Bin Laden may be dead, but authorities are still trying to track down Bert.
He was the Salafist Jihadist Terrorist Princess Queen of Hearts. We’ve spent almost 10 years growing up in his Bond-villain like shadow, but after nearly a decade of hiding from US intelligence they finally got round to finding the best hide and seek champion in the Islamic world – Osama Bin Laden is dead. Watching President Obama’s address to the nation (coming a couple of days after he released a document showing he himself wasn’t a mad Islamic terrorist) he outlined the unique care and rules of war America abides in dealing with terrorists – they found him, shot him in the head and then dumped his body in the sea, presumably whilst pished and chanting “USA, USA, USA”. Bin Laden’s death also follows the killing of Saif Al Arab Gaddaffi, one of Colonel Gaddafi’s younger sons who never made it into Italian Serie A football. It just shows you what the American’s can do when the PS3 network is down, and that America’s idea of what present you give to a newlywed Royal couple is somewhat tasteless.
But now Bin Laden is dead, Is Al Qaeda finished? is the War on Terror over? Will the occupation of Afghanistan end? The reality is that Bin Laden’s death will not significantly change the fortunes of the three. Al Qaeda as an organisation in Afghanistan was already effectively destroyed in the late Autumn of 2001 with the Western bombing and invasion of the country. It’s training facilities (which consisted of sinister looking jungle gyms) and headquarters were overrun, and organising the most wanted terrorist group in the world was a bit more tricky in a country occupied by thousands of NATO soldiers with assistance from Afghan warlords to boot.
Al Qaeda as an organisation was also an illusion – the idea of a world wide terrorist organisation, with branches in hundreds of countries taking orders from Bin Laden was and still is a myth, as this excellent BBC series outlines. President Obama is continuing to promote that myth by declaring that Bin Laden was the “leader” of Al Qaeda. But Al Qaeda as it actually exists is completely different. Al Qaeda is not an organisation but more a means of conducting terrorism and an ideology that justifies that terrorism on the basis of an apocalyptic clash between Islam and unbelievers.
Al Qaeda came out of a small hardcore of Islamist militants in the late 80′s, who were Arabs who had travelled to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. After their victory against the Soviets, they intended to form a network of Islamist militants to take the fight to their own Arab regimes (who they believed were too secular) and to the corrupt and morally bankrupt Western Christian countries who backed them. They organised Al Qaeda like a franchise, allowing Islamists from anywhere in the world to blow up people in the name of a cosmic struggle between the West and Islam and to do so in the name of Al Qaeda. There’s very rarely any direct link between Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda cells, let alone direct orders.
Some attacks attributed to Al Qaeda have shown considerable deviation from the “leadership” of the Al Qaeda idea as outlined by Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri. The 2004 Madrid bombing for example, was conducted only a few days before the Spanish Elections, and resulted in the removal of the pro-Iraq War Popular Party government and it’s replacement with PSOE who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Bin Laden and Zawahiri would never be motivated to bomb a country on the basis of changing it’s unbeliever Government – they see their struggle as a cosmic clash of Islam and Crusaders, in which changing one non-Muslim Government to another non-Muslim Government as having little point to their struggle. Zawahiri has also criticised the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Musab Al Zarqawi for carrying out a massive sectarian bombing campaign explicitly targeting Shia civilians. While Zawahiri agrees that Shiites are deviating from Islam he outlines in his statement how bombing civilians instead of occupying armies is bad for PR. These examples show Bin Laden simply never was the leader of a cohesive terrorist organisation. There is no equivalent of an Al Qaeda “Army Council” which directs it’s war like the Provisional IRA had.
The US wanted to indict Bin Laden for the bombing of their embassies in Africa and used Al Fadl’s testimony to create a picture of Al Qaeda as an organisation with a leadership, branches and hierarchy – so that Bin Laden could be prosecuted for the crimes other Islamists committed because he was supposedly in the same organisation as them. Having this vision of Al Qaeda meant that the US Government could prosecute Bin Laden using the same laws that they use to arrest the heads of the Mafia and other organised crime families. In these cases it is crucial to have an organisation that someone is a member of in order to successfully obtain a prosecution – the problem is that this simply does not exist in Al Qaeda’s case.
Even Al Qaeda’s most famous atrocity, the 9/11 attacks was not Bin Laden’s idea, but that of Khalid Sheik Mohammed (who was arrested in 2003). Khalid obtained financial support from Osama for the 9/11 attacks, but it was he who organised it. This is how the 9/11 attacks were really organised – a network of Islamists worked together and were funded by Bin Laden’s considerable personal wealth. Bin Laden’s role in Islamist terrorism has not been primarily that of an organiser but a financier. Different terrorist cells and organisations can approach Bin Laden and request funds for operations against the West. This loose, network is what makes Al Qaeda amorphous and potentially dangerous. The death of Bin Laden will not do much to practically impede this network’s activities against the West – Bin Laden was already isolated and could not provide much practical assistance to Al Qaeda affiliates.
Bin Laden was useful as a symbol however, a charismatic figurehead for the Al Qaeda brand’s form of extreme Islamism. Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri may become the new “face” of Al Qaeda but he does not have the same charm and charisma of Osama. The real danger from Al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism is still the same (and as overhyped) as it was before Bin Laden’s death. It’s based on angry, Muslim, predominantly middle class men operating loosely as cells without a central leadership. Bin Laden’s death may even spur some of these groups on to carry out attacks – possibly in a half-arsed manner, like the Glasgow Airport Attacks.
Bin Laden’s death is already being celebrated across the USA, but the reality is that the so-called “War on Terror” will go on regardless – because both the terror networks known as Al Qaeda will still exist, and because the War on Terror itself was never about fighting terrorism. It was a convenient label to cover up what wars have always been about, control of the world and it’s resources.
Bin Laden’s death may have the positive effect of putting more pressure on the USA/UK to end it’s occupation of Afghanistan, as the original reason for the NATO invasion – hunting down Bin Laden – has been resolved. In reality however the occupation of Afghanistan is motivated not by fighting Al Qaeda but on the control of a strategically important country in the middle of some of the largest natural gas fields in the world. The War on Terror didn’t just start using terrorism as a justification to control the world’s energy resources in Iraq – it was a motivation from the very start in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden died a prisoner of his own security, unable to effectively organise or finance terrorism personally, due to the worldwide manhunt for him. Despite this he goes to his death with his and Al Qaeda’s ideas immensely stronger. The 9/11 attacks did not only succeed in massacring thousands of casualties and damaging the pride of the USA, it has also embroiled the West in two bloody and expensive wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. Bin Laden may not have seen the invasion of Iraq coming (although he and Al Qaeda have benefited from it enormously) but it was inevitable the USA would invade Afghanistan after 9/11.
Two days before the September 11th attacks Al Qaeda members assassinated the anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud, the most credible anti-Taliban figure in Afghanistan and a natural puppet leader for the US. In killing Massoud Al Qaeda knew that if Afghanistan was invaded once again, they could make the subsequent occupation much harder for NATO by removing a unifying figure. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are repeating the strategy they used in the 80′s against the Soviets – dragging a superpowers army into their backyard, and bleeding them. The ongoing quagmire in Afghanistan is Bin Laden’s victory in death.
Now that Osama Bin Laden has been killed it’s time for Socialists and the anti-war movement to call for a complete end to the so-called War on Terror. The very flimsy justification for this war is now gone, and the continuing war against Muslim and Arab countries – from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya – is the exact strategy Bin Laden has fought for all his life, a bloody clash between Muslims and Christians, a clash that will only result in increasing support for Al Qaeda type networks across the globe.
It’s also a clash which, contrary to the predictions of Al Qaeda supporters and anti-Muslim bigots is not inevitable. Al Qaeda may be stronger in some respects given the West has acted as a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalist Islam, due to it’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is also much, much weaker in another and far more important battlefield; Al Qaeda has been left behind by the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East. Across the entire Arab world a tidal wave of people power is challenging the established pro-western, corrupt dictators – and Al Qaeda and fundamentalist Islam is nowhere to be seen.
The wave of protest is almost entirely secular in it’s makeup and demands. Al Qaeda has spent 20 years bombing civilians across the middle east and the Islamic world to try and change their societies, all without any success whatsoever, with no real threat to the regimes they oppose. In contrast a secular, working class, non sectarian movement in Egypt brought the most powerful Arab regime to it’s knees within a month. Al Qaeda know how to react to Western bombing campaigns, Arab autocracies, and Israeli atrocities – but they have no idea how to respond to the mass movement of millions of Arabs fighting against dictatorship using their power primarily as a class of workers, and not as Muslims pitted against other religious groups.
It’s those ideas currently sweeping the Arab world that will defeat the ideas of Al Qaeda, not the abuses of Guantanamo Bay, Al Ghraib and the senseless bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya today.
Edited to include some political points at the bottom