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May 5, 2011

Osama’s death: Historical meaning/significance

By Arthur Scott

 May 1, 2011, Osama bin Laden met his Waterloo, five months prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in which more than 3 000 Americans lost their lives to a terrorist plot orchestrated by him and carried out by his revolutionary arm Al –Qaeda. The great irony of his death was that his Islamist image already had been  tarnished by the 2011 “Arab Spring” in which the Arab street, especially youth, men and women, were chanting or calling for the ending of the existing corrupt dictatorships by demonstrations and social networks rather than by terror/suicide bombers. Freedom, equality, jobs, and a future full of “secular promise”, not jihadist’s rhetoric was the dominant refrain of the Middle East

Osama had literally witnessed the passing of his time.  This is reflected even in his hide out in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where since 2005 he lived “entombed” in isolation, secrecy and seclusion from the rest of the world.  His life was reduced to women, children, television and an occasional courier. While growing up in the 1980’s, Osama had been caught up in a emerging new response to Western impact described as the “Islamic Resurgence” then taking hold in Middle East. The “Islamic Resurgence”, consisted of returning to mosque and Five Pillars, and had been triggered by Iranian Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978. It was later intensified by the Saudi Sunni response to Iran by which the Saudi crown with its petro-dollars sought to isolate the Iranian/Shiia virus by shoring up first the other Gulf Coast Monarchies and then extended, with generous grants of monies, its influence eastward by establishing madrasas in India/Pakistan/Afghanistan based on a very conservative Wahhabi/Salafi, fundamentalist agenda.

Osama, being a Saudi was heir to this religious conservative tradition. In Afghanistan in the 1980’s as a pseudo- mujahedeen coming from a powerful Saudi family of great wealth, the Bin Laden’s, he developed a jihadist/Wahhabi political philosophy that called for overthrowing these corrupt Middle Eastern monarchies by organizing a terrorist organization called Al –Qaeda (Base), and by declaring a global jihad primarily directed at the American Satan who he held responsible for all Middle Eastern ills. In time, through videos he presented himself skillfully as a charismatic spiritual/revolutionary leader who would restore the Golden Age to the Middle East by returning Islam to its original Muhammedan roots.

Osama’s presence on the world stage, from 1995-2011 was relatively quite brief.  What made him bigger than life was globalization, a complicated geography that provided him with safe havens, questionable Pakistani support, a news media characterized by computers, internets, face books, twitters, and iPods that was fixed on sensationalism and violence. The romance of terrorism was likewise responsible for his popularity as it greatly appealed to alienated Muslim youth who were disenchanted with their present/future and were looking for a meaningful outlet. Osama succeeded in tapping into the deep frustration and angst of Muslim youth about their situation by offering them a romantic David/Goliath image of struggling against Western secularism, socio-economic injustice, and thwarted national aspirations of oppressive peoples as exemplified by the Palestinians/Taliban.

Even more significant was his impact on Muslim moderates, who since 9/11 have lost their voices and refused to speak out against the Islamist/Jihadist tide running in Islam and its accompanying violation of Islamic ethics and Quranic teachings. Osama succeeded in polarizing the Muslim community into either the jihadist who called for the fall of the American Satan or conservatives who in greed/fear identified with the authoritarian regimes of the Gulf States and North Africa.  Hopefully his demise will enable the older generation of Muslims to speak out as robustly as their children have done during the recent Arab Spring.  These Middle Eastern youth have become advocates for moderation, rule of law, and secular liberalism as against religious extremism and have exhibit incredible courage.

Finally and most ironic is that although Osama was eliminated by the Navy Seals, he nevertheless has had a profound impact on reshaping America values/institutions. First, Americans have experienced a tremendous loss of personal freedom from airport security to Patriot Acts 1 & 2 and to Islamphobia. Intelligence agencies have been granted unlimited access into the personal lives of Americans. Second, the powers of National Security State and Military – Industrial complex have experienced unparalleled growth best exemplified by Joseph Stiglitz’s characterization of Iraq war as “The Three Trillion Dollar War”, not including the costs of the Afghan War.  The privatization of war has become a bonanza for Corporate America and has become institutionalized so deeply in the economics of the nation that it makes military withdrawal or reductions in $712 billion dollar DOD  2011 budget well nigh impossible.( http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm)  Last, 9/11 contributed to 2008 global recession in which Big Government/Big Industry merged into a new philosophy of Global Corporation, which is strategically grounded on sustaining American military dominance throughout the world, but founded unfortunately at the expense of the American Middleclass which according to Robert Reich has witnessed an unparalleled “transference of wealth” to the top 1 percent of the Nation. (See, http://robertreich.org/)

Osama may be dead but he may be having the last laugh.

Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies