After Osama

Juan Cole sets the stage:

Usama Bin Laden was a violent product of the Cold War and the Age of Dictators in the Greater Middle East. He passed from the scene at a time when the dictators are falling or trying to avoid falling in the wake of a startling set of largely peaceful mass movements demanding greater democracy and greater social equity. Bin Laden dismissed parliamentary democracy, for which so many Tunisians and Egyptians yearn, as a man-made and fallible system of government, and advocated a return to the medieval Muslim caliphate (a combination of pope and emperor) instead. Only a tiny fringe of Muslims wants such a theocratic dictatorship. The masses who rose up this spring mainly spoke of “nation,” the “people,” “liberty” and “democracy,” all keywords toward which Bin Laden was utterly dismissive. The notorious terrorist turned to techniques of fear-mongering and mass murder to attain his goals in the belief that these methods were the only means by which the Secret Police States of the greater Middle East could be overturned.

I’ve got to think the European militaries will be done with Afghanistan about as fast as is practicable. How much civic and NGO engagement remains afterward is an open question. The Schröder government in Germany may have said that the country’s security began in the Hindu Kush, but surely there are ways to secure Germany without soldiers in Afghanistan.

European support for new democratic governments in the Arab world will not be simple, given troubled colonial histories in some places and populist worries about Islam in others. Nevertheless, Europe has much to offer in both managing transitions and models of pluralist democracies that remain true to their varied national and religious backgrounds.

2 thoughts on “After Osama

  1. Pingback: FT Alphaville » Further reading

  2. The colonial pasts of western Democracies will cause less trouble than their current consensus about sending agents out into the world to murder enemies. I note that bin Laden and his followers posed a threat to our governments that was particularly hard to respond to. It was both substantial and trivial and therefore called for innovative measures. As expected, Bush was the least creative in his response: wave the flag, declare war in the media and undermine genuine debate. He probably did everything that gun dealers and bin Laden had hoped for and then some. I can imagine that bin Laden felt completely entitled, surrounding himself with wives, children and bodyguards at the end, regardless of who his enemies were or of what his religious beliefs allowed.

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