Osama bin Laden’s ideology thriving a year after his death
(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)
One year after the elimination of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in the daring Abbottabad operation of May 2, 2011, it is evident that while the terror group has been considerably weakened, it has been consolidating over the last few months and the ideology that bin Laden espoused is thriving in the Af-Pak region.
The appointment of Farman Ali Shinwari, a resident of the Khyber tribal region, as the new chief of the al Qaeda in Pakistan on the eve of the first death anniversary of bin Laden is indicative of this consolidation.
Furthermore, the fact that Shinwari is deemed to be among the more computer savvy of his compatriots would suggest that the al Qaeda is likely to enhance its outreach through the use of computers and cyberspace.
It may be recalled that bin Laden was also deemed to be a computer-proficient leader and he used all available new technologies to increase his constituency and radicalise their thinking about Islam, its practice and the need to take recourse to violence through the terror mode.
Many of the intense exhortations by bin Laden to the extended al Qaeda fraternity were done through videos and CDs and it does appear that this outreach may receive greater impetus under the post-Laden leadership of the al Qaeda as it consolidates its brand institutionally.
More than the parent organisation, the affiliates who subscribe to the ideology of the al Qaeda have become more virulent and determined in their respective regional areas and from Af-Pak to Somalia, there are pockets where the al Qaeda and its adherents appear to be gaining in local power and influence with the existing state machinery either unable or unwilling to quarantine them and their ideologies.
The tragic beheading by the Pakistan Taliban of Dr Khalil Rasjed Dale, a 60-year-old British citizen working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is a case in point.
Dale was kidnapped on January 5 while on his way home from work and his captors sought a ransom of $30 million for his release. The ICRC was clearly unable to meet such a demand and after weeks in captivity, Dale’s headless body was found on April 29 outside Quetta.
To its credit, civil society in Pakistan has condemned this act of Taliban terror and cowardice — but the Pakistani state will have to take a firm call on dealing with such virulent ideologies which owe their genesis to what bin Laden had triumphantly demonstrated on September 11, 2001.
But the manner in which Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated in January 2011 by his own personal bodyguard (drawn from the Pakistani security establishment) for ideological reasons, and the rose petals and felicitations showered on the assassin, are illustrative of the manner in which the bin Laden ideology has permeated some section of the Af-Pak region.
There is little doubt that the deep state in Pakistan had created a socio-political ecosystem that nurtured such religious distortion of Islamic tenets and this is the post-Laden challenge: how best to re-fertilise this malignant military-mullah-madrassa ecosystem that spews hatred and bullets for the ‘infidel’.
Greater degrees of rationality about Islamic injunctions and tolerance for the ‘other’ — including other non-Sunni sects and women — need to be encouraged by Islamic states and society themselves in the post-Laden review.
The alternative is the bizarre and ghoulish kind of discourse and interpretation that is now discernible in Egypt, where some Islamist elements want the “farewell intercourse” law to be approved which would allow husbands to have sex with their deceased wives up to six hours after death.
Liberal voices within the Islamic fold need to be nurtured as the world takes stock of the virulent ideology that Osama bin Laden has left behind.