Osama bin Laden has been given a variety of titles, some of which cannot be repeated here. But one that I’ve never heard before is ‘Elvis’. Apparently, this title refers to a person others think they have seen, but may have imagined. The difference is that bin Laden is still alive, or so they say.
The events of 9/11 five years ago put the spotlight on this terrorist, but he was high on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list long before the attacks. Some of the world’s best intelligence agencies have been on the hunt for him for decades now. Instead of asking where he is, I find myself asking: Why hasn’t he been caught yet?
Obviously, the task is easier said than done. Hiding out in what intelligence believes to be Waziristan, the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenges are daunting. The rugged area is conducive to hiding, with not much in the way of infrastructure or administration to assist in the search. Add in the fact that bin Laden has many supporters in the area and that he travels light (with a video camera among his few possessions), and you’ll want to see why the search is taking so long.
But were he to be found, will the impact on al-Qaeda be that significant? Yes, the organization will have lost its biggest inspiration. But if there’s one thing that I know about terrorists, it’s that they’re not likely to sit and cry about anything for very long. Terrorists will rest assured that their leader is a martyr and will secure his place in heaven (with his 40 dark-eyed virgins to go along with it).
The vacancy will not be open for long. Out comes Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s right-wing debutante, to assume his place. Soon he will become the new most wanted figure by the United States government.
Think of what happened this past June in Iraq: American troops finally sought out and terminated (in keeping with the military jargon) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. While the victory was one worth celebrating, it did nothing to stop the insurgent and sectarian violence in the region. As expected, according to the Chicago Tribune, another figure emerged just this past week, claiming to be the new leader of the organization in Iraq. And so the cycle continues.
So while you ponder what this implies for al-Qaeda’s future, ponder this: Are we giving bin Laden too much credit as the leader of terrorism worldwide? While the fact remains that he is dangerous and deserves to come to terms with justice, his capture will, by no means, mean the end of Islamic terrorism or even of al-Qaeda.
Looking for and hunting down bin Laden is fine and dandy, so long as the effort is made to tackle the real roots of terrorism: poverty, anti-American sentiment and all the desperation and free time that go into making homemade explosives and strapping them to yourself. In the end, ideas and connections will be more powerful than bin Ladens or Kassam rockets. We owe it to those who passed five years ago this week to acknowledge this fact and to begin acting on it.