He sowed terrorism, but what Osama bin Laden hoped to reap was a full-out war of Islam against the modern world. His target was modernism; his bulls-eye was on modern values such as democracy, equality between sexes and social groups, separation of religion and government, sexual freedom, and affluence. He hoped to use anger against heavy-handed American and European support of Israel (and against US military interventions in the middle east) in order to galvanize Muslims to join in asymmetrical warfare against the “modern” infidels. His ultimate goal: restore medieval theocracy, an Islamic Caliphate.
The past few months have made it evident that he has failed. We have seen the beginnings of a general revolution breaking out in the Muslim world—not against modernism but for it. This is the opposite of what bin Laden had in mind. As Juan Cole writes,
Usama Bin Laden was a violent product of the Cold War and the Age of Dictators in the Greater Middle East. He passed from the scene at a time when the dictators are falling or trying to avoid falling in the wake of a startling set of largely peaceful mass movements demanding greater democracy and greater social equity. Bin Laden dismissed parliamentary democracy, for which so many Tunisians and Egyptians yearn, as a man-made and fallible system of government, and advocated a return to the medieval Muslim caliphate (a combination of pope and emperor) instead. Only a tiny fringe of Muslims wants such a theocratic dictatorship. The masses who rose up this spring mainly spoke of “nation,” the “people,” “liberty” and “democracy,” all keywords toward which Bin Laden was utterly dismissive.
Today, nearly a decade after his triumph on 9-11, he has been erased from the scene. It’s too much to hope that al Qaeda and Islamic suicide terrorism have suddenly come to an end. But perhaps we can see a bit of sunrise. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of what bin Laden tried to sow.