United States

May 2, 2011

Bin Laden’s death will change nothing

The death of Osama Bin Laden deprives Islamic fundamentalist terrorism of a key symbol but its impact will be rather more obvious in the Western media than either in the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists, or in the military ventures and systematic restrictions on civil liberties.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The death of Osama Bin Laden deprives Islamic fundamentalist terrorism of a key symbol but its impact will be rather more obvious in the Western media than either in the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists, or in the military ventures and systematic restrictions on civil liberties occasioned by the “war on terror” launched by 9/11. If anything, the reported location of the military operation that killed him, Abbottabad in Pakistan, raises more questions about the United States’s relationship with that country and the incapacity or unwillingness of the Pakistani Government to play the sort of role in dealing with Islamic fundamentalist aggression expected by the West. The role in the operation of Pakistan's intelligence service, suspected of protecting Bin Laden for years, will be a matter of profound interest. The death of the architect of such an historic act of mass slaughter will, understandably, be the basis for an outburst of nationalist joy in the US. But Bin Laden’s significance in the global war on terror has surely been marginal for years, particularly given al-Qaeda’s growing reliance on homegrown terrorism, in which Muslims radicalized by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and fundamentalist scholars in their midst, have started their own jihads, without having to rely on a fractured international terrorist group or a man living in hiding in Pakistan. Indeed, let’s not forget that one of Bin Laden’s key goals in developing the plans that led to 9/11 – remember originally it was a much bigger operation to involve dozens of airliners – was to so infuriate the West and the US in particular that it would wildly lash out at the Muslim world, thereby accomplishing what al-Qaeda had hitherto been unable to itself – radicalizing entire generations of young Muslims across the world and send them into combat against the West. In this, at least Bin Laden was partly successful. As a British diplomat noted during his second term, George W. Bush became the “best recruiting agent al-Qaeda ever had.” His death, however, won’t change the amorphous “war on terror” – a phrase abandoned as inconvenient during the Blair years – which embraces the minutiae of what you can take onto planes, western indulgence of Middle Eastern dictators, the increasingly pointless western presence in Afghanistan, and the systematic abrogation of basic civil liberties not merely for Muslims unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for westerners as well. There’ll be no repeal of the violations of civil liberties embedded in the criminal codes of western countries, no expedited withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, no US shift to support democracy in the Middle East at the expense of its client dictators. The war goes on, and governments won’t relinquish the wartime powers they’ve accrued, however much they may exploit the death of Bin Laden. There is, however, a certain coincidental aspect to the timing of Bin Laden’s death. As young Arabs take to the streets across the Middle East to drive their dictators from power, as once secure bulwarks against Islamic fundamentalism like Tunisia’s Ben Ali. Egypt’s Mubarak and even the once-“mad dog of the Middle East”-turned-Western-favourite Muammar Gaddafi lose power, al-Qaeda has looked less relevant than ever. Ultimately Bin Laden’s success wasn’t enough. It is not fundamentalism to which Middle Eastern youth are now turning, but to freedom from tyranny, persecution and censorship. The values for which the young people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Syria are marching and dying are completely antithetical to those espoused by this mass murderer and his henchmen.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

90 thoughts on “Bin Laden’s death will change nothing

  1. SusieQ

    Gee, you must have knocked this article up quickly Bernard, but I think it hits the mark. Surely the biggest questions need to be asked of the Pakistan government, a failed state if ever there was one. It will provide a ‘bounce’ for Obama in the polls no doubt and makes the Trump’s posturings on birth certificates and the like look even more absurd than they already did.

  2. shepherdmarilyn

    Bin Laden though is mostly the figment of US fever and not much more. There is no proof he did anything at all except train with the CIA to kick the Russians out of Afghanistan.
    Which is hysterical when you think about it now with 16,000 women per year dying in childbirth while we watch poppies grow or lock them up here.

    And there is no greater mass murderer alive today than George Dubya Bush.

  3. Stiofan

    Cue ranting post from Marilyn …

    … b_gger!!!!

  4. SBH

    Yes Stiofan, we wouldn’t want anyone highlighting the plight of women in Afghanistan. Not quite sure what your contribution adds to the piece but I guess you pays your money so…

    Bin Laden’s dead, oh well. Christ has been dead for 2000 years and Mohamed for 1300. Doesn’t stop their followers slaughtering each other (and the rest of us for that matter).

    Nice, succinct piece on analysis from Keane.

  5. (the other) BernardK

    The death of Bin Laden will have the same effect on the war on terror that the killing of Pablo Escobar had on the war on drugs. None.

    I take some issue with this tho:
    “It is not fundamentalism to which Middle Eastern youth are now turning, but to freedom from tyranny, persecution and censorship.”

    It takes hundreds of thousands to effect change this way, while only singles of thousands of fundamentalists to totally disrupt the world, to see the paring back of civil liberties, and to see over reaction on part of (western) governments which stimulate the recruiting drive like nothing else can.

  6. Wobbly

    Abbottabad… we already new that!

    You’d have to say that if Al Queda were the threat they were made out to be by Bush, Obama and airport security, then they haven’t demonstrated that threat for a while.

    Septics going nuts in front of the White House over this news is only going to stir up more young and poor muslims.

  7. Astro

    Well done Marilyn – you even find a rant in Bin Laden – or Bin Empty Now

    Interesting to see if any sleeper cells are activated. I would cancel flight to or from the USA for the next 2 week and stay away from tourist spots

  8. Andy_008

    One small fact seems to have completely escaped the notice of the Australian press today.

    The US government has for many years now consistently stated that there was no hard evidence linking Bin Laden to 9/11. Now, suddenly, today he is again alleged to be the mastermind behind the operation. What changed?

    Here’s Dick Cheney emphatically stating they were not claiming Bin Laden was behind 9/11 and the current FBI most wanted page for Bin Laden makes no mention of 9/11.

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    I did not rant about anything, the US said they have killed their CIA agent a number of times now.

    I don’t believe a word they say about anything at all, too old.

    the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis probably won’t care that a man they had nothing to do with is dead or supposedly dead Astro but why let your ignorant rants change now.

  10. John


    by President Obama,

    not by George W. Bush.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details