This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 03/05/2011
The death of Bin Laden comes at a time when history is turning the page on al-Qaeda's ideology, and currents similar to it. The vibrant transformation taking place in Arab countries has highlighted the weakness of such ideas, and revealed that this trend and its supporters are merely on the sidelines of the wider movement for change. We did not see any pro-democracy demonstrations chanting the name of Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. On the contrary, no has one mentioned the name al-Qaeda or Bin Laden, except for those who are clinging to their positions whilst facing an uprising in their cities and streets demanding democracy, such as Gaddafi and others.
In this regard, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas Prime Minister, issued a strange statement yesterday, in reaction to the announcement of Bin Laden's death, calling him a mujahid [holy warrior] and condemning his killing. I was not aware before that Jihad allows the indiscriminate killing of civilians, bombing, and sabotage. We have seen nothing from al-Qaeda apart from destruction and sabotage, whilst tarnishing the image of Islam throughout the world and linking it to terrorism. Bin Laden contributed to this in terms of financing, recruitment, and his tapes of incitement and Takfir [an Islamic fundamentalist principle which allows for certain Muslims to be considered apostates].
It was strange that the Hamas leader issued this statement at this time, while efforts are being made to conclude a reconciliation agreement, to end the division between Fatah and Hamas. A statement such as this reveals that there is not a big difference between Haniyeh's thought and Al Qaeda ideology, provides fuel for those who criticize the reconciliation agreement, and accuse Hamas of being a terrorist organization. These people are solely interested in the continuation of the [inter-Palestinian] division, and they are not truly concerned about Haniyeh's beliefs or anybody else's.
The movement for change which the region is witnessing has curtailed these radical groups with their narrow ideology. Similarly, the winds of change and protests demanding freedom and justice in Syria prompted Hamas to suddenly seek reconciliation with the Palestinian president for fear of being swept away by the developments, or finding their offices surrounded by protestors demanding freedom.
Bin Laden's end was coming one way or another, and his time ended long ago, exactly as the time of Carlos the Jackal ran out. The two will go down on a small page in history under the phenomenon of terrorism, but their impact upon the current movement for change is limited. In the 1960s and 1970s, the most prominent face of international terrorism was that of Carlos the Jackal, who spent his final years [as a free man] in hiding and no one heard from him until he was handed over in a deal between the Sudanese government and France. He remains in prison till this day, and hardly anybody remembers him now.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the most prominent face of international terrorism was that of Osama Bin Laden, who held an ideology different to that of Carlos the Jackal. Bin Laden adopted even more intimidating methods, as seen by the September 11 attacks which resulted in the largest number of deaths from a single terrorist operation in history. Like Carlos, Bin Laden spent his final years in hiding, until he was killed in an affluent residential compound in Pakistani, rather than a cave in Afghanistan.
The difference between the two is that the technological tools that are currently available were not around in the 1960s and 1970s, and this meant that the destruction carried out by Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization was even more bloody and harrowing.
The killing of Bin Laden will not end terrorism, in recent years he was nothing more than a symbol, whilst alternative leaders and local networks have begun to appear and practice terrorism on a local scale. However, more importantly, the winds of change will make the ideology of al-Qaeda something of a bygone era, which certain groups and figures like Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, as well as other terrorist threats, utilized as a pretext to justify themselves in the face of popular dissent.