m not referring to the warnings aired that his followers might stage retaliatory attacks. Despite their reputation of being suicidal they’re not naïve not to know the current difficulty of launching strikes at the US or its closest allies, the United Kingdom, for instance. In fact, their likely concern at the moment is eluding the long arm of the Central Intelligence Agency since the raid, according to reports, yielded a wealth of information on bin Laden’s network and plans.
What’s worth watching isn’t the remote possibility of vengeance attacks days from now but how bin Laden’s death would affect political thinking in the Arab world. For while his passing has put his forces in disarray it could only be a temporary setback to the cause he stood for, granting his followers are capable enough of turning his death into a strong symbol, something that would fuel anti-West sentiment.
For many years, bin Laden was to many adherents of militant Islam a symbol of resistance. Common humanity tells us that nothing can justify 9/11. Yet it was that singular attack that arguably transformed him into a demigod among his equally fanatic followers and supporters. Other resistance groups in Muslim countries may detest his manner of waging war. But judging from their silence over 9/11 they must have reckoned the political risk of openly criticizing him.
In the meantime that bin Laden was in hiding a surprising development swept across a number of Arab countries – “people power” uprising that sounded unthinkable years ago. But it did occur, first in Tunisia, and later in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Iran, Libya and even in Saudi Arabia. The upheaval is significant for at least two reasons: 1) it has opened up these countries to the possibility of far-reaching reforms; 2) it has made many Arabs realize that they can achieve political change through collective action without the use of arms, although Libya is now locked in a stalemate between pro-Gaddafi forces and rebels backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
However, with the unarmed anti-dictatorship movement slowing down a bit the troubled governments might be able to recover lost ground and put an end to a glorious Arab spring. It’s a situation that could reinvigorate the brand of militancy espoused by bin Laden. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])