The pictures the White House did release of Bin Laden are far more important than the one they didn’t.
We didn’t need to see the face of a dead man to know that Bin Laden was gone and that the global jihad will soon disappear with him. All we needed was to see the shot of him looking creepy and disheveled, remote control pointed at the idiot box, watching home videos of himself on television.
There have been a range of terrorist movements over the past several decades. Sikh insurgents fighting for Khalistan in India, Tamil rebels demanding territory in Jaffna, Hamas seeking an Islamic state in the Middle East, Chechen separatists wanting an end to Moscow’s rule, Pakistani militants battling over Kashmir, the Taliban in Afghanistan, FARC in Columbia, the IRA in Northern Ireland.
Almost all of these movements have one thing in common: land. They are largely localized movements seeking independence, separation or a particular type of government in a certain territory. The list is long and the groups are dangerous, but they are largely focused on a small swatch of the world over which they have staked their claim. For the most part, they can be contained. Their demands are concrete. Their grievances clear. Everybody knows the boys from the villages here and here and here join. You can see them, fight them, negotiate with them. There is an endgame.
Bin Laden invented something wholly different: the myth of the global jihad. It operated somewhere between caves and satellites, appearing only in videos and spectacular attacks, inexplicably luring nineteen year olds from everywhere to its cause.
The bloodbath in the Balkans, the continuing tension between Israelis and Palestinians, the brutality of autocrats in Arab countries, the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – Bin Laden expertly used all of these to further his cause.
But the thing he was most expert at was using himself, turning his image into a myth. Every government on the planet was after him, and he eluded them all. And now, with not just the fact of his death but the portrait of how he lived, it’s gone. The global jihad is gone.
Message to the young Muslims seduced by this madman: the curtain has been pulled back, the Wizard of Oz is not a magic-man. Go back to wherever Kansas is for your (Cairo or Karachi or Khartoum), and throw yourself into the religious life worth living – building your own societies.