Paradigm shift: The beginning of the end of Jihadism

I have posted earlier that the death of Osama bin Laden represents a paradigm shift for US foreign policy where after a decade the “Get Osama” game is over. The question of evidence of Osama being dead is already obsolete. Doubts about the legality of  executing a self-appointed enemy in another country without the tacit approval of that country have also become irrelevant. The bottom-line is that it is the end of one chapter – if not the whole book – of the 9/11 tragedy. US Policy can finally begin to look beyond the nebulous “War on Terror”. The lack of definable boundaries for this “War” has actually led – in 10 years – to the loss of many of the civil liberties which had been won slowly in the previous 50+ years since the end of World War II. Perhaps some of these will be restored.

But the shift may be more fundamental and more widespread than just for US policy. The Spring revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East have  actually caused change on the ground and have been more effective than any ideology based on jihadism or terrorism. As this movement spreads to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and perhaps even to Saudi Arabia, the value and even the capability of jihad being a vehicle for revolutionary change is losing ground.

The world has shifted away from Ben Ali, Mubarak, Osama bin Laden, Gaddafi, King Abdullah, Assad and their ilk.

Paradigm Shift

The violence of jihad is no longer being seen as a credible method of change against the authoritarian regimes of the Arab World. Other methods are clearly more effective. Jihad has few definable objectives left. 

Der Spiegel writes:

Osama bin Laden’s violent ideology may have once garnered support in the Arab world, but his death this week came at a time when the burgeoning pro-democracy movement in the Muslim world had rendered his ideas and his international terror network al-Qaida irrelevant.

… Many Muslims admired Osama bin Laden, and not secretly. A study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center conducted two years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington found that 72 percent of Palestinians, almost 60 percent of Indonesians and Jordanians and almost half the Pakistani population considered bin Laden to be “trustworthy.”

Given such overwhelming support back then, it is amazing how little interest there is today in the former batal, or hero, in the Arab world. The news of the audacious Navy Seals raid electrified the West, but in North Africa and the Middle East it was merely one story among many. On Tuesday, the front page of Dubai’s Al-Bajan newspaper was dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates. In Cairo, the lead article in the Al-Wafd newspaper addressed worries about money flowing out of Egypt. The Arab News in the Saudi capital Jeddah reported that English would now be an obligatory subject at school from fourth grade onward. Only then did it mention and comment on the death of “the Sheikh,” as bin Laden was always respectfully and reverentially referred to.

Not much of that respect and reverence appears to remain, and both bin Laden’s reputation and the violent culture he symbolized have been on the decline in the Muslim world for years. Since 2003, researchers at Pew have asked the same question about bin Laden every year. While 72 percent of Palestinians backed him in 2003, that figure has now fallen to 34 percent. Jordanian support has dropped from 56 to 13 percent, while Pakistani backing for bin Laden has slumped from 46 to 18 percent. ….. But as dangerous as al-Qaida remains as a terrorist organization, its political ideology has become virtually irrelevant in the Middle East. The more attacks it has carried out since 9/11 — including on targets in the Muslim world — the harder it has been to justify that terrorism to ordinary Muslims. …

…. The upturn in fortunes in the Persian Gulf, the resulting opening of previously closed Arab economies and the simultaneous boom in the use of social media have threatened to sideline al-Qaida completely. A growing majority of mainly young Arabs are no longer primarily interested in fighting presumed American hegemony in the Middle East or pushing for the acceptance of a religion allegedly repressed by pro-Western regimes. Instead they want a share of the economic growth from which only their rulers’ clans have profited until now.

Pious jihadist philosophers simply have no answers to such aspirations. Religious arguments are as useless in countering anger at the unjust division of wealth as the sham reforms with which autocratic leaders in the region have tried, and in several instances, failed to cling to power. It is ironic, for example, that bin Laden’s killing comes only weeks after the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who claimed until the bitter end that “hundreds of new bin Ladens” would make the world unsafe unless his advice was heeded. 

Other dictators and terrorist leaders will undoubtedly follow Mubarak and bin Laden into the annals of history. As the commanders of a sinking epoch both men managed to cause a lot of harm, but their philosophies are finished.

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