Osama bin Laden has been many things to many people: evildoer, terrorist, holy man, and messenger of Allah. Now, in his death, we can add two more labels: fraud and failure.
He is a fraud because, for all his invective against the decadent West, he lived in a supersized mansion. And for all his hateful sermons against the “infidels,” the Al Qaeda network he helped lead for nearly two decades has killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader,” President Obama noted. “He was a mass murderer of Muslims.”
And he’s a failure, because even before his death, Muslims around the world were losing confidence in him and turning away from his vision of an Islamic caliphate. In Jordan, for example, his support fell from 56 percent in 2003 to just 13 percent today, according to The Pew Research Center.
He was a demented mass murderer who embraced evil and called it good. His fawning followers called him “Sheikh Osama,” sheikh being an Islamic term of religious respect. Yet in his interpretation of the Quran, he always seemed to err on the side of medieval barbarity, bloodshed, and killing, at which he was quite accomplished.
He inspired his followers to kill in a fashion that would have been shameful to more righteous Muslims, like the 12th-century Muslim warrior Saladin, who better understood the prophet Muhammad’s teachings on mercy, an idea Mr. bin Laden never seemed to grasp.
He inspired the murders of thousands of innocent Christians, Jews, and others. Yet the infidel body count pales in comparison to the number of casualties Al Qaeda inflicted on fellow Muslims – whom bin Laden declared to be either heretics or justifiable collateral damage. In fact, a 2009 study showed that Al Qaeda had killed eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims.
Sunni tradition holds that when a man dies, a pair of angels greets him and asks the newly deceased whether he has been a good Muslim. Bound to answer truthfully, bin Laden must say, “Well, I was responsible for the deaths of more innocent Muslims than Christian infidels.”
“Poof!” That’s what my Muslim friends tell me comes next. The wicked ones are vaporized into dust, with no hope of salvation.
Well before 9/11, much of the Arab world already grasped the bankruptcy of Al Qaeda’s doctrine of malevolence. This is a fact more Americans should appreciate.
His victories, like crashing airliners with screaming innocents into buildings, were disgusting, criminal, and embarrassing to righteous Muslims. In recent years, Sheikh Osama fast became irrelevant because he increasingly inflicted humiliation and defeat on peoples who have already known too much of both.
Bin Laden failed to topple the Saudi monarchy he loathed because he forgot the basic rule of the House of Saud: “He who has the most money wins.” And while he did much to empty America’s treasury, his failure to defeat the Americans as he had the Soviets reflected an even more fatal miscalculation. Had he known better the American culture, he might have learned the secular tenet, “The last man standing wins.”
A range of conspiracy theorists and hard-core Islamists are insisting that the bin Laden “hit” was faked, that he’s still alive somewhere. That reminds me of the countless “sightings” of Adolf Hitler in South America after World War II.
There is no reason to be surprised at continuing pockets of rage and cries for revenge from the Arab outback because, as Shakespeare said, “The evil men do lives after them.”
Al Qaeda terrorist franchises in Yemen, Iraq, North Africa, and Pakistan remain poised and dangerous. Among some Islamic fundamentalists, nothing short of the eradication of the United States, India, Israel, and France will assuage their hatred.
Revenge: a poison chalice
But most Arab youths are seeing that revenge is the poison chalice that ultimately did in bin Laden. He is simply the latest Arab leader to bet on violent solutions and then fall victim to the same.
Bin Laden was a fraud and a failure. That lesson should be hammered into the heads of young Pakistani boys in their Saudi-funded religious schools, the madrasas.
The Arab world desperately needs a new worldview to replace bin Laden’s fabrications. Foremost among these should be that Arab society does not need to invent external enemies to maintain internal social coherence.
The recent turmoil on Arab streets suggests that the next generation may understand that their greatest enemies are internal: corruption, state violence, and the status quo.
It is difficult to gauge how far back from modernity bin Laden’s’s radical Islamist ideology may have pushed Arab society. But it is the Arabs more than American youngsters on the streets who have the most to celebrate now, for it was bin Laden more than anyone who trademarked Muslims as terrorists, and he is gone.
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.