by Austin Bay
May 10, 2011
The Arab Spring popular revolts caught al-Qaida by surprise.
The revolts are not al-Qaida's operational handiwork, and they certainly do not
fit the ideologically driven historical narrative spun by al-Qaida elites, such
as the late Osama bin Laden.
Of course, militant Islamists are exploiting the revolts.
Egyptian Islamist extremists have launched attacks on Coptic Christians,
seeking to ignite a sectarian civil war and derail Egypt's transition process.
Al-Qaida's Musab al-Zarqawi attempted the same ploy in Iraq, pitting Sunnis
However, demands for jobs and freedom swamp calls for a
Bin Laden's death at any time would have been a coup, but
his death now, in this fascinating Arab Spring, provides Arab modernizers with
a political tool to challenge the utopian poppycock of militant Islamist
extremists and forward the goal of marginalizing them in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya
Al-Qaida has always been first and foremost an information
power whose most potent weapons are psychological manipulation, ideological
influence and media exploitation.
Bin Laden's death gives the entire civilized world an
opportunity to attack al-Qaida's strengths.
Al-Qaida's dark genius was to link the Muslim world's angry,
humiliated and isolated young men to a utopian fantasy extolling the virtues of
violence. Al-Qaida's appeal to perceived grievance and its promise to redress
800 years of Muslim decline (by forging a global caliphate) made it a regional
information power. The 9-11 attacks made al-Qaida a global information power.
Sept. 11 was bin Laden's international advertising campaign. He was al-Qaida's
CEO, corporate spokesman and AK-47 armed icon, all in one. His message: Young
Muslims could believe in his courage and rectitude.
He failed to create his caliphate, however -- and, oh, he
wanted one, so desperately. The worldly power of the Islamic empire he
envisioned would confirm the divine sanction of bin Laden-interpreted religious
It didn't happen. He's dead. And Muslim extremists won't
bring jobs to Egypt, either.
Bin Laden's also failed -- utterly -- to buckle America.
America, according to Osama's narrative, was ultimately to blame for the
wretchedness of Muslim lands. The U.S. supported corrupt governments, both
feudal kingdoms (Saudi Arabia) and authoritarian regimes (Hosni Mubarak's
Bin Laden would take the war to the U.S., the distant enemy.
Sept. 11 and subsequent attacks would expose America's cowardice, brittleness,
colossal ineptitude and -- here's the crucial propaganda point -- its weakness
of will and spirit. America would quail. As America took casualties, it would
flee, like it did in Somalia. The West would retreat from Muslim nations.
Al-Qaida would take control of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
It didn't happen. America didn't quit. U.S. Navy SEALs found
Osama in a bedroom then shot him, man-to-man. Crack American combat troops had
the weapons and the will.
In September 2008, I wrote a column arguing that bin Laden's
reputation had already suffered a long, slow rot that in a curious way worked
to America's advantage. Al-Qaida's insistent murder of Muslim civilians had
damaged its standing in the Arab world. Bin Laden retained a
"gangsta" appeal, but mere survival was not his goal -- he had big
plans based on the calculated marriage of apocalyptic violence and theological
Bin Laden's legacy of failure establishes a
counter-narrative to militant extremists who claim an armed theocracy is the
Arab Muslim future. Now is the time to emphasize his great historical flops.
Over the past week, the U.S. government has selectively
released videos seized in the SEAL raid. If bin Laden's reputation is fractured
statuary, some of the imagery is a sledgehammer for smashing it to dirty
powder. Bin Laden in his Pakistan pad isn't an Allah-inspired warrior bearing
an assault rifle. One video outs him as a narcissist with a TV remote control,
seated on pillows and watching himself on Al-Jazeera. But where's the suicide
bomb belt, Osama? Oh, right, he's not wearing one. Those are for the expendable
Osama bin Laden, violent visionary? No -- he's a pathetic,
self-absorbed, gray-headed old man squinting beneath a bad light.