Remember you first read it here: Osama Bin Laden is dead.
The news first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan almost six months ago: the runaway died on Dec. 5, 2001 and buried the same day in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan. A few days later Pakistans President Pervez Musharraf echoed the information. This month an Al-Qaeda leader, held by the Americans, confirmed the news. The remnants of Osamas gang, however, remained silent, either because they have no means of communication or to keep his ghost alive.
The first denial of Osamas death came from one of his half brothers who claimed that the self-styled Mujahed was alive. The same half brother, however, went out of his way to deny that he or their mother had contact with the fugitive. The next denial came in a possibly fake videotape in which a Kuwaiti associate of Bin Laden claims that the sheikh is alive and in good health.
So, how could we be sure that Bin Laden is dead?
Of course, we cannot produce the body or pinpoint the grave. What we have in mind is Bin Ladens death as a political operator.
With an ego the size of Mount Everest, Osama Bin Laden would not have, could not have, remained silent for so long. He had always liked to take credit even for things he had nothing to do with. So, would he remain silent for nine months during which his illusions have been shattered one after another? If his adjutants can smuggle a video to Al-Jazeera in Qatar, why couldnt he?
Even if he were still alive physically, Bin Laden is dead politically. He may live some more years in the hide-outs of the tribal zone in Pakistan just as some Nazi fugitives survived in the remote areas of Argentina and Paraguay.
Bin Laden is the known face of a particular brand of politics that committed suicide in New York and Washington on Sept.11, 2001, killing thousands of innocent people in the process.
What were the key elements in that system?
The first was a cynical misinterpretation of Islam that began decades ago by such romantic-idealists as the Pakistani Abul-Ala Maudoodi and the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb. Although Maudoodi and Qutb were not serious thinkers, they could, at least offer a coherent ideology based on a narrow reading of the Islamic texts. Their ideas, distilled down to Bin Laden, became mere slogans designed to incite zealots to murder.
People like Maudoodi and Qutb could catch the ball and run largely because most Muslim intellectuals did not deem it necessary to continue the work of Muslim philosophers. Modern Muslim intellectuals, seduced by fashionable Western ideologies, left the new urban masses of Islams teeming cities exposed to the half-baked ideas that Maudoodi and Qutb peddled. In time, Maudoodo-Qutbism provided the ideological topos in which Bin Ladenism could grow.
Now, however, many Muslim intellectuals are returning home, so to speak. They are rediscovering Islams philosophical heritage and beginning to continue the work started by pioneers of Islamic political thought over 1,000 years ago. Paradoxically, it is Maudoodo-Qutbism that is now being exposed as a pseudo-Islamic version of Western totalitarian ideologies.
The second element that made Bin Laden possible was easy money, largely coming from wealthy individuals, mostly in the Gulf area, who believed that by giving for the cause they were not only buying a place in the hereafter but also protecting themselves against accidents in this world. Some paid because they believed they were helping poor and oppressed Muslims. Others paid so that militants would go and spend their energies somewhere else.
That easy money is no longer available, at least not in large quantities. Many donors have realized that they had been financing a terror organization all along. Some have been forced to choose between the West, where they have the bulk of their wealth, and the troglodyte Mujaheds of the Hindukush.
The third element that made Bin Ladenist terror possible was the encouraging, or at least complacent, attitude of several governments. The Taleban in Afghanistan began by hosting Bin Laden and ended up becoming his life-and-death buddies. The Pakistanis were also supportive because they wanted to dominate Afghanistan and make life hard for the Indians by sending holy warriors to Kashmir. The Sudanese government was also sympathetic, if not actually supportive, and offered at least a safe haven. This was also the case in Yemen where in November 2000 this writer accidentally ran into a crowd of Al-Qaeda militants who had flown from Pakistan for a gathering.
We now know that Al-Qaeda cells operated, often quite openly, in more than a dozen other Muslim countries from Indonesia and Malaysia to Morocco and Tunisia, without being bothered by anyone.
The fall of the Taleban means that the gang no longer has a sure base and hide-out. All the other countries are now also closed, and in some cases, even hostile to the Bin Laden gang.
The fourth element was the cynical attitude of many Western powers that sheltered the terrorists in the name of freedom of expression and dissent. We now know that London was the world capital of Al-Qaeda and that New York was its financial nerve center.
The murder of the Afghan resistance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, for example, was planned in the British capital. Al-Qaeda militants operated in Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, among other democracies, without any restraint.
The fifth element that made Bin Ladenism possible was the Wests, especially Americas, perceived weakness if not actual cowardice. A joke going round the militant Islamist circles until last year was that the only thing the Americans would do if attacked was to sue the attackers in court. That element no longer exists. The Americans, supported by the largest coalition in history, have shown that they are prepared to use force against their enemies even if that means a long war with no easy victory in sight.
The sixth element of Bin Ladenism was the illusion in most Western nations that they could somehow remain unaffected by the violence unleashed by fanatical terrorists against so many Muslim nations from Indonesia to Algeria. That illusion was shattered by the Sept. 11 attacks. Americans now know that they are vulnerable to the same kind of terrorism that has caused so much tragedy for the people of Algeria, to cite just one example, in the past decade.
Bin Laden could survive and prosper only in a world in which the six elements just mentioned remained in force. That world no longer exists: thus Osama Bin Laden no longer exists.
His ghost may continue to linger on, partly because Washington and Islamabad, among others, find it useful to keep it in the headlines for a while. Bush still has an election to win next November and Musharraf is keen to keep his country in the limelight as long as possible.
But the truth is that Osama Bin Laden is dead.
Remember you first read it here.