To posit the significance of Osama bin Laden’s demise, we must first decide which came first — the chicken or the egg? Quaint as it is, this question is fundamentally an inquiry into the nature of cause and effect. In our context, did Osama bin Laden “create” the idea of jihad, or did the centuries-old doctrine of jihad — supplemented by Koranic verses to “strike terror into the heart of infidels” (8:12) — create him?
It is clear what the mainstream media would have us think. Take CNN alone; its national security analyst Peter Bergen maintains: “Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.” Insisting that the “iconic nature of bin Laden’s persona” cannot be replaced, Bergen suggests: “It’s time to move on.”
Another CNN analyst, Fareed Zakaria, assures us that even if politicians including President Obama aren’t saying it yet (you know, “to be cautious”), “the truth is this is a huge, devastating blow to al-Qaeda, which had already been crippled by the Arab Spring. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the end of al-Qaeda in any meaningful sense of the word.”
Rather than limit his analysis to pithy, sensationalist phrases and buzz words — the tools of the trade of op-ed writing — the ambitious Zakaria undermines his own position by actually trying to argue in historical and existential terms:
Al-Qaeda was an idea and an ideology, symbolized by an extremely charismatic figure in Osama bin Laden. … History teaches us that the loss of the charismatic leader — of the symbol — is extraordinarily damaging for the organization. … With the death of bin Laden, the central organizing ideology that presented an existential seduction to the Muslim world and an existential threat to the Western world is damaged beyond repair. … That existential threat is gone.
Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth. How many Muslim “charismatic leaders” and ideologues have come and gone only for the jihad to rage on?
Consider the Islamist leaders of this century alone: Hassan Bana and Sayyid Qutb, founder and chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, respectively; both were killed, yet over fifty years later, the Brotherhood — the parent organization of many jihadist organizations, including al-Qaeda — is today more dominant than ever, and may well take over Egypt.