About a month back, on Monday, May 02 2011, newspapers worldwide reported death of Osama Bin Laden. After the initial emotionally charged reactions died down, many people started questioning the long term effectiveness of killing Bin Laden. A bunch of pundits argued that the impact of his death on long term Al-Quida activities was going to be negligible.
Certainly his death will not bring Al-Quida to a screeching halt, but his death absolutely will have a huge effect. Not only the fact that he died matters, but also matters how he died.
Bin Laden came from Mujaheddin fighters trained by USA to fight Soviets in 1980s. The disastrous policies of Soviets and the presence of America with money and weapons, combined with tenacity of these Mujaheddin fighters, resulted in collapse of Soviet Union. But many elements within these Mujaheddin fighters attributed entire success of the war to their ideology. For them, Osama and his alikes became “superpower killers”. That message was frequently passed out in Al-Quida propaganda. Osama and his alikes were projected as invinvible superheros, people immune to all the lethal machinery of any giant military. All just due to the ideology they followed.
It was no wonder that the poor village youth in Pakistan and Afganistan, now unemployed in a countryside ravaged by decades-long war, found this implied promise of infinite power extremely seductive. In a life mostly full of drudgery and despair, the dreams of strength and glory were irresistible.
Al-Quida propaganda machine was tirelessly at work. Every negative news about America, from hurricane Katrina to financial crisis, was painted as a divine sign that America was going down. The fact that America’s wars dragged on and on didn’t help American case either. For nearly 10 years after September 2001 attacks, Osama escaped hands of United States. This further bolstered the notion of his invincibility. Again and again he was marketed as the guy who had once brought down a superpower and was going to do it second time.
And then came the news of his death. He was killed by American Commandos. There was no fierce firefight. No suicide bombers. He died with a single gunshot to his head. He died like any simple defenceless family man. The situation leading to his death and his actual death could not have been less dramatic. It is impossible to fit that in a propaganda machine to keep his “superpower killer” image.
Al-Quida will grieve for some time and will perhaps strike back at some point. But propaganda will lack the appeal. And they will lack the conviction that they are about to bring another superpower to its knees. It will be harder to get new recruits excited. Because the question is bound to be asked “Was he just like one of us?”. And unless Al-Quida manages to come up with a convincing answer, the aggressive alpha male type youth might just decide to join the national army. Because that will at least ensure a lifelong pension.