by Austin Bay
Sep 12, 2002Al 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 boast
session. 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 the
gravediggers. Disposing of Osama bin Laden's earthly remains is a job for
starving sharks, if remains exist. Most likely he's dust among bomb
With bin Laden's death the Hollywood manhunt phase of the
anti-terror war ends. Good. Getting Osama was an early chase scene, not the
plot nor denouement. The war continues. The long task of decimating global
terrorism proceeds, for the echoes of bin Laden's evil persist as angry
shouts throughout the world. The terror network Al Qaeda's leadership clique
created infests four-dozen countries. The resentments, jealousies, yearnings
and hatreds that bred bin Laden, the nefarious passions that he inflamed and
used, will continue to plague this generation. Likewise, the thousands of
Americans killed on bin Laden's day of homicidal infamy will not be
Mass murderer, religious zealot, caliph-in-waiting, cunning
propagandist, gambling strategist, nerdy rich kid, warrior dilettante,
terrorist contractor, self-deluded fool: in hodge podge fashion, the man's
career. Too much for an average tombstone. TV talk shows and the Internet
will serve as interactive mausoleums for the debate on what it meant, trying
to get the arc and aim of the man. The exaggerated, fabricated and haunting
details of his life and death will be examined for centuries.
The United States will continue to fight the myth bin Laden
manufactured and attempted to live -- the myth of the global Islamic
revolutionary in the vanguard of holy war against the decadent West.
That's the myth. What deadly hokum, a vicious slapstick of
selective history, bad theology, and autocratic arrogance empowered by hate
and a multimillion-dollar inheritance.
I know, his face achieved at least momentary iconic status on
that long, pitiful drag known as "the Arab and Islamic street." The global
village saw it every day -- bin Laden as a mythic rock star of violence and
revolt against that ill-defined planetary monster known as "Western
hegemony." A friend of mine, reporting from Peshawar, hooked one of those
posters. 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 Super
Crisp Peanuts, a Pakistani snack food.
To call it the clash of the 10th century and the 21st ignores
the fact bin Laden, too, was a modern who believed the future lies in the
past, or at least his highly edited and Bowdlerized version of the last
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, the
gawky man in camouflage handling his Kalashnikov not as weapon, but as a
stage prop. He's the rich kid play-acting war, the symbol and not the
substance of the soldier.
Credit bin Laden with a feel for grand strategy. He believed an
anti-American brand of Islamic theology spread by committed zealots would,
over time, create a global army. His "base," his Al Qaeda, would be the
neural nexus of this ineradicable guerrilla force, and his influence would
extend through theological, ideological, political and financial means.
Competent strategists, however, know their enemy. Enter the
self-deluded fool accompanied by violent yes-men. Bin Laden utterly failed
to understand America. He had no concept of the deep, fundamental sources of
American strength. Bin Laden stated he intended to destroy "the myth of
American might." Bin Laden thought smashing the icons of American power
(like the Pentagon) would diminish that power. Instead, he motivated the
real source of American potency, it's free people and their creative energy.
His allies are the biggest losers. The noxious Taliban, who
endorsed his delusions, paid the price. Others, such as Saddam Hussein, are
future object lessons. Radical Islamism won't disappear, but its political
appeal is tattered, setting the stage for a 21st century Islamic
That isn't the legacy Osama bin Laden intended to leave.