While on a recent trip to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld predicted that Osama bin Laden would be captured “at some point.” The scuttlebutt is that such a “capture” seems likely to come near enough to Election Day to provide President Bush with the votes necessary to lift him out of his sagging standing in the presidential race.
Rumsfeld’s forecast raises two questions. How likely is it that this will happen? And, would the capture of bin Laden, following the capture of Saddam Hussein, put a stop to the American crusade to end terrorism and bring democracy to Afghanistan, Iraq and other tyrannies of the Islamic world?
As to the first question, there is a popular assumption that the United States could easily nab bin Laden if a tip came in as to his whereabouts. But the truth is that the man the United States installed as head of the Afghan state, Hamid Karzai, is a prisoner in Kabul. Almost daily come reports of attacks upon elements friendly to the United States, strongly suggesting that the old Taliban chieftains are alive and well — and still in control of their turf. On the very day before Rumsfeld made his prediction, an ambush not far from Kabul killed five relief workers.
But let us assume that Rumsfeld’s prediction comes true. Then what? Will the capture of bin Laden put a halt to the jihad conducted by al Qaeda and other militants?
The belief that bin Laden’s capture will mean the beginning of the end of terrorism emanating from the Islamic world is based on the assumption that without a bin Laden, there never would have been a movement like al Qaeda.
Quite the contrary is true. At the core of fundamentalist Islam is the belief that the jihad must go on until Islam is victorious and the infidels have been eliminated. That means that al Qaeda and its like are not the manufactured lackeys of some wealthy madman. Bin Laden is but one of many leaders of a centuries-old movement.
Will it then be that the capture of bin Laden will have no impact whatsoever on future events? No. It will have its impact — but not the one some may think likely.
History offers some cogent and pertinent lessons in this respect. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, was assassinated. Did that halt the civil rights movement? Quite the opposite. Countless communities in America have streets, squares and boulevards named after the slain reverend.
Has Saddam’s capture halted the guerrilla war raging in Iraq? No. Volunteer fighters are pouring into the Iraq, ready to give their lives in suicide bombings to repel the infidel invaders?
The old saw says that every great religion is “fed by the blood of martyrs.” That’s probably as true today as it was millennia ago. As a martyr, bin Laden might be better at promoting his movement after his death.