So in scanning the news this past week for a good topic to write on, I found a number of different items. Some were interesting and some were less so, but all were viable blog-able stories. Then I saw a short commentary pop up this morning on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comments on ABC’s This Week news program regarding the American hunt for the world’s most infamous jihadist, Osama Bin Laden. Now forgive me for choosing what a certain professor of mine may refer to as the “sexy” story of the week, but like the rest of you I have a wealth of term papers due in the next week and a half and I wanted to choose something flashier to write on. Anyway, with that aside, Secretary Gates summed up the pursuit of Bin Laden simply by saying, "Well, we don't know for a fact where Osama Bin Laden is. If we did, we'd go get him." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8397684.stm). Well, yeah, ok. That makes sense. But what are the prospects like for finding this man in the near future? When asked about when the U.S. last had any strong intelligence on the matter, Gates’ replied that it had been years. So it’s not looking too good, huh?
Actually, I’m citing this story to draw attention to an interesting discussion in which I took part in my Islam and Politics class this past Friday. Since September 11th, the goal of the United States and its allies has been the apprehension of this one man, and perhaps his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Obviously, the importance of an individual like Bin Laden stems from his image as the international face of al-Qaeda. But when one really stops to consider all of the facts of the matter, it becomes clear that not only is Bin Laden not the only jihadist who presents a threat to western countries, but his own role in global jihad in the last decade has been less operative more symbolic than anything else. So really, what is it about this one man that makes him the pinnacle of global jihad as it is understood by the West?
I don’t mean to sound in anyway insensitive to the significance of September 11th. I hail from a Jersey town that had nearly forty families with a family member killed in the attacks on the towers and I personally would never marginalize the suffering of even a single individual. But with that in mind, how much of the near decade-old pursuit of Osama Bin Laden merely about avenging that day than it is about prevent another such attack on innocent civilians? Also featured in our discussion in class on Friday was the notion that Bin Laden himself actually initially rejected the plan to use planes to attack American landmarks, a plan devised by Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. It was only later that he returned to the idea, but he had little to do with its initial inception. And throughout the world today there are undoubtedly thousands of men who are becoming radicalized Muslims through the horrors and war and persecution. And there are also undoubtedly those who are hatching new plans to attack targets throughout the Western world, possibly with an even greater loss of life than 9/11. So that leaves us with the question: what is gained by capturing/killing Bin Laden? Personal satisfaction, the feeling of justice, and the gratification of going after a symbol of global jihad as jihadists went after symbols of American capitalism are all answers to that question. But I have a nagging feeling that the capture of Bin Laden is seen by many as an endgame to this war between the West and Jihadists that has seen collateral damage in the form of civilian causalities throughout the world. And it simply isn’t. Al-Qaeda would continue without him or even al-Zawahiri, and new groups will continue to rise in place of the old ones. So why, above all of this, is Osama Bin Laden so valuable at the end of the day? I honestly don’t know. That is the Bin Laden question.