What a weekend!! We had a Royal Wedding, a Pope’s canonization and in words of Peru’s President, the death of the, I quote: “demonic embodiment of the crime, evil and hate”, aka Inquisition. I just needed my dinner in Medieval Times to completely feel in the XV Century!!
But let’s get serious; if our previous generation was witness of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rocky’s victory over Drago and the End of History, we can proudly say that we’re witnesses of another history’s watershed. The fall of the Twin Towers, the war on terror and the revitalization of the Clash of Civilizations’ arguments, are moments that marked the beginning of the XXI Century. We will always remember what we were doing while the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as we would not forget the instant when Obama was announcing the death of one of the most recognizable but elusive men ever.
So following Osama bin Laden’s demise, there are four possible interpretations about its meaning. Without deepen too much we can find 1) the ones that argue that bin Laden’s death does not change anything, 2) people that see Osama’s death as the Tipping Point for ending terrorism, 3) the dudes with the conspiracy theories and 4) the mixture of’em all. So if my lack of imagination makes me incapable of developing nice convincing
aliens/evil jews/vampires/nazi zombiestheories, and I’m not the kind of person who sees everything in black and white, I am picking option number four.
I believe that the death of bin Laden won’t represent a real shift in the way al-Qaeda and other terrorists networks were operating. Of course the guy was the leader of the organization and an inspiration for radical Muslims; but let’s face it: in recent times, we hear a less about al-Qaeda and more about its franchises. I think that when Barber stated that the Jihad and the McWorld had just one thing in common, the threat it represented for democracy, he never thought an organization like al-Qaeda was capable of merge the “best of two worlds” and develop the McJihadization, the globalization of tribalism, the exportation of radical ideals with one goal in familiar, reshaping the very foundations of world as we know it.
During the second half of the 2000s decade this started to happen. Faster than Subway restaurants, regional factions of al-Qaeda were sprouting in everyplace where there was a radical Muslim available. al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, are some of the branches that emerged in those years, while other organizations such as al-Shabab in
what used to be a country called Somalia were pledging allegiance to Bin Laden’s organization. But like good franchises, most of them work by themselves, have their own means of financing and recruiting and only resort to the core for training or increasing its commercial value.
Additionally, the way the world address terrorism, except from the US, will not change substantially. America’s quest for seek and destroy bin Laden is far from being the strategy taken internationally. For example last EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (Europol) reported that Islamist based terrorism had the lowest rate in the region, and the focus is put on homegrown terrorism and aQIM. Also, the UN Strategy includes a broader spectrum that goes far far away from al-Qaeda. It is true that they may have to change the name of the 1267 Committee, but acquiring universal compliance of international instruments, capacity building and address the underlying causes of terrorism will continue to occupy its core work.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not intend to go so far as Mr. Zakaria, who argues that bin Laden’s death represents “the end of al Qaeda in any meaningful sense of the word”. But being realistic, the US is still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Middle East continue to be a region of potential threat, with or without Osama. More worried should be Pakistan, not because bin Laden was found there, but because they way it was founded, living in a tourist city near to the Pakistan Military Academy. The AfPak has been a headache for the US since 2001 and thanks to Wikileaks Pakistan’sdouble game is well known, but hiding US’ number one public enemy it’s maybe going too far. Greater tensions between the two countries are expected, and we haven’t heard anything of the data collected by the US SEAL team.
But what actually changed after OBL’s death? In first place, it is a closure. No matter how much money was spent, how many lives lost or how discredited was the US’ image in the world, they achieved their objective. It took ten years and two different Administrations, but the explosion of joy witnessed in New York and Washington was the reflection of the conclusion of ten years of frustration and impotence; finally the enemy has been taken down. As clear as crystal, Obama, as if he was Jigsaw, was watching the operation in live stream, probably congratulating himself for the success of its revenge plan.
Thinking in the celebrations that took place all over the US Sunday night, Jean Baudrillard comes to my mind. Just after September 11 he wrote that the terrorist attacks represented the “mother of all events”, the essence of all the events that never happened. Linked with his work in Simulacra and Simulation, bin Laden was the replacement of reality and meaning with symbols and signs. Symbols of fear, anger and terror that left US citizens living in a simulation of reality that did not really agreed with the level of the actual threat. So Osama’s death represented a rupture, of course alert systems were increased, and some retaliation is expected, but for the common individual, the perception of threat has diminished, the evil entity has gone.
For realists, bin Laden’s demise was pure gold. Arguing that actors in the international system are always looking for power and prestige, killing Osama bin Laden puts the US in the top of the ladder. With the attention of the world, that not even Megan Fox’s first topless had, the United States was not only able to dispose its “nemesis”, but also proved that it continues to be the paramount in military and intelligence. Probably it took more than expected, but they had the job done. So the US is not only increasing its already excellent position in the global arena, but also it has done it within its territory, because the success of this operation represents a morale boost for the entire country.
But don’t get cocky so easy. This morale boost could also be backfired. Osama is dead, but not his ideas, and this is a point that not only the US, but the entire international community has to take in consideration. We can be sure that, for some people, bin Laden has now become a martyr, and it is not necessary to say that there are some individuals that are more dangerous dead than alive. So it could be possible that as Orpheus’ lyre, Osama’s ideas could be heard from the Hades and the global response must be based on smart power using hard and soft power in a single winning strategy.
A little thought before leaving. I just love American exceptionalism, not only because of the French fries and freedom fries’ debate, but also because the ease with which they fall in double discourses and double standards. Maybe justice is a relative term, but sovereignty is not. Getting into a foreign country to kill a man, and then consider that justice has been done, seems quite radical for me. Perhaps that is why the US values have always been linked more with Superman than with Batman. I don´t see the Dark Knight applying the kill first apprehend later policy, but the Man’o Steel fits perfectly in the pattern. But more interesting is that, for the US population, justice has been achieved. It seems like the “terrorist word” is the secret ingredient in Dr. Jekyll’s potion, capable of transforming a “democracy and liberty loving country” to a “cheer the murder of a man state”.
The big beard bad guy has fallen; now let’s see how US’ foreign policy shifts.