America was gunning down a ghost, says Vijay Vikram

Bin Laden: pop culture icon

Osama bin Laden, like Michael Jackson, had ceased to be relevant to his craft long before his actual biological death. He died the moment when two large commercial airliners flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre on the 11th of September, 2001.

More accurately perhaps, I should say that he died the moment when George Bush inaugurated the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), identified Al-Qaeda as its main target and Osama bin Laden as the publically-identifiable personification of that threat in that memorable speech delivered to the joint session of Congress nine days after the attacks.

At that point, Osama bin Laden ceased to be a politically-relevant entity: he became a piece of myth, a legend. Sure, he remained the most prominent face of global Islamic jihad in the imagination of any member of the public who had had ever watched the news after 9/11 in any national context. However, his ability to conceptualise and plan terrorist activities became severely curtailed as US-led forces invaded Afghanistanand successfully toppled the Taliban regime thereby depriving Osama of a safe-haven and state infrastructure.

Moreover Osama’s celebrity profile – aided in no small part by the symbiotic relationship he had established with the Western media – bolstered by those infamous video messages on Al-Jazeera ensured that he was transformed into an icon, a pop-culture icon even (a development that signals the West’s predilection to trivialise everything, perhaps in order to make civilisational threats more palatable). This transformation however, cost Osama his primary role of globally-aggressive revolutionary activist. He became instead, a celebrity.

I attach no importance to the death of Osama, seeing as it come close to 10 years after the attack which he was purported to have masterminded. In this case, revenge is certainly not a dish best served cold. ‘Revenge’, ten years after the fact was dull and meaningless. It was simply a formality, a formal consummation of the policy that the US would hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden, wherever he may be.

I am of the view that Osama’s death is going to make little appreciable difference to al-Qaeda’s anti-Western activities. I doubt Osama was of great significance to the structure of the organisation, even as he functioned as its over-arching myth. Osama was 9/11 and 9/11 was Osama.

Osama bin Laden’s biological existence might have been brought to a sticky-end by some Pashto-speaking US commando in Abbottabad in 2011. However, if the reader allows for significant poetic license, his corpse was available for collection in the wreckage of the Twin Towers in Manhattan in 2001.


Vijay Vikram