Can the US really destroy the world-wide fiend it has created?
May 7, 2011
“REJOICE NOT when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine
heart be glad when he stumbleth, / Lest the Lord see [it],
and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from
This is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible
(Proverbs 24:17-18), and indeed in the Hebrew language. It
is beautiful in other languages , too, though no
translation comes close to the beauty of the original.
Of course, it is natural to be glad when one’s enemy is
defeated, and the thirst for revenge is a human trait. But
gloating – schadenfreude – is something different
altogether. An ugly thing.
Ancient Hebrew legend has it that God got very angry when
the Children of Israel rejoiced as their Egyptian pursuers
drowned in the Red Sea. “My creatures are drowning in the
sea,” God admonished them, “And you are singing?”
These thoughts crossed my mind when I saw the TV shots of
jubilant crowds of young Americans shouting and dancing in
the street. Natural, but unseemly. The contorted faces and
the aggressive body language were no different from those
of crowds in Sudan or Somalia. The ugly sides of human
nature seem to be the same everywhere.
THE REJOICING may be premature. Most probably, al-Qaeda did
not die with Osama bin-Laden. The effect may be entirely
In 1942 the British killed Abraham Stern, whom they called
a terrorist. Stern, whose nom de guerre was Ya’ir, was
hiding in a cupboard in an apartment in Tel Aviv. In his
case too, it was the movements of his courier that gave him
away. After making sure that he was the right man, the
British police officer in command shot him dead.
That was not the end of his group – rather, a new
beginning. It became the bane of British rule in Palestine.
Known as the “Stern Gang” (its real name was “Fighters for
the Freedom of Israel”), it carried out the most daring
attacks on British installations and played a significant
role in persuading the colonial power to leave the country.
Hamas did not die when the Israeli air force killed Sheikh
Ahmad Yassin, the paralyzed founder, ideologue and symbol
of Hamas. As a martyr he was far more effective than as a
living leader. His martyrdom attracted many new fighters to
the cause. Killing a person does not kill an idea. The
Christians even took the cross as their symbol.
WHAT WAS the idea that turned Osama bin Laden into a world
He preached the restoration of the Caliphate of the early
Muslim centuries, which was not only a huge empire, but
also a center of the sciences and the arts, poetry and
literature, when Europe was still a barbaric, medieval
continent. Every Arab child learns about these glories, and
cannot but contrast them with the sorry Muslim present.
(In a way, these longings parallel the Zionist romantics’
dreams of a resurrected kingdom of David and Solomon.)
A new Caliphate in the 21st century is as unlikely as the
wildest creation of the imagination. It would have been
diametrically opposed to the Zeitgeist, were it not for its
opponents – the Americans. They needed this dream – or
nightmare – more than the Muslims themselves.
The American Empire always needs an antagonist to keep it
together and to focus its energies. This has to be a
worldwide enemy, a sinister advocate of an evil philosophy.
Such were the Nazis and Imperial Japan, but they did not
last long. Fortunately, there was then the Communist
Empire, which filled the role admirably.
There were Communists everywhere. All of them were plotting
the downfall of freedom, democracy and the United States of
America. They were even lurking inside the US, as J. Edgar
Hoover and Senator Joe McCarthy so convincingly
For decades, the US flourished in the fight against the Red
Menace; its forces spread all over the world, its
spaceships reached the moon, its best minds engaged in a
titanic battle of ideas, the Sons of Light against the Sons
And then – suddenly – the whole thing collapsed. Soviet
power vanished as if it had never existed. The American spy
agencies, with their tremendous capabilities, were
flabbergasted. Apparently, they had no idea how ramshackle
the Soviet structure actually was. How could they see,
blinded as they were by their own ideological
The disappearance of the Communist Threat left a gaping
void in the American psyche, which cried out to be filled.
Osama Bin Laden kindly offered his services.
It needed, of course, a world-shaking event to lend
credibility to such a hare-brained utopia. The 9/11 outrage
was just such an event. It produced many changes in the
American way of life. And a new global enemy.
Overnight, medieval anti-Islamic prejudices are dusted-off
for display. Islam the terrible, the murderous, the
fanatical. Islam the anti-democratic, the anti-freedom,
anti-all-our-values. Suicide bombers, 72 virgins, jihad.
The US springs to life again. Soldiers, spies and special
forces fan out across the globe to fight terrorism. Bin
Laden is everywhere. The War Against Terrorism is an
apocalyptic struggle with Satan.
American freedoms have to be restricted, the US military
machine grows by leaps and bounds. Power-hungry
Intellectuals babble about the Clash of Civilizations and
sell their souls for instant celebrity.
To produce the lurid paint for such a twisted picture of
reality, religious Islamic groups are all thrown into the
same pot – the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Ayatollahs in
Iran, Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Indonesian
separatists, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere,
whoever. All become al-Qaeda, despite the fact that each
has a totally different agenda, focused on its own country,
while bin Laden aims to abolish all Muslim states and
create one Holy Islamic Empire. Details, details.
The Holy War against the Jihad finds warriors everywhere.
Ambitious demagogues, for whom this promises an easy way to
inflame the masses, spring up in many countries, from
France to Finland, from Holland to Italy. The hysteria of
Islamophobia displaces good old anti-Semitism, using almost
the same language. Tyrannical regimes present themselves as
bulwarks against al-Qaeda, as they had once presented
themselves as bulwarks against Communism. And, of course,
our own Binyamin Netanyahu milks the situation for all it
is worth, traveling from capital to capital peddling his
wares of anti-Islamism.
Bin Laden had good reason to be proud, and probably was.
WHEN I saw his picture for the first time, I joked that he
was not a real person, but an actor straight from
Hollywood’s Central Casting. He looked too good to be true –
exactly as he would appear in a Hollywood movie – a
handsome man, with a long black beard, posing with a
Kalashnikov. His appearances on TV were carefully staged.
Actually, he was a very incompetent terrorist, a real
amateur. No genuine terrorist would have lived in a
conspicuous villa, which stood out in the landscape like a
sore thumb. Stern was hiding in a small roof apartment in a
squalid quarter of Tel Aviv. Menachem Begin lived with his
wife and son in a very modest ground floor apartment,
playing the role of a reclusive rabbi.
Bin Laden’s villa was bound to attract the attention of
neighbors and other people. They would have been curious
about this mysterious stranger in their midst. Actually, he
should have been discovered long ago. He was unarmed and
did not put up a fight. The decision to kill him on the
spot and dump his body into [or “in”] the sea was evidently
taken long before.
So there is no grave, no holy tomb. But for millions of
Muslims, and especially Arabs, he was and remains a source
of pride, an Arab hero, the “”lion of lions” as a
preacher in Jerusalem called him. Almost no one dared to
come out and say so openly, for fear of the Americans, but
even those who thought his ideas impractical and his
actions harmful respected him in their heart.
Does that mean that al-Qaeda has a future? I don’t think
so. It belongs to the past – not because bin Laden has been
killed, but because his central idea is obsolete.
The Arab Spring embodies a new set of ideals, a new
enthusiasm, one that does not glorify and hanker after a
distant past but looks boldly to the future. The young men
and women of Tahrir Square, with their longing for freedom,
have consigned bin Laden to history, months before his
physical death. His philosophy has a future only if the
Arab Awakening fails completely and leaves behind a
profound sense of disappointment and despair.
In the Western world, few will mourn him, but God forbid
that anyone should gloat.