Now, in the days and weeks to come, the airwaves and blogosphere will be filled with debates over what it all means and who deserves the credit.
Those on either side of the fence will argue over whether the country should declare victory and withdraw from Afghanistan, whether bin Laden’s death has any value beyond the symbolic, whether radical Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism have been crippled or continue unaffected. These debates will continue, sometimes becoming heated, and we should remember that even in our differences, it is because we are living together in a democracy that we are privileged to argue these issues so passionately.
We should also remember that in this life there exist things that are good and things that are evil, no matter what your politics or beliefs. It is an unalloyed good that this evil man is dead. Osama bin Laden, whatever his influence as a guiding force behind al Qaeda recently, was a symbol of an organization and a belief system that has brought a massive amount of pain, death, and chaos to the world.
In the days to come, some will also bemoan the fact that bin Laden wasn’t armed. Count on it. When they do, ask them this: Did the 2,977 people killed on 9/11 get the chance to fight back or call a time out and exit the building? Did the passengers aboard the four aircraft on 9/11 get to surrender and live? Have any of the innocent victims of terrorist bombs – civilians, non-combatants – ever had a chance to leave the area before the detonator was triggered?
No. Never. Not a chance.
But that aside, the real issue today and in the future is the question of bin Laden’s legacy. He wanted, and his followers continue to want, nothing less than an Islamic caliphate ruling the entire Middle East, and perhaps farther. To do that, they planned to foment unrest and revolution in Mideast nations, and then move into the power vacuum.
Today there are revolutions or demonstrations under way in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Algeria. Some say al Qaeda triggered these uprisings, and that they are all part of the plan. Others insist that they were spontaneous – that in an age when communications are instantaneous, others followed the example of what was then happening in Tunisia.
Will those fighting to throw off the yoke of the various undemocratic, authoritarian, corrupt regimes under which they have suffered simply accept a new form of tyranny, one administered by al Qaeda? Or are we witnessing the beginning of some form of representative government in at least a handful of Middle Eastern nations?
The answer to that question will ultimately be bin Laden’s legacy. Let’s hope his dreams and the world’s nightmare died with him.