May 052011

Bin Laden’s death at the hands of SEAL Team Six on Sunday has sent shockwaves around the world. The mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks who stayed out of reach of American forces for nearly a decade, given up as missing before President Bush was out of office, was found and slain in his plush Pakistani compound by America’s finest. In life bin Laden was a constant reminder of the limitations of American power, his survival daily proof that the Great Satan could be humbled and best. His death, and when it came, may be the last stand of the violent movement he personified. His defeat is not only vindication for an American public hungry for some kind of justice for the World Trade Center but one of the final nails in the coffin of the ideology of violent struggle he championed throughout his life.

The most obvious impact of bin Laden’s death is on the future of Al Qaeda. While global in nature the beating heart of the organization was bin Laden himself.  He was the big money behind the group with a multi-million dollar fortune and fundraising operations the world over Known for being highly charismatic bin Laden was crucial for keeping the factions in Al Qaeda working together. It is very telling that new recruits to the organization did not swear their allegiance to the cause but to the man himself. Following the success of the September 11th attacks his star power, and by extension his organization’s, skyrocketed. Bin Laden was able to cultivate the mystique of a holy warrior striking righteous blows against the mighty Americans and living to tell the tale. His continued survival built up the myth of bin Laden with each day he remained alive and free a constant reminder of his victories over the Americans. His star power certainly didn’t hurt his ability to draw recruits to the organization. Killing bin Laden didn’t just destroy the man, it destroyed the myth he had built up. Just as Robert E. Lee’s image of invincibility in the North was wrecked following his defeat at Gettysburg bin Laden’s death destroys the idea that any terrorist can remain beyond the reach of the United States.

His death could also spell doom for Al Qaeda. Over the past decade American forces under Presidents Bush and Obama have tracked down Al Qaeda leaders and key commanders capturing the ones they could take alive and killing those they couldn’t. The constant attrition on the mid and upper levels of the organization, while having no obvious impact, could not have been healthy for the terrorists. Any organization, regardless of purpose, needs more than just its brilliant founders to lead the way. They need to build a deep bench of talent who can step up when the first generation falls or steps aside. The constant whittling away at this second string has left bin Laden’s followers with a much smaller reserve of talent.  Following his death the most likely candidate to take control is his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri who is certainly no bin Laden.  With no clear successor Al Qaeda will be scrambling to piece together some kind of working leadership at a time when it can least afford it. The seizure of hard drives and other vital pieces of intelligence during the raid on his compound puts the security of information for Al Qaeda up in the air. As likely as it is that Al Qaeda operatives are preparing for retaliatory strikes against the US it would not be far-fetched to assume at least a few are sleeping with one eye open wondering if and when the US will come for them.

On a grander scale bin Laden’s death couldn’t have come at a better time. Jihadi terrorism gained much of its allure from the repressive nature of the governments of the Arab World. The long-term survival of stability of these governments, along with the naked brutality used against peaceful resistance, sent a message to would-be reformers that change can only come through violent action. Leaders took advantage of this impression channeling the rage of their restive people against Israel and the West further encouraging angry radicals to join the jihad abroad instead of causing problems at home. Tahrir Square loudly and soundly refuted this status quo. With the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt non-violent political opposition had gained its first real successes in Arab history. As long as violence was perceived as the only option for bringing about real political reforms peaceful resistance would always be seen as a pipe dream. Victory in Cairo legitimized the methods of the Egyptian activists inspiring similar revolts in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain with even autocratic Saudi Arabia and theocratic Iran feeling the rumblings of discontent. When compared to the relatively dismal track record of jihadi groups which to date have yet to overthrow a single government, drive the US out of any Middle Eastern country, destroy Israel, or bring about any meaningful change the runaway successes in Tunisia and Egypt are likely much more appealing thanks to having worked as advertised. Every government brought down by the mostly peaceful Arab Spring is another nail in the coffin of jihadi terrorism.

Bin Laden’s death is, like the man himself, much bigger than the elimination of one notorious terrorist. Without him Al Qaeda has lost a valuable source of funding, recruitment, and the invincible reputation that came with his continued survival. His death coming during the height of the Arab Spring is a powerful contrast to the wave of peaceful democratic revolution sweeping across the Middle East showing the people of the Middle East there is another, better option than taking up the cause of holy war.  This is not to say a bright future is certain.  The revolts are still being fought out in the streets of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya.  Al Qaeda may be on its way out but they could always find new leadership and recover.  The Taliban, in spite of losing a useful ally in bin Laden, continues to fight on in Afghanistan.

Events shaping the world offer the United States a golden opportunity to bring about an effective and lasting end to the threat of jihadi terrorism.  The operation to take out bin Laden showed us the United States has highly effective, precise tools for fighting terrorism.  Osama bin Laden was not brought down by an armored column but by a team of elite Navy SEALs.  Unlike bloody insurgency operations in Iraq or drone strikes in Pakistan the SEAL team was able to accomplish their mission without inflicting any civilian casualties.  Occupation of territory has similarly proven less than effective.  Attempting to suppress terrorist havens in Afghanistan mostly succeeded in pushing bin Laden into Pakistan and tying down large numbers of American soldiers.  The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, far from successfully winning hearts and minds, have led to substantial civilian and military casualties, massive debt, and mostly succeeded in upsetting the Arab world more.

Change abroad should go hand in hand with change at home.  In the past ten years we have seen steady encroachments on our civil liberties all in the name of security and the War on Terror.  Yet for all that effort what consistently brought down terrorist plots and high value targets was not earned through the groping hands of the TSA or warrantless wiretapping but through conventional intelligence methods.  Bin Laden’s demise is an excellent moment to show the world that we can do the right thing and our current flirtation with authoritarian mechanisms is a temporary aberration.  Most of all we must do this for the sake of our rights.  It is our duty to future generations that they do not inherit diminished rights because of a moment’s panic.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

  12 Responses to “The End of Jihad”

  1. Alas, I wish I shared your optimistic reading of the follow-on effects. None of the underlying causes for the jihad have been changed. Even the Egyptian revolution looks an awful lot like a military coup until there’s a lot more evidence to the contrary, one that couldn’t have happened without the demonstrators, but which will be unlikely to serve their interests and goals in the end.

    And as for the U.S.’ temporary flirtation with dictators as you put it, it seems to me our history is filled with convenient dealings with folk like the Shah, Ngo Din Diem, Sing Mon Ri, (sp) and a double dozen Latin American dictators, all in the name of economic stability or perceived national security interests. Even now, our cautious policies have not been making us friendsin the world of the Arab Street.

    And while it’s true we’ve had some successes culminating in last Sunday’s raid, the decentralized nature of Al Qaida makes their impact less important than we could wish. It may be that the ability to conduct large, international operations is temporarily reduced, but it needs only one clever demagog to take up the rhetoric of imperialism to put us right back where we were.

    I say these things, earnestly hoping I’m wrong, for everyone’s sake, including, and maybe especially for the Arab world which has certainly had enough wounds self and externally inflicted.

    • As far as temporary flirtation with authoritarianism I’m thinking along the lines of PATRIOT, wiretapping, and all the other things we don’t know about going on at the DHS. The US has been playing pattycake with less than ideal allies ever since the American Revolution when we allied with Bourbon France to help win our independence.

    • Ok now that I’m more awake I’ll address the other points you made.

      I’m not so worried about Egypt. What is happening there is almost page by page the same as the revolutions that swept the Eastern Bloc in 1989 and the establishment of a genuine democratic government in South Korea thanks to mass demonstrations during the 1980s. What happened in Egypt is fitting the same pattern as the others and the actions of the military so far are hopeful. Yes there are still arrests of dissidents but these incidents are much fewer and far between. The Army did nothing to tamper with the elections last month that pushed sweeping constitutional reforms laying the ground work for free and open elections this fall but in fact actively supported them. Everything they have said indicates they have no desire to run the country and want to hand off control to an elected government.

      I also highly doubt the fear of a theocratic takeover, another possibility raised for Egypt, is one that is well-grounded in the facts. In Iran part of what enabled the coup by Khomeini and his followers was the fragmentation of the Iranian military. The Egyptian military, by contrast, has remained a united bloc. It is also, like the Turkish military, very nationalist and secular with potential theocratic elements having been constantly weeded out by purges under Mubarak. If a would-be theocrat were to step in and make a bid for power they probably would have their backs against a wall before they could blink.

      Al Qaeda is a highly decentralized organization. One leaked interrogation transcript of Khalik Sheik Mohammed had him describing Al Qaeda’s organization as being like spaghetti dropped on the floor. This does not mean they are immune to the loss of their infamous leader, founder, and biggest source of funding. Al Qaeda may remain united for now by desire for vengeance but as strikes are launched and failed, operatives weeded out, and funds dry up internal squabbling will rear its ugly head.

      I hope my optimistic view is the one that prevails. We stand at a crossroads in history and there is no guarantee we will take the road that is most beneficial.

  2. In the end, we have killed one man. A leader, yes, but one man. We have not changed the nature of our struggle, nor have we changed the ideology that gave birth to it: Islam. Nor have we eliminated those that insist on the supremacy of Islam.

    We have but killed, one man.

    You say we have whittled away the second stringers. True. But all that’s done is created a harsh survival of the fittest. Now what’s left are the most talented, most ruthless, most hard core. And we have killed their leader. They will want blood. They will seek it.

    And what do we have of this one man that we have killed? A body? No, it was thrown to the sea, given a proper Muslim burial. And we are told that we should feel shame for wanting to display his body, to rend it to pieces and sent to the four corners of the world so that all may know what happens when you Slaughter Our People Like Animals! What proper burial was granted for our honored dead? None! Turned to Ash and Dust! But Vengeance is denied us. Justice is denied us.

    We are denied even the pictures of his dead body.

    What proof do we have that he is dead? Perhaps he is. Perhaps he was long dead. They showed fake pics to the senators, according to CNN. We have no body, we have no images. He is dead, and his death will spur vengeance from his followers. But we are denied our vengeance, our justice.

    We are not even allowed to see him dead. Because it would offend the Very People Who Already Want To Kill Us! To Hel with them, I say! To Hades and Lucifer! Let them be offended! Were we not offended? Is our Offense less than theirs?

    You say you want an end to the dictatorial powers? They do not trust us to see the dead body of our great enemy. You think they will trust us where they cannot watch and control us? I think you dream.

    • Islam did not declare war on us on 9/11. No Caliph called for global jihad against the United States. The people who attacked us were a group of violent radicals with a highly ambitious and unrealistic agenda. They are no more representatives of Islam than neo-Nazis are representatives of Heathenry or would-be Satanists are representatives of Wicca. Declaring war on Islam plays directly into their propaganda and proves them right swelling their ranks with more eager recruits. George Bush, for all his faults, was smart enough to know that we were not at war with Islam. There will always be those who advocate Muslim supremacy as are those who advocate Christian supremacy or other forms of total supremacy. This does not make them the sole voices of their faiths. The Arab Spring’s peaceful, inward focus soundly refutes any notion that all of Islam is somehow our enemy. The demonstrators were not driven to the streets by calls of jihad but desire for better lives for themselves. They did not shout for death to America but to the end of their home-grown tyrants.

      Your cries for rending the body to pieces are ripped straight out of the Middle Ages. If we followed the path you are shouting for that would make us no better than the mullahs and the tyrants who still use beheading, amputation, and mutilation as acceptable punishments. Sinking to their level is no victory, it is a surrender to the worst in us by forsaking the best. We show the rule of law matters when we follow the laws of our country. Bin Laden was killed and his body seized by our forces then disposed of properly in accordance with both Muslim custom and American custom for dealing with the bodies of executed felons. We gain nothing from taking bloody retribution on a man’s corpse when we have already killed the man’s myth. Matching barbarism with barbarism and dishonor with dishonor does no justice for any and shames us all.

      You say because we “avoid offense” we fail to do justice for ourselves? I say you are myopic. Over a million innocent civilians were killed as a result of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have given every person with a grievance against the United States enough excuses to come after us thanks to our reckless actions until Heimdall’s horn sounds. Adding further insult to already grievous injury does nothing for us while inciting further unneeded violence. Letting our national bloodlust get the better of us has already cost us much in blood and treasure we did not need to spend. Continuing to feed those impulses, when they have already brought much ruin and loss, is glutting ourselves not on the mead of heroes but the swill of giants. If we were to visit such unnecessary retribution on bin Laden’s body we would be proving right the worst lies Al Qaeda tells about us. I have no desire to see a pack of murderers vindicated.

      As far as rambling and ranting that he might not be dead feast your eyes on this:

      He’s dead, his corpse is at the bottom of the sea where hopefully, if we are wise instead of foolish, it can be joined by the rotting remains of his movement.

      • Ryan,

        To get technical, Islam declared war on us centuries ago, when it declared in its founding principles that there could be no other religion but Islam. But I shall not digress into that.

        You say my desire to rend him to pieces is myopic, medieval, and barbaric. Perhaps it is. My culture is that of the Norse, and we were known for bloody retribution. My reaction is also supremely human. Someone has hurt me and mine, and I desire to hurt them back to the same level. You may consider this to be a bad thing, and feel that we should rise above such impulses. That is not my way, nor the way of my people. Humanity is a wonderful, amazing thing, not just for the so called “heights” we can reach in our mercy and kindness, but also for the terrible vengeance and cruelty we can bring forth as well.

        You say that sinking to their level is not victory. I say that even if we sink to their level, no, if we sink even deeper, and it grants our people life, and those that would see us dead a fast trip to the afterlife, that is true victory. To live while your enemy dies, be it by strength or cunning, that is the pure essence of victory. You are welcome to your moral victories and you feeling of having walked the higher road. I will settle for walking at all, and living, with those I care about and who are my people by blood or nation, even if it is a victory bought beyond the pale of morality. Rending him to pieces would show a physical evidence that one does not trifle with our people. That was the point back then too.

        But they won’t even show his picture. To us. For fear of upsetting people who shouldn’t matter as far as the needs of our populace goes. So they would become offended over in the Islamic land. What of the peace of mind for the people here in our Non-Muslim land?

        Do we count for less because we are American? Because we are Christian, Jew, Wiccan, Asatruar, Odinist, Hellenist, Celt, Buddhist, or what have you? Should we not be allowed to see the image of our enemy dead, because it would offend our enemies and might cause others, who are already more than willing to come and slay us, to join?

        Answer me that.

        And yes, I do feel that by giving him a “proper” burial, we have denied ourselves justice. Justice is and equaling, a repayment for wrongs done. If a man steals from you, he is made to pay back. This is justice. If a man kills, he is killed. This is justice. No respect was shown to those killed by this man, no proper burials were possible, by any religion. Yet here Osama is granted not just a proper burial, but a proper Muslim burial. He is granted what he has denied thousands of people.

        Would you call that justice?

        • Christianity also declared itself the religion of the One True God a long time ago. Does that mean Christianity is at war with the entire world? If so why do you vent all your rage at Islam, which is largely powerless in the West and thousands of miles away, and say nothing about Christian fundies in the US who are much closer to accomplishing their goal?

          As to you saying your reasoning is because you are Norse in culture I have to call that into question. My particular take on Heathenry is very Scandinavian in nature and from my studies of both the sagas and history your reading of their conception of justice is superficial at best. Honor and good name were everything in pre-Christian Scandinavia. Many feuds and wars began because of the demands of honor. It was in honor’s name that many Heathens died rather than convert to the White Christ. The core of honor is remaining true to who one is, best illustrated in the sacrifice of Tyr to the Fenris Wolf. The Fenris Wolf was, without a doubt, a beast that would if unbound would have devoured the world. It was a danger to everything in reach of its gaping jaws. To ensure it would be bound Tyr swore an oath that if the Wolf was tricked into the chords the Gods prepared it could take His right hand. When the ribbon binding the Wolf was tied in place Tyr, instead of spiting the wolf by pulling His hand from its jaws, let Fenris take His hand in line with His Oath.

          Like Tyr every soldier and elected official is required to swear an oath to “uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America”, the same Constitution which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, as has been custom in the United States since the electric chair was first employed in the early 1900s, the bodies of executed felons are not displayed publicly or made into trophies but disposed of quietly. Even in the wildest frontier regions the bodies of criminals were turned over for burial after the deed was done instead of dragged through the streets or mounted in the public square. To throw all that to the wind for the sake of the bloodlust of the few would be dishonoring the oaths our soldiers and representatives have sworn to the people and shame the nation. Honor demands, when push comes to shove, we stay true to who we really are and uphold our oaths and obligations. To break not only that oath but over two hundred years of American honor and dignity because you want to see bin Laden’s body ripped to bloody bits would be the worst of all shame. You would have us spit in the face of every generation of Americans who came before us all the way up to the Founding Fathers. To suggest we cast aside our heritage, name, and the honor of our country for the sake of a few moments of bloody revenge would have been anathema to our ancestors. Injustice was grave but without a doubt there was and is no crime more despicable than oathbreaking. To gain victory by forsaking honor is a victory with the taste of ash and the nourishment of stone.

          Justice was done that day in Pakistan. The murderer paid for his crimes with his life. His followers dwindle day by day with American forces grinding down Al Qaeda into dust for for history to sweep aside. Bin Laden and his cohorts have paid for the deaths on 9/11 with their own and the downfall of their organization. We do not need to sink to their level to beat them. Their defeat with American honor unstained would not only be a victory over the threat they try to pose but also a victory for American ideals over jihadi barbarism.

          • Have the Christians declared war? Yes, they have. Why do I not shout against their fundamentalists with the same passion I do towards those of Islam? Because there are many voices calling that warning, few to those from across the sea. One, the Christ god lived only in Jerusalem. Is journey was not aided by plane nor car, yet he came. Is Allah any different? Do not be angry with me for warning of an even more bloodthirsty threat that is far off, when there are plenty to chant the evils of the Christ. Should the Christ god’s fanatics come to my door, they will find welcome enough for them.

            You speak of Honor being true to what one is. Am I not being true in my desire to rend Osama’s body to shreds? Was it not my people who did make the Bloody Eagle fly? Were our feuds to be looked down upon? You speak of Tyr and up holding one’s oaths and paths, and this is good, but you forgot the blood brothers Odin and Loki, why by trickery and cunning advance Asgard and keep the Nine Realms safe.

            42] To his friend a man | a friend shall prove,
            And gifts with gifts requite;
            But men shall mocking | with mockery answer,
            And fraud with falsehood meet.

            Was not the acts of Osama and his ilk acts of mockery, fraud, and falsehood? I think them to be so, and I would follow the council of the Allfather in how to deal with such men. We are not but animals to them, beasts born of devils. They are commanded by their god to convert the whole world, and they are told to use lies and deceit to do so. In their own scriptures it says they may promise peace and brotherhood to others, so that they might move to convert all peoples, without ever needing to keep their word. You say you understand the Northern ways, then tell me, how would you deal with a man whose word could be a lie in the hopes of converting or wiping you from Midgard?

            We are a polytheistic people. Keep to the way of Tyr if it pleases you, I shall walk as the Allfather and the Trickster do, if it keeps my people safe.

            • You poor benighted man–you ignore a far more credible and far more real threat on our own shores (that being evangelical Christianity) and continue to rant and rail about those evil brown people and how they’re trying to force us all to wear burqas and turbans even though reality is far different.

              You walk as Loki does? Does that mean that you’re a kinslayer and oathbreaker, just like he is?

              Islam didn’t declare war on us, no matter how much you wish to keep claiming such to be the case and no matter how much you wish to make veiled references to the far right’s baseless assertions that President Obama is a closet Muslim who wants to convert us all. Perhaps you should “walk as Forseti does” and actually try seeing some truth. It may do you a world of good.

              • I never said anything about Obama being a Muslim.
                I don’t care what the color of their skin is.
                Maybe you should actually study what Muslims believe and feel.
                Don’t let the light of the Cross blind you to all others. Your hatred of them will not serve you well if they are the only enemy you see, only to be slain by another. After all, the Muslims have been trying to kill us in large numbers these last few years, and have several times succeeded. When was the last time a Christian group here in the US actually managed kill a large group of people other than themselves?

                You want to talk about more credible and dangerous threats, I’ll go with the one that has the higher body count.

                As for Loki kinslaying and oathbreaking, read the stories. Loki is pretty good about wiggling in his oaths, without breaking them. As for Kinslaying, there’s an argument to be made that he was restoring the natural order when he arranged for Balder’s death.

                • “Maybe you should actually study what Muslims believe and feel.”

                  Unlike you, I have actually done so. And if you’d like to talk body count, perhaps you may wish to look at all the millions of people that have been slaughtered in the name of the White Christ over the centuries. Islam’s body count pales in comparison.

                  And yes, I do hold your boy Loki to be a kinslayer and an oathbreaker. Arguing that he “restored the natural order” by using Hodr as his hitman has little to no basis in the lore and is solely the product of UPG.

                  *shakes head* And people wonder why I don’t come here much.

                  • I too have studied the Muslim ways and their teachings. I just didn’t solely study it by what they said it was, I also looked to their enemies to see a balanced view. Also, you might want to restudy your middle east history. If you think the Christians had a high body count and low morality score, you should see what the Muslims did. It equals, if not surpasses the Christians.

                    As for Loki restoring the natural order, it isn’t so much UPG or WMG. The story is that Frigga dreamed that her son Balder was to die, and so she went about and got a promise from everything in the Nine Worlds that it would not kill her son, except for Mistletoe, which was too young, for you see Frigga was a seer, and could for see the future. She saw it was Balder’s fate to die, yet she sought to subvert his fate. Yet that which is fated, must be. To actually subvert it, would be to cause great damage to the Wyrd of all things and destabilize everything to the point where it would collapse. Loki, through Hodr, used the one thing that could kill Balder and sent him to Helheim. Loki was the instrument of fate to restore the balance and order of the Wyrd. Yes, he killed his kinsman, but ask yourself this, If he had not, what would have happened to the universe, and what would have happened if Balder dies at Ragnorok, instead of being one of the gods who comes after?