all the images that followed the attacks on the United States
on September 11, 2001 (9/11), some of the most disturbing were
contained on the videotapes showing Osama bin Laden and members
of his Al Qaeda organization rejoicing over their "victory"
and the success of their assault. There is no doubt that in the
context of mass murder, bin Laden was highly successful. He was
clearly victorious in demonstrating beyond any doubt his utter
contempt for the standards of conduct common to all civilized
peoples. In the final analysis however, history will consign him
to the gallery of monsters whose unmitigated cruelty provides
us with only one more tangible example of evil.
was no victory.
the dramatic impact of 9/11's tactical success may have obscured
the reality of its fundamentally strategic failure. Bin Laden's
past statements and activities support the idea that he organized
the 9/11 attacks as part of a master plan designed to place him
in a position of hegemonic influence over a global Islamic community
of his own fundamentalist design. Ironically, bin Laden not only
failed to create the world he wanted, he actually set in motion
the events that are building the very world he fears.
failure is an outgrowth of critical miscalculations about both
the American character and the scope of his support in the greater
non-radical Muslim community. Bin Laden's most probable strategic
goal in the 9/11 attack was to commit an act so horrendous that
it would trigger a massive US retaliation. He no doubt believed
the response would be impulsive, violent and directed indiscriminately
against the world wide Islamic community. In bin Laden's plan,
the hoped-for act of wholesale American revenge would polarize
the world into Muslim and non-Muslim camps, permitting him to
become the de facto leader of a new, unified and radicalized Islamic
scope of his failure is truly stunning. Bin Laden's fantasy of
American blood lust simply did not materialize. In its place,
the architects of the US response patiently built a well organized
and proportionate military response within the rule of law; they
sought the counsel and support of other world leaders, including
many Muslims; they clearly and forcefully rejected anti-Muslim
acts both internationally and domestically; they provided humanitarian
aid to those already affected by bin Laden's political tyranny
and organized an international, multi-sectoral, civil-military
response unique in the history of international relations. Among
American non-Muslims the attacks created a huge demand for accurate
information about mainstream Islam. It is interesting to note
that many bookstores reported difficulty in keeping up with the
sudden demand for English translations of the Q'ran.
addition, bin Laden's slaughter of innocents impelled many mainstream
Muslims around the world to publicly and repeatedly reject his
violence and re-affirm their faith as a moral doctrine rooted
in compassion, civility, and social justice. This was especially
true in Indonesia, Pakistan, and India whose aggregate populations
contain nearly half of all Muslims. Although rarely illuminated
by the American media, it is no secret that bin Laden's zeal for
destruction is focused on the world's mainstream Muslim communities
to almost the same degree it is on his other perceived enemies.
Laden's carnage revealed the reality he tried so hard to hide:
that he is a morally bankrupt ideologue whose grotesque caricature
of Islam is nothing more than a megalomaniacal variation on the
theme of fundamentalist intolerance. Like other forms of radical
religious fundamentalism, it represents only those who turn to
violence in a desperate attempt to compensate for their lack of
earnest moral legitimacy. The causes for bin Laden's failure are
surprisingly simple. He wanted the world to believe he represents
Islam; he thought the greater Muslim community would join him;
he thought America would prefer vengeance to the rule of law.
It seems safe to conclude that he doesn't, they won't, and we
there are no simple answers for the problem of terrorism, but
in a recent interview former Norwegian Ambassador and UN High
Commissioner for Refugees Thorvald Stoltenberg made the following
comment on the role of poverty: " Poverty gives birth to
violence, and violence has taken new dimensions never seen before...
The world has always had poverty. The new twist is that since
we now live in a world of information and communication, for the
first time poor people around the world are aware of how those
in rich nations live, and that creates strong reactions."
helplessness, hopelessness and desperation created by chronic
poverty is clearly a critical issue, but chronic poverty is far
more that just the lack of money - it is a reflection of more
substantive problems. It is incumbent upon developed nations of
all faiths and political orientations to develop meaningful collaborative
strategies to address the complex social, political and economic
issues that keep the cycle of poverty in motion, particularly
in those communities most vulnerable to the appeal of extremism.
enormity of the 9/11 tragedies has created an unprecedented opportunity
to capitalize on bin Laden's failure and nurture the current pursuit
of collaborative security. In the medium term much of that security
will be a product of law enforcement and related military action.
Unfortunately, military solutions are notoriously inadequate to
solve larger political and social problems. In the longer term
we must also leverage our capacities for diversity, compassion,
collaboration and empowerment to seek more permanent solutions
for those who feel they have no alternatives.
the current threat of radical violence will be with us for the
foreseeable future. In the final analysis however, bin Laden's
master plan to drive a wedge between Islam and the West has energized
a level of inter-cultural collaboration that was previously unthinkable.
It may be important to remember that like any other radical philosophy
based in violence, bin Laden's brand of extremism grows best in
an environment of desperation.