The reported death of al-Qaeda’s leader also ought to signal an end to the “war” that led to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians and of nearly 6,000 US soldiers, but it is unlikely — extremely unlikely, I would suggest — that anything significant will happen, apart from increased security alerts in the West, and — though let us hope not — some sort of terrorist reprisal.
I ask this latter question especially because one of the stories to emerge in the wake of bin Laden’s reported death is that the alleged disclosure of the name of one of his key couriers — which reportedly led directly to his death — took place during the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi, two “high-value detainees” who were held in secret CIA prisons and subjected to torture before their transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006.
The importance of these revelations — and the exultation already being demonstrated by torture apologists in the US — deserves to be challenged, as it must not be used as a justification either for the use of torture or for the continued existence of the abomination that is Guantánamo, but for now I’d like to end this brief analysis of the significance of the news of Osama bin Laden’s death with, if you will, a more upbeat reflection on how the “War on Terror” that began with the 9/11 attacks, and was sustained through America’s brutal and largely catastrophic and counter-productive response to those attacks, ought to have come to an end with the uprisings in the countries of the Middle East, led by the people of Tunisia and Egypt. As I wrote in February, in an article entitled, The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror”:
In Tunisia and Egypt, where the dictators Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were deposed, and in other countries where the people are rising up against their long-established dictators … the movements that were triggered by the single self-immolation of a Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, on December 19 last year, are driven not by Islamist groups, but by the people, who are demonstrating that dictatorships can be toppled by sheer numbers.
Throughout the region, young people, who have known nothing but dictatorship, are rising up, forming alliances with trade unionists and disgruntled professionals, while the Islamists have either been content to stay in the background (as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) or, like Ennahdha in Tunisia, were largely imprisoned or in exile when the revolution that toppled Ben Ali took place.
If the Islamists had been centre-stage, I have no doubt that the West’s response to the popular revolutionary movements spreading throughout the Middle East would have been very different, as Western leaders would have been able to insert them into their tired “War on Terror” narrative. As it is, however, Western leaders have generally had to mouth platitudes about democracy and the will of the people, while refusing to become too engaged, as they are presumably aware that, for decades, their actions have actually demonstrated that they have no interest whatsoever in the welfare of the people of the Middle East, and that they have, instead, supported the very dictators who have either fallen or are now clinging onto power.
Since then, the countries of the West have sought to reimpose their influence, through military intervention in Libya, and by turning a blind eye to Saudi intervention in Bahrain, but as the Associated Press reported on Monday, “10 years after 9/11, the dominant theme in the uprisings across the Middle East is a clamor for democracy — with al-Qaeda’s militant ideology largely relegated to the sidelines.” The AP added that the millions of young people who participated in the uprisings in the Middle East “have not used violence to press their demands. Their ultimate aim is not the creation of the Islamic theocracies that bin Laden preached, but free democracies.”
Khalil el-Anani, an expert on Islamic jihadi movements, told the AP that, in countries where 60 percent of the population is under 30 and the 9/11 attacks “are at best a childhood memory,” bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s message had become irrelevant. “It is the Wael Ghonim era, not bin Laden,” he said, talking about the Google executive who became a hero of the Egyptian uprising in February, adding, “It was the soft power of Ghonim and his associates, not bin Laden’s crude power, that led to regime change.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.