Will Bin Laden's Specter Still Hover Over American Life?

Avi Davis
The death of Osama bin Laden has, for all its manifestations of superior American military skill and intelligence-gathering, left a resounding question: why did it take so long?  Ten years have now passed since the al-Qaeda-inspired attacks on the World Trade Center -- but eleven have passed since the attack on the USS Cole, twelve since the attacks on the Khobar Towers in Kenya, and almost fifteen since bin Laden ceremoniously declared war against us in his missive of August 23, 1996.

In other words, bin Laden has been our deadly enemy for fifteen years, leaving a trail of mayhem and bloodshed that long preceded the devastating attacks of September 11.  Yet we could not -- or would not -- apprehend him.

Part of the explanation for this is the wiliness of the man himself.  His famed slipperiness, honed for years serving with the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan, served him well in evading the scythe of American justice in the deserts of the Sudan and the mountains of South Waziristan.

Another explanation may rest with the vacillation of the American political and military establishment.  For instance, in 1998, Bill Clinton, enmeshed in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and fearing charges of political camouflage, notoriously refused to act when Special Operations in the Sudan pinpointed bin Laden's headquarters and assured the president that a strike would eliminate the scourge once and for all.  

Yet more persuasive than either of these factors may be our own distraction from the reality of what bin Laden represented and how his ghost will inevitably come to speak to us.  In life, bin Laden, with his calm demeanor, his seeming indifference to creature comforts, and the projection of an absolute certainty in the righteousness of his cause, became a difficult target to identify or even hate.  No vitriolic tirades in the vein of Adolf Hitler; no rabble-rousing like a Mussolini; no vain intellectual posturing in the style of Mao.  He was the kind of mass murderer who puzzled Western observers because behind the twisted rhetoric was a guy whom the videos revealed to have rather gentle eyes and whom, in better times, we might have actually wanted to like.

It is almost certain that bin Laden understood his own telegenic appeal.  He likely cultivated this confusing duality all the more to convince us that we were guilty of every blasphemy with which he goaded the United States, that we were deserving of the calamities which were bound to come our way.

But what the soft-voiced insouciance disguised was the rising fury and disgust sweeping out of the Arabian deserts and the gutters of the Arab street -- the passionate demand for a reckoning with Western cultural imperialism and financial domination.  Bin Laden became a lightning rod for pent-up Muslim hatred of the West and a repository for the implacable belief that Islam will one day rule the world.

In the end, all most Americans knew about this perfervid ascetic was that he was single-mindedly committed to our destruction and that we had better get rid of him before he got rid of us.  Yet many failed to comprehend that the jihad bin Laden pronounced was not simply the expression of one man's vendetta, but instead the spearhead of a virulent anti-Western contagion that had gripped much of the Islamic world.  This misconception doomed us, over the past ten years, to simplistic associations of bin Laden's mission with just one man, when in fact it increasingly became the statement of an entire civilization.

The result is that while we may have killed bin Laden the man, bin Laden the idea lives on.  If we allow his ghost to now dominate our thinking about the nature of Jihad and Islamic fundamentalism, we will grant him a posthumous victory that will continue to paralyze our attempts to confront the greatest single challenge to the survival of Western civilization.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles.  His writings can be found at his blog, The Intermediate Zone.
The death of Osama bin Laden has, for all its manifestations of superior American military skill and intelligence-gathering, left a resounding question: why did it take so long?  Ten years have now passed since the al-Qaeda-inspired attacks on the World Trade Center -- but eleven have passed since the attack on the USS Cole, twelve since the attacks on the Khobar Towers in Kenya, and almost fifteen since bin Laden ceremoniously declared war against us in his missive of August 23, 1996.

In other words, bin Laden has been our deadly enemy for fifteen years, leaving a trail of mayhem and bloodshed that long preceded the devastating attacks of September 11.  Yet we could not -- or would not -- apprehend him.

Part of the explanation for this is the wiliness of the man himself.  His famed slipperiness, honed for years serving with the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan, served him well in evading the scythe of American justice in the deserts of the Sudan and the mountains of South Waziristan.

Another explanation may rest with the vacillation of the American political and military establishment.  For instance, in 1998, Bill Clinton, enmeshed in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and fearing charges of political camouflage, notoriously refused to act when Special Operations in the Sudan pinpointed bin Laden's headquarters and assured the president that a strike would eliminate the scourge once and for all.  

Yet more persuasive than either of these factors may be our own distraction from the reality of what bin Laden represented and how his ghost will inevitably come to speak to us.  In life, bin Laden, with his calm demeanor, his seeming indifference to creature comforts, and the projection of an absolute certainty in the righteousness of his cause, became a difficult target to identify or even hate.  No vitriolic tirades in the vein of Adolf Hitler; no rabble-rousing like a Mussolini; no vain intellectual posturing in the style of Mao.  He was the kind of mass murderer who puzzled Western observers because behind the twisted rhetoric was a guy whom the videos revealed to have rather gentle eyes and whom, in better times, we might have actually wanted to like.

It is almost certain that bin Laden understood his own telegenic appeal.  He likely cultivated this confusing duality all the more to convince us that we were guilty of every blasphemy with which he goaded the United States, that we were deserving of the calamities which were bound to come our way.

But what the soft-voiced insouciance disguised was the rising fury and disgust sweeping out of the Arabian deserts and the gutters of the Arab street -- the passionate demand for a reckoning with Western cultural imperialism and financial domination.  Bin Laden became a lightning rod for pent-up Muslim hatred of the West and a repository for the implacable belief that Islam will one day rule the world.

In the end, all most Americans knew about this perfervid ascetic was that he was single-mindedly committed to our destruction and that we had better get rid of him before he got rid of us.  Yet many failed to comprehend that the jihad bin Laden pronounced was not simply the expression of one man's vendetta, but instead the spearhead of a virulent anti-Western contagion that had gripped much of the Islamic world.  This misconception doomed us, over the past ten years, to simplistic associations of bin Laden's mission with just one man, when in fact it increasingly became the statement of an entire civilization.

The result is that while we may have killed bin Laden the man, bin Laden the idea lives on.  If we allow his ghost to now dominate our thinking about the nature of Jihad and Islamic fundamentalism, we will grant him a posthumous victory that will continue to paralyze our attempts to confront the greatest single challenge to the survival of Western civilization.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles.  His writings can be found at his blog, The Intermediate Zone.