Bin Laden’s Legacy: Che or Hitler?

A recent US article wondered why the Islamic World has been so quiet concerning the killing of Bin Laden.

In the West, the case seems rather clear cut. While more knowledgeable analysts will admit that we in the United States in a way helped create the Bin Laden phenomenon by training and supporting his initial activities in Afghanistan during the Soviet era, most no doubt see him purely in light of the 911 calamity- an abominable figure that will go down in history as having committed a heinous crime. Hence his death caused celebrations and dancing in the streets of Washington DC, rarely seen by other occurrences much more significant in geopolitical terms- such as the fall of the Soviet Empire for instance.

In the Islamic and Arab region things are different. While few are likely to deny the gravity of Bin Laden’s 911 crime (although some conspiracy thinkers still manage to doubt its authenticity), they see it from a lens not as acute as the crime itself- as horrendously tragic as it were. Their own violent history indelibly has widened their lens encompassing other elements in the overall picture. What are some of these elements? First and foremost are the autocratic regimes in the region and the injustices they have committed towards their people for decades. Second, Western real politik, which is seen as having turned a blind eye and ruthlessly used the region for its own geopolitical and geo-ecomomic interests. This leads some to see Bin Laden’s Islamic militant brand itself as a revolutionary response to incompetence and corruption- not unlike some religious reformational movements that happened during other periods in history- albeit few would wish or even contemplate having a Taliban-style governing system. For better or worse some see Bin Laden as having been a catalyst who forced the region to daringly demand what it had never dared to and face-up to who it had never faced up to. They ask, if regional regimes and their Western backers have justified violent means for their Near East regional ends killing millions of innocent in the process, wasn’t Bin Laden essentially guilty of the same?

And so the quiet acquiescence of the Arab region in a way may be introspectional. While feeling ashamed at all the pain and suffering that Bin laden had caused, there may be a lingering sympathy related to what he was trying to attain- a breakup of the vicious cycle that had incumbent autocratic regimes and the West colluding at the expense of the region’s people themselves. That the break did eventually occur with the US’s bold invasion and forceful democratization of Iraq and more recently the Arab world’s uprisings may vindicate this argument albeit making Bin Laden himself a rather irrelevant figure. One Emirati Professor may have summed it up nicely by stating “Bin Laden died in Egypt before being killed in Pakistan.”

From an Arab and Islamic regional perspective, Bin Laden as a historical figure may very well end up going down in history as having been more a Che Guevara-type of figure than a Serbia’s Milosevic, Ruwanda’s Kabuka, let alone a Stalin or a Hitler. Many in the region may not be willing to admit this just about yet. Hence the quiet.