The irrelevance of Osama bin Laden

2 05 2011

Osama bin Laden is dead and ‘justice is done’ according to Barack Obama. His violent death will be a major western news story and a source of pride in the more right wing areas of the media. But what difference will it make?


News reports continue to label Osama bin Laden as the ‘mastermind’ of the 9/11 attacks. An exaggeration that suited both George Bush’s administration and bin Laden himself. He was never the mastermind of any terrorist action, he was merely the money.

Osama bin Laden came from a very wealthy and influential Saudi family. As a young man he went looking for adventure in Afghanistan, fighting against the Soviet occupation. Once there he joined a band of extreme foreign Arabs who set about waging ‘jihad’. The truth is this group of foreign fighters made little difference to the war effort and were viewed with suspicion by the Afghan/Pakistani mujahideen that led the insurgency against the Russians.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, bin Laden and his small group of followers truly believed they had brought down an empire, in much the same way fans of Ronald Reagan believed he did the same. Left with delusions of importance they set about bringing Islamic revolution to the rest of the Middle East through violent terrorist action.

It failed, the atrocities committed in countries such as Algeria in the mid 1990’s horrified the local population. Muslims and Arabs turned their backs on this extremist vision. By the end of the decade bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (still at large) settled in a far flung area of Afghanistan with a tiny group of followers. They were a failed religious and violent movement. As pathetic a terrorist group as you will find, but bin Laden was still a wealthy man.

Mohamed Atta and his other Saudi hijackers came to bin Laden to ask for funding to commit a terrorist action. He agreed, the hijackers then went on to plan the 9/11 attacks in Hamburg and Florida.

In the aftermath bin Laden was singled out as public enemy number one and from here on his relevance to the story diminished. Western states invaded Afghanistan, where the US military rounded up men at random and had them sent to Guantanamo Bay to strip them of their human rights, increasing radicalisation in the Islamic world. The US and Britain then illegally invade Iraq, using brutal force and unleashing vicious civil war, further increasing radicalisation in the Islamic world.

The treatment of those detained by the US military became a major Al-Qaida recruiting call, something bin Laden himself struggled to achieve.

The video and audio recordings of him dried up, his ‘leadership’ of his own global jihad became an invention of western media. Terrorist attacks in Madrid and London in the years after were committed by independent young men enraged at the sledgehammer tactics used by the western military to crack an incredibly small nut. The well trained and highly organised terrorist plots against the west were wildly exaggerated, instead of the terrifying biological weapon we got the crude underpants bomber of 2009.

Osama bin Laden was eventually found only a few miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a supposed ally in the ‘war on terror’. How he survived unnoticed for so long there will lift the lid on a very murky can of worms, if the true story is ever revealed.

The irrelevant man is dead while the irrelevant war he sparked in Afghanistan still rages, between tribal fighters who didn’t like the look of Alexander the Great and certainly have no desire for American or British troops to be in their country (they are fighting the latter for the third time in 200 years).

How does it end? History repeats itself. Obama is now looking for the same exit strategy that Mikhail Gorbachev took in Afghanistan. A face saving exercise that means the political and military elite can claim there was some point to the war (many of them still have the inglorious Vietnam retreat fresh in their memory). The Soviets left Afghanistan with a weak communist government in charge, it lasted for only three years. NATO will eventually leave Afghanistan, with a corrupt and not even democratically elected government in place. It will be called victory, but again it will be irrelevant.

Soviet troops leave Afghanistan in 1989, ten years after they first invaded.
A milestone now reached by NATO.

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