Osama bin Laden provides the West the contradictory messages necessary to discredit the leadership’s sense of righteousness and legitimacy and dissuade potential recruits from joining.
Following the anger and misery he brought to Africa and the West through terrorism beginning with 9/11, bin Laden ended up declaring war on the rest of the world, especially on Muslims — on Shia in Iraq in 2005, then on Muslims he considered apostates in 2006, then on fellow Sunnis who cooperated with the new Iraqi government in 2007.
Al-Qaida at first afforded non-combatants immunity. Today, not only are noncombatants (including Muslims) targeted, but bin Laden’s narrative — that the West is at war with Islam — has been flipped on its head. Al-Qaida is at war with Muslims and the world.
Bin Laden’s strategy in Iraq (emblematic of his strategy worldwide) — to kill people to bring attention to alleged Muslim oppression — ended up killing more Muslims than the coalition or Iraqi government it opposed.
Al-Qaida and other religious insurgents killed 95,000-105,000 innocent Iraqis between March 2003 and the end of 2009, according to the Iraq Body Count 2010, an independent U.S.-U.K. group.
Bin Laden brought nothing but misery to Muslims worldwide. His terrorism advanced no science, education, religious freedom or economic growth. He brought Muslims no closer to the Golden Age of Islam. He killed indiscriminately, destroyed resources and defiled land — all in violation of the tenets of Islam.
Had bin Laden acted selflessly, he could have surrendered himself in October 2001 to forestall the American invasion of Afghanistan, which led to thousands of needless deaths and a war that continues to date. Instead, he chose to save himself and allow Afghans to sacrifice themselves in a hopeless defense of his personal safety.
Bin Laden lacked any religious credentials to command Muslims or issue fatwas. He was, in fact, a religious apostate. He was the very religious charlatan he accused many other Muslims of being.
Al-Qaida efforts are consistently futile and ultimately narcissistic and arrogant, since it makes media celebrities of its senior leaders but does nothing to advance the standards of any other Muslims. Al-Qaida’s focus on violence is a losing strategy.
While bin Laden claimed to want a worldwide Islamic state with Islamic law, al-Qaida leaders failed to define any of these concepts and have no idea what to do if they actually succeeded in toppling the regimes they oppose.
Before U.S. forces cleared the city of terrorists, al-Qaida rulers of Fallujah required the destruction of music CDs, beheaded rumored secularists and grew beards instead of doing a single useful thing.
Al-Qaida’s sister organization, the Taliban, governed Afghanistan by destroying graves, stoning women and cutting off the hands of thieves. In short, al-Qaida has no idea how to govern.
The West must show potential recruits that violent extremism is counterproductive for followers of Islam. Bin Laden’s work provides the counter narratives needed to undermine the group’s appeal.
James Van de Velde, Ph.D., is a former lecturer of political science at Yale University, foreign service officer and lieutenant commander in the United States Naval Intelligence (Reserves).