Will Osama bin Laden be more influential after his death?

May 2, 2011

In earlier days, miliary leaders were rarely deliberately killed, even in battle. Other political and military advantages were weighed against such actions. A charismatic leader may have more influence dead than alive. It is not a matter of simple binary logic of ‘wanted dead or alive’

by Tudor Rickards

These gloomy thoughts occured to me on learning of the death of Osama ben Ladin by American forces in Pakistan last night [May 1st 2011]. I wondered about the ‘dead or alive’ dilemma as posed by some commentators.

Not simple binary logic

Like most dilemmas, it is not just a matter of simple binary logic. Once bin Laden’s location had been established, there were several options that had to be considered. Not all would have resulted in his death. If he had escaped an attack there would have been strengthening of his symbolic signficance to many unfavourable to Western overseas interventions however justified they might appear in the West. Or if he had been captured unharmed, there would be an extended process of establishing legal charges, and carrying out a sentence (I am presuming the process would have established charges of terrorism and mass murder against him). Such a process would have be long drawn-out, and likely to induce responses not all of which can be anticipated.

Bin Laden’s three assets

My point is this. Bin Laden possessed three powerful assets in pursuing his aims. He was enormously wealthy and he was able to present himself as a leader commanding loyalty to his cause and to himself. Great wealth can add to the social cachet of any individual. It can transform a nerd into a idealized business leader. It can reinforce self-belief into ego-mania. When the wealth is linked to a cause, the symbolic effect is heightened. And finally, if the individual fits the stereotype of a charismatic leader, bingo. He had the potential to become a revolutionary and charismatic leader. Such men are dangreous. But their violent removal is also beset with dangers.

Charisma

Shakespeare wrote how the evil that a man does lives after him, the good is oft interred with his bones. But Shakespearewas speaking ironically. It could also be argued that for followers, the charisma a man establishes lives after him. It is the wrongs which are oft interred with his bones.

To go more deeply

President Obama’s announcement (video)