Think of it: four, five, ten years from now—a world without Osama bin Laden. Let’s not even go that far. Let’s look at the next three years following bin Laden’s purported death in the hands of American intelligence operatives in a compound in Pakistan. Let’s indulge in some fantastical fiction.
Following the death of this terrorist leader is the sudden resurgence of democratic pride in America and among its allies, allowing the efforts of the White House to propagate these ideals overseas to easily expand. The day Tunisia walked across the democratic line years back was the day it all began.
Yemen and Egypt, where al-Qaeda had anchored its intellectual history, hold their first ever democratic elections together with Bahrain and Libya after decades of monarchical and tyrannical rule. Sans the threat of terror attacks, America is able to inject some form of democracy in the Arab kingdoms nearly without a hitch.
The terrorist group al-Qaeda wanes, but tries to recoup lost ground that came with the death of bin Laden. They are, however, hard-pressed in coming up with needed wherewithal to fund an ongoing terrorist campaign. The secret of bin-Laden’s wealth seems to have been buried with him at sea, scarcely raising the hopes of militant extremists to continue al-Qaeda’s call to jihad. The nine other most-wanted terrorist leaders have been captured, others killed in daring military raids. Further losses finally brought the once fiery terrorist network to its knees.
At the other side of the world, Americans come to terms with their role in global peace. Hopes of steering America anew without having to look over one’s shoulder for a suicidal bomber is soon realized. Heightened alert is lowered to a bare minimum with airports once more enjoying some semblance of passenger revelry. World stocks continue to rise as one Arab country after the other dons the democratic garland.
The White House, thereafter, makes a clear declaration to shift its foreign policy. From fighting terror, it now restructures tyrannical regimes into democracies. Campaigns to maintain some form of democratic blueprint into the minds of the Arab public face little opposition from a young demographic sick of the principles inculcated by the al-Qaeda.
More “enlightened” Arab republics spring at last on their feet and open their doors to vibrant Western influences, at least, in matters of trade. Commerce betweenAmericaand the Arab democracies is only the first of many strong reforms blocking any attempt by remaining extremists to resurrect the memory of a dead Osama bin Laden. Homeland Security thereafter takes on a more economic thrust, whileAmerica’s controversial holding facility, Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, is turned into a historical tourist attraction (this is assuming that Cuba, too, like the Arab world, has embraced some form of American democracy in light of recent world events).
The United States has finally recaptured its moment of glory after years of suffering the criticism of a world that had nearly turned anti-American.
There’s a bit of a bawdy catch, however. All these could’ve survived the tongue-in-cheek claims of fantastical fiction if only the body of Osama bin Laden was shown to the public. Sure enough the reasons were made plain: there’s an Islamic burial rite that must be followed. Writer David Sanger of the New York Times even gave a more adroit explanation: “The decision to bury Bin Laden’s body at sea was part of a carefully-calibrated effort to avoid having a burial place that would turn into a shrine to the Qaeda leader, a place where his adherents could declare him a martyr.”
But what about closure? Shouldn’t that have been the primal necessity?
This is not the first time Osama bin Laden had “died.” In the summer of 2002, after an extensive bombing raid staged by US Forces in Afghanistan, rumors of bin-Laden’s death spread like wildfire. As early as December 2001, Osama bin Laden had reportedly disappeared, fueling rumors that he had been killed. On his head then was a $25 million bounty.
These rumors were suddenly overturned as two videotapes supposedly of bin Laden surfaced and were broadcast by the media, particularly Al Jazeera. Experts confirmed it was bin Laden. Two other tapes followed, warning American allies—particularly France—that its friendship with America would cost the nation dearly.
Having said this, apparently, the word of US President Barack Obama is all we have on the death of bin-Laden. Without a body, there could be no closure. A photograph or a video would’ve sufficed, in fact. Alleged photos of Osama’s mangled face were reportedly shown by Pakistan television, according to Gulf News, but hinted that apparent differences appeared. IBN Live reported the next day that a photo of bin Laden circulating in the internet has been digitally altered, hence a fake (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/gruesome-photo-of-osama-bin-ladens-body-a-fake/151046-2.html).
As of this writing, no official photo or video of a dead bin Laden has reached the mainstream media, raising doubts as to the veracity of the claim. The word of US President Obama is all that can be relied upon in this bit of news.
Reality bites, and in this reality we are in, revelry can be bitterly short-lived. Experts said that even as stocks rise on account of bin Laden’s reported death, it is such that “it will not sustain a long rally.” Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is still at it, holding on for dear life on his sceptre amid bloody opposition. After the death of Seif al-Arab and three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren, the fighting has grown only fiercer. Egypt and Tunisia may have won against their dictators, but the more gruelling task of rising as a democracy faces them. The United States and its allies are on heightened alert, bracing themselves for what is expected as retaliatory action by the al-Qaeda.
The jihad initially sounded off by Osama bin Laden against the United States years back will reportedly continue with or without Osama’s leadership. Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, the Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri, is reportedly set to be the successor of bin-Laden. He is said to be the real brains behind al-Qaeda’s terror network. As though these are not enough to make people wary, the public is beset by the lingering doubt that bin-Laden’s purported death may been an honest mistake, worse, a hoax. Should a videotape declaring bin-Laden alive surface, this would boost the confidence of his disciples everywhere, making the remaining hours worst for the world than it actually was before Osama’s death.
This is a case where proof of life could mean our death, while proof of bin-laden’s death could mean a return to the life we all seemed to have lost since that fateful day of September 11, 2001.
*Note: As of this writing, MSNBC News reported that the White House Counterterrorism Unit is still deliberating whether to show to the public an alleged video of Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea to dispel doubts surrounding the al-Qaeda chief’s purported death. My question is: Are they going to show Osama bin Laden’s face?
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.