Monday, 17 July 2006 20:00 Eric Koo Editorial Dept - Middle East

Sept 11, 2006 will mark the fifth anniversary of the great tragedy that struck New York City. And the man apparently responsible is a hereto little known Saudi millionaire called Osama bin Laden. Since then, his name has become associated with terrorism and is on the top of wanted lists in most countries. The whereabouts of this man is still a mystery, even after two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been waged by the USA in its quest to hunt this elusive terrorist mastermind.

Even as Pakistan also admits that they have lost track of Osama bin Laden [1][i], US Senator Mark Steven Kirk, who visited Pakistan last year said that the Al Qaeda collects some US$28 million a year from the heroin market, and is used to pay Osama’s bodyguards, bribe warlords in Pakistan and finance the Al Qaeda’s leader on the run. [1][ii]

In December 2004, another of his audio tapes has resurfaced, praising the recent militant attacks on the US consulate in Saudi Arabia. [1][iii]

What will happen one day if Osama bin Laden is announced as captured, or even killed, just as what happened to many of his fellow high-ranking Al Qaeda members? If Osama is neutralized, then it may be possible that the Al Qaeda may slowly fade in terms of threat as well as recede in importance from the world political stage and the war against terrorism. Others will no doubt succeed him, perhaps Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, (his second-in-command) or some other lieutenant, as the next Al Qaeda emir but the charisma needed to inspire in Islamic militants worldwide to oppose the United States cannot be duplicated.

Osama bin Laden firstly achieved great prestige as an Arab who took part in the historical Soviet-Afghan war. His status as a war veteran in Arab and Muslim eyes cannot be denied. And in the Islamic Middle Eastern culture, a man who has borne arms in the name of Islam commanded great respect. Today, the corps of such Afghan war veterans has rapidly dwindled with many deaths and arrests. In a few years’ time, a new generation of Al Qaeda leaders may no longer have any such Afghan veterans in its ranks, with its unique, legendary status. He has also successfully portrayed himself as a pious mujahideen fighter who gave up his considerable wealth to lead a life of simple poverty in pursuit of his jihad.

Osama is an educated person who excelled in management skills. He has a degree in public administration. Practically, his skill in moving and organizing training camps and safe-houses are testimony to his brilliant leadership and thus ability to also attract other like minded Islamic militants with other abilities in executing the field work itself, technical people such as Khalid Shiek Mohammad, and Ramsef Ahmed Yusoof to also join his organization. His conception of establishing world-wide links with other groups and like minded militants in opposing a common enemy, the USA and the West, is reflected in the name of his group, Al Qaeda (the Base, referring to the Database of mujahideen ) .The fact of he establishing his organization as a learning organization that respects new knowledge and constantly adapting and innovating also suggests the thinking of a leader with very broad visions.

Culturally and historically, the idealized form of resistance leader in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East and East Asia itself always takes the form of the dual warrior and poet in one person. Osama seemed to fit this bill rather well. A future leader after him may be lacking in either talent, and therefore may not attract so many followers by virtue of culture alone.

Despite his very persuasive arguments presented in his fatwas about the Palestinian problem and Iraq, however, realpolitik of the world means that events may not likely favour Osama’s cause, and support garnered from the Muslim community recently has been dwindling. His stated goals of establishing a world wide Islamic Caliphate, will also seem to be a most lofty but impractical goal that is hard to achieve by more pragmatic Al Qaeda members and supporters.

According to this released audiotape in mid January 2006, analysts suspected that ill health is taking its toll on the Al Qaeda leader. A future Al Qaeda without Osama’s direction may degenerate to that of another terrorist group active in the Middle East or Central Asia, but with no longer so broad a perspective. As with most militant movements which thrived on military successes amidst continual conflict, when a charismatic leader dies, the group eventually fades in power and importance. Anti-Western rhetoric will no doubt continue in the Islamic World and terrorist acts may still be perpetrated, but without skillful planning or co-ordination, the threat level may well drop to much more controllable levels. Another Sept 11 can only be inspired, planned and executed by a group that is led only by such a leader, that have capabilities of turning intentions into realities.

[1][i] “Bin Laden trail is cold, Musharraf admits” The Guardian 06/12/2004,12469,1367208,00.html

[1][ii] “Heroin traffic finances bin Laden” The Washington Times 06/12/2004

[1][iii] “Bin Laden Alive, Releases Audio Tape -- Web Site” Reuters 16/12/2004

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