Bin Laden - all over bar the shooting

Posted by Alexander Hay

As the ocean welcomes Osama Bin Laden, questions remain

Osama Bin Laden, rabbit peddler

And so, as international terrorist and occasional rabbit distributor Osama Bin Laden literally sleeps with the fishes (the poor things) and President Obama gleams with a sort of stern, restrained glory, the question must be asked - who really won that firefight on Friday morning? (Apart from SEAL Team 6, that is.)

Well, their Commander-in-Chief certainly has. Obama the supposed limp-wristed lefty achieved something his swaggering neo-con predecessors never did. Having outflanked his most dogged (and bonkers) foes with the release of his long form birth certificate, he has now shown strength of a different kind. If he can assist the US economy into something approaching a proper recovery, the 2012 election will be his.

Meanwhile, the real losers are Obama's foes on the Right. Quite apart from the fact that the man many of them had accused of being a godless commie 'furrner' with Islamic leanings has just done the Eagle proud (or something), their heads will almost certainly explode at the thought that he has beat them at their own game. Macho violence and a Wild West swagger are Red State values, but the cold, callous hunting down and killing of Bin Laden has revealed this reactionary mindset as the charade it really is. Angry rhetoric is no substitute for the real thing.

The only option left for the right (being magnanimous is mostly unthinkable) is to either deny praise, give it and hope no one's listening  or to carry on with the same old blinkered obsessionsThey can't run the economy, they're waging class war and all they have to offer is vitriol. Only Obama can now defeat Obama. The GOP is a busted flush, sounding as convincing as Pakistani claims they had no idea WHAT SO EVER that Bin Laden was living down the road from Islamabad.

The intriguing question will be how this plays in certain parts of the Muslim world. This can be split into three areas - the man and woman on the Arab street, the terrorist fringe and the Taliban.

The former will have mixed feelings. True, the death of a man who apparently defied the Great Satan may be seen by some as yet another blow to the pride of his faith. Others may well be glad he's dead, given that Al Qaida has butchered more Muslims than 'crusaders'. The Arab Spring meanwhile tantalises with an alternative response to the same old dictatorships, and optimism is always an easier sell than suicidal nihilism. In truth, most seem either not to care either way or have more pressing concerns.

For the extremists, this is a major blow. Their defiant reply (like most fanatics, they talk not in words but pompous clich├ęs and laboured rhetoric) is neither here nor there. They have just lost their spiritual role model and if he can be snuffed out, so can they. They will have to act soon with a counter attack of some sort, preferably one with high symbolic value. If countered, they will start to look like what they really are - a rather unhinged and quixotic rump of head-bangers, crow-exploders and misfits whose greatest weapon is blind luck.

The Taliban is an altogether more complex collection of individuals. How it will react to the death of Bin Laden will largely depend on how its members respond on a personal level. Indeed, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has long maintained that Al Qaida is Pakistan's problem and not his.

Their own crisis draws near. The future of the Taliban will largely depend on whether their 'Spring Offensive' can weaken the resolve of NATO and the Afghan government, though the long term future will always be negotiation and all the squalid compromises it brings. Bin Laden was the Taliban's undoing back in 2001 and so, in any case, might not be so well remembered anyway.

Does bin Laden's death mean an end to Al Qaida itself? Terrorists, as said earlier, view the world through a symbolic prism. The death of its figurehead, and the wretched spectacle of him hiding within a grotty 'mansion' in a fashion that would shame even Flashman, should not be underestimated.

The metaphors no longer serve Al Qaida's purposes and the future of this physically loose but ideologically united body of killers is now in question. They may simply have only had one head after all. The downside of charisma being, of course, that when it goes, everything else goes too.

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Alexander Hay

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