After Laden: Now, eliminate jihad’s causes
Osama bin Laden’s death must be weighted against what conditioned – and continues to condition — global jihad. Or else, America’s jubilation over the death of its Most Wanted may be short-lived.
The question everybody is asking now is: are we done and is the world safe? 9/11 – however traumatizing – was just one among many bloody manifestations of global jihad. But since it spectacularly struck at America’s pride, a sense of national closure has come about with bin Laden’s fall.
That thousands subscribed to one man’s resolve of purging Western tutelage from Muslim lands ought not to be brushed aside, though Western policies cannot be considered to be the sole reason for jihadism. Nonetheless, an unjust world order did serve as a necessary condition that shaped jihad in the 10 years before and after 9/11.
In The Looming Tower, the Pulitzer winning biography of 9/11, Lawrence Wright sifts through Islamist extremism and finds at its bottom a “sense of deep humiliation”.
Arab states’ own lack of capacity to give their citizens a sense of purpose and hope, and unstable regimes fuelling nationalist jihadi insurgencies would all coalesce into a sweeping global form.
Ultimately, Osama bin Laden was not dodging drones in mountain caves but passing days in bucolic retirement – much like an ageing business tycoon in his idyllic retreat. His empire was built, its core philosophy permanently etched, and its ranks staffed with ruthlessly efficient personnel.
Therefore, at the time he was taken down by US Navy SEALS, bin Laden was the chief mentor of a global enterprise that no longer required his hand-holding.
A look at global jihad’s current structure should sober us down. Laden’s harvest had ripened into rich pickings: al Qaida in the Arab Peninsular or AQAP, based in Yemen, al Qaida in Iraq or AQIR and al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM, based in north Africa.
Slaughtering of innocents, in itself, was never the goal, but it served as the means to achieve the goal of humbling the West. But because bin Laden failed to achieve any of his avowed goals, his means would become the end. The only thing to be achieved was the blood of innocents. That is why this was no jihad; nothing that could be validated even by bin Laden’s own theological reasoning. If this was jihad, it was flawed to the very hilt.
Rather than shrink Western presence, bin Laden only provoked more interventions, including the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pro-Western Islamic regimes, which Laden wanted to overthrow, would eventually be shaken not by his violent ideology, but by civilian uprisings. People would crave not for a Caliphate but for democracy.
Laden probably was aware that in his Holy War, there was no reasonable degree of success assured — a key historical requirement of jihad.
However, bin Laden’s death will do nothing to end the jihad he institutionalized. Global jihad’s end will be made possible as much by a relentless pursuit of terrorism as by addressing its root causes.
Peace between Israel and Palestine, stability of Muslim countries, from Syria to Yemen, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, tackling of Pakistan’s duplicitous military and resolving the Kashmir issue are some tasks ahead. And many of these issues are tangled. Tackling Iran, for example, would require some positive development in Palestine.
The Security Council, in its statement on bin Laden’s death, did touch upon this crucial aspect. Welcoming bin Laden’s death, Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency, read out a presidential statement that said: “[t]hat terrorism will not be defeated by military force, law enforcement measures and intelligence operations alone, and can only be defeated by a sustained and comprehensive approach involving the active participation and collaboration of all States, and relevant international and regional organizations and civil society to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and to impede, impair, isolate and incapacitate the terrorist threat.”
A just world order is not as difficult to achieve as is often thought. The mechanism already exists in the United Nations. It just needs global will, sincerity and honesty that international politics lacks.
To jihadis, the present world order will never make sense. Like it or not, a jihadi will never be able to understand why he is a “terrorist”, while a head of state isn’t — even if the latter’s actions lead to civilians deaths.
Hobbes was right to argue for public reason over private reason. The world, according to the Hobbesian legal framework, cannot function if everyone relies on “his own individualistic mode of reasoning”, i.e. if everyone starts validating his judgement over others. If so, he warned in the Leviathan, life will be “nasty, brutish and short”.
So, Hobbes said we must submit to a “sovereign authority”. But Locke famously argues against it, saying such an unconstrained authority would only create a “monster”.
The underlying dynamics of jihad too are about one bloc’s assertion of authority and another bloc’s rejection of it (as the monster).
It will take a remedy of this situation before the world can dream of the last jihadi, much like bin Laden on his horse, fading away into the mountains.