WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden lived long enough to see a widespread revolt among Arabs who want nothing to do with his murderous philosophy or his twisted, despotic version of Islam. He knew that his vision for a 7th century caliphate was already dead.
No one knows how the uprisings that started in Tunisia and set off pro-democracy protests across the Arab world will end. The oppressive Syrian government has cracked down brutally; Libya seems bogged down in stalemate, unable to rid itself of the tyrant Ghaddifi. There is more hope for democratic institutions to break through in a country such as Egypt, with a long tradition of a functioning civil society.
Whatever the eventual outcome, though, none of those home-grown uprisings owe allegiance to bin Laden or al-Qaida. There are certainly conservative Islamists among the protestors; it would be naïve to think they wouldn’t be represented.
But they have been just one faction among many. The so-called Arab spring has been fueled by women, many well-educated, some wearing the veil and many without it; by young Muslims who want the chance to vote in free and open elections; by an impoverished peddler who was sick of the tyranny of a corrupt state. Osama was not their inspiration.
Most Muslims were never enthralled by al-Qaida or the violence it represented. And Osama lost his opportunity to win more converts with his indiscriminate carnage, which killed Muslims, including women, children and the handicapped. Indeed, al-Qaida used children and the mentally handicapped to carry out its savage suicide bombings.
President Barack Obama noted al-Qaida’s wanton savagery in his speech to the nation Sunday night: “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al-Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
In the days and weeks to come, Americans will be reminded many times by our elected and appointed leaders that the war against jihadists is not over. The president has already said so. There will be more terrorists to run to ground, more suicide bombers to disrupt, more intelligence to gather on training grounds and financial networks.
But Osama’s grand plans died before he did. And there’s a little bit of poetic justice in his lingering long enough to see his worldview clearly rejected by so much of the Arab world.