Could you pass bin Laden to the left please?
Whatever Osama bin Laden once aspired to, it was not to be passed around the table like a bottle of port in the British Raj nor worse, handed on quickly in a child’s game of Pass the Parcel. Yet that is the fate which for now appears to be chasing him.
For years, the default assumption has been that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last month, I heard a Pakistani official say that bin Laden was last heard of in Pakistan’s traditional enemy India in 2003 – in Bangalore and Hyderabad to be precise -before he disappeared without trace. Then Fox News came up with a story about how he was living in luxury in Iran. Not to be outdone, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad then suggested he was more likely to be hiding in Washington.
Anyone want to guess where bin Laden is reported to be next? He definitely seems to be acquiring the taint of the unwelcome guest.
That said, and to be briefly serious, you can draw two tentative conclusions. Either you say that the man identified with the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington is no longer the icon and threat he once was. Or you say that the man himself was never the real threat, but rather a symbol of the cause (itself subject to much debate) which both preceded bin Laden and will also outlive him.
Either way, how many people out there still believe that taking out bin Laden would change things on the ground? Probably quite a few – but how many compared to those who believed this immediately after 9/11? The answer to that question would tell historians quite a lot about how attitudes have changed over the past nine years.