Osama bin Laden has gone to the great bordello in the sky that awaits every good jihadi.
Barack Obama explained that the jihadist mastermind was killed in a “targeted operation: at Abbottabad, Pakistan: “A small team of Americans carried out the operation. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
Obama also said that the killing of bin Laden was the “most significant achievement to date” in America’s war against al-Qaeda.
It is undoubtedly significant. Osama bin Laden was wildly popular in the Islamic world. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks Osama t-shirts, hats, and even dolls and action figures sold briskly in many Muslim countries, belying the mainstream media myth that 9/11 was the action of a tiny minority of extremists that had twisted and hijacked Islam, and were duly despised by the vast majority of Muslims. Polls all over the Islamic world always showed a healthy amount of support for bin Laden and, above all, respect for him as a pious mujahid.
But in reality, while the death of bin Laden is fine news, and is certainly a psychological blow to the jihadis and a confidence-booster for Americans, it really won’t change anything.
The role of al-Qaeda in the global jihad, and the role of Osama bin Laden in al-Qaeda, have both been wildly overstated. Al-Qaeda is not the only Islamic jihad group or Islamic supremacist group operating today, and Osama bin Laden was not some charismatic leader whose movement will collapse without him. The exaggeration of his role, in fact, was a result of the general unwillingness to face the reality that the global jihad is a movement driven by an ideology, not an outsized personality, and that that ideology is rooted in Islam.
Barack Obama epitomized that unwillingness in his address announcing the death of bin Laden. “The US is not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” Obama declared. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims.” Osama bin Laden himself would have been surprised to be characterized (and by a leader who is probably not a Muslim himself) as “not a Muslim leader.” After all, in his 2002 letter to the American people explaining his motives and goals, he wrote: “The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.”
Bin Laden explained in this letter to Americans that “it is to this religion that we call you; the seal of all the previous religions….It is the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them their rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted….It is the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme.”
This perspective on Islam wasn’t just bin Laden’s. Millions of Muslims worldwide share it, and that won’t end with the death of Osama. The US is not – and never will be – at war with Islam, as Obama says, but significant elements of Islam are – and always will be – at war with the U.S. Nothing that happened during that firefight in Abbottabad will change that, and Obama’s continued focus on al-Qaeda as if it were a singular and eccentric group of non-Muslim Muslims that is the cause of all our troubles only perpetuates the unreality that has already led to so many disastrous policy errors.
Until Barack Obama and other Western leaders face the fact that Osama bin Laden was operating within the broad mainstream of Islamic teaching, they will be constantly puzzled by the advent of new bin Ladens, and new al-Qaedas, all over the globe. How is it that all these disparate individuals and groups misunderstand Islam in all the same way? Until U.S. officials can answer that question correctly, we will have made no headway, no matter how many al-Qaeda masterminds we corner and kill in Pakistan.
So Osama bin Laden, after years of silence punctuated by mysterious gnomic utterances delivered (how? by whom?) to the media, finally joins Generalissimo Franco in the ranks of the still dead. It is good news as far as it goes, which is not really all that far. I have hoisted a suitably haram beverage in toast of the happy news. And then it was back to work. The jihad will go on, and so will I, and so, I hope, will you.