What Ghost Will Emerge from Bin Laden’s Watery Grave?

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While the U.S. indulges in its fit of euphoria over the killing Osama Bin Laden, attention is rightly falling on how the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist will play out in countries where he once enjoyed a modicum of sympathy, if not outright support. His alleged “burial” at sea seems a rather desperate, blatant attempt to ensure that the Bin Laden legend finds no real resting place, no potential martyr’s shrine for wannabe jihadis to rally around and venerate.

That might have been an unnecessary precaution. As my colleague Tony Karon points out, Bin Laden’s star has long been on the wane. The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof agrees, with a caveat: “Osama’s declining image also means that he won’t be a martyr in many circles (although if Americans appear too celebratory and triumphant, dancing on his grave, that may create a sympathetic backlash for Osama).” Indeed, it’ll be interesting to see how scenes of U.S. celebrations at Bin Laden’s demise — al-Jazeera showed young American college students hooting and hollering outside the White House, a few with their shirts stripped off, shouting “It’s over! We’ve won!” — will be received elsewhere. But it seems hard to imagine that such over-exuberance, of all things, would really be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, spurring disenchanted, angry Muslim youth once more into the embraces of Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda cohorts.

(More on Time.com: See photos of bin Laden’s family album)

Robert Fisk, the award-winning longtime British journalist in the Middle East, cogently summed up the state of the region post-Bin Laden in an interview with an Australian radio station. Here’s a chunk of the transcript:

“Over the last few months you’ve seen an Arab awakening in which millions of Arab muslims have overthown their own leaderships,” he says.

“Bin Laden always wanted to get rid of Mubarak and Ben Ali and Gaddafi and so on claiming that they were all infidels working for America and in fact it was millions of ordinary people who peacefully, more or less – certainly in the case of Tunisia and Egypt – got rid of them.”

“Bin Laden didn’t, he failed to do that.”

“You’ve got to remember these regimes have always been telling the Americans ‘keep on supporting us because if you don’t Al Qaeda will take over’ – and in fact Al Qaeda did not take over.”

It was interesting that after the Egyptian overthrow of Mubarek the first thing we heard from Al Qaeda a week later was a call for the overthrow of Mubarek, one week after he’d gone, it was pathetic.”…

“I think [Osama Bin Laden] lost his relevancy a long time ago actually,””If they’d have killed Bin Laden a year or two after 9/11 some of the breast beating that’s going on in the United States… might have been relevant.

“All this fists in the air of victory by the United States – it’s good pictures but I don’t think it means anything,” he says.

“The fact of the matter is that what we have in the moment in the world, what is important is a mass uprising and awakening by millions of muslim Arabs to get rid of dictators.”

Robert Fisk says these uprisings are ‘much, much more important than a middle aged man being killed in Pakistan’.

The political landscape of 2011 is far different from 2001. A decade after al-Qaeda’s most infamous attack, the corpse of its leader will slip into the waters of the Arabian Sea in an era that’ll likely be remembered much more as the age of Mohamed Bouazizi than that of Osama Bin Laden.

For more bin Laden-related reading:

Read TIME’s obituary; See pictures of Osama Bin Laden; Watch a video about Ground Zero then and now.

Photos: Closure at Ground Zero

Photos: The U.S. Celebrates bin Laden’s Death


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