Osama’s gone: Now the real challenge
It’s not a headline I ever expected to wake up to. Of late I had even begun to wonder whether he was anyway some kind of composite figure. That’s the intrigue of the unseen enemy – he is so easily contorted into whatever you want to make him.
Is he alive/dead/figment of our imagination? But then in the end he was always more “inspirational” than “active”.
Hence his death, even though he has clearly been inactive in recent years beyond a few audio messages, is structurally important. He was a totem for many for whom he was seen as the enemy of their oppression. For the rest, he was a divisive hate figure who polarised communities across the world.
But when I stood amongst the heaving crowds of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, never the word Osama, bin, nor Laden was ever present – in voice or in written slogan. Osama did not drive the Arab Spring – he was no part of it anywhere.Did the appalling achievement of 9/11 elevate him to a false pedestal of capacity? Almost certainly. His presence in the world has distorted global relationships for two decades. There is no iconic successor to lead what was already a fading movement.
So what now? Pakistan is bound to upheave. Prime Minister Zadari only clung to power courtesy of a patched up deal in the past few days with Musharraf’s Party. He will be personally hugely vulnerable – locally and internationally.
After all, here was Osama holed up in a vast unexplained security compound half a mile from the Pakistani equivalent of Sandhurst. Structural elements of Pakistan surely must have known he was there. Structural elements of a country with whom we enjoy friendly relations. Was he protected?
Obama too will be more vulnerable in a security sense. But today he was all but re-elected to be the next President of the United States. Osama is dead. The purpose of the Afghan war is done. Even if at the most terrible cost and what is bound to be a long-lasting and unstable aftermath. And Al Qaeda‘s rump? It will attempt a firework display of nasty action – perhaps.
But Osama’s gauntlet still clenches in death. From Bolton to Baghdad, from Düsseldorf to Mumbai, political and community leaders have a vast job on their hands. The challenge now to reach out to the alienated peoples who found in Osama hope and leadership. His fundamentalism feasted on inequality, poverty and hypocrisy.
The Arab Spring will not neutralise these issues in a very long time. The opposition to the Arab spring, rooted in Saudi Arabia, continues to fund Wahabi-ist fundamentalism in schools, madrassas and mosques in Europe and across the developing world.. Great oil wealth vested in a few mediaeval hands continues to spawn the strain of fundamentalism upon which one rich Saudi, Osama Bin Laden lived and died.