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)


Not a good week for leaders

February 25, 2011

Earthquake damage to Christchurch Cathedral
The news has been full of leadership stories this week. But they have been not so much about heroic figures, as leaders struggling to deal with crises from Libya to London, from Wall Street to Washington. For personal heroism we have to go to rescuers after the earthquake in Christchurch Canterbury, New Zealand

The start of February 2011 has produced global shocks politically, and in their wake economically. The headlines have been reserved for events in the middle east, when attention shifted from Egypt to neighbouring Libya where Colonel Gadhafi has appeared weakened. Events there appear more like an old-fashioned and bloody insurrection than the new-media supported challenges to regimes in Tunisia and Egypt last month.

What appears to be in common to these events is the weakening or termination of authority of a long-standing ruler, charged with being out of touch with the democratic rights of their people.

Efforts to maintain a ‘strong man’ position have tended to be followed by concessionary offers of reform, which have encouraged further efforts to depose the regimes.

Drugged by al Qaeda

Moammar Gadhafi at present has refused to take such a conciliatory stance. In a telephoned speech [24 Feb 2011] to Libyan state television he put the blame for the uprising sweeping Libya on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, saying that terrorist group had been drugging Libyans and thus inducing them to revolt. Western commentators remain unconvinced.

Shockwaves

Shockwaves from the region have troubled other leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron and his Foreign Secretary William Hague have been under pressure for acting too slowly to support repatriation of British citizens. President Obama continues to take political hits as he struggles to avoid accusations of America being too enthusiastic in favour of military intervention. Stock market speculation was evident in light of uncertainties over oil supplies and prices.

And at Apple

One of the sad leadership tales of the week was at Apple. Shareholders are increasing demands for the company to reveal a succession plan for the iconic Steve Jobs, whose medical condition is seen to be a serious threat to the company’s future prospects. Unlike most political leaders, Jobs’ contributions have been visible, immense, and widely acclaimed.

A real crisis

Events even in Libya have had less human consequences than were produced in the earthquake which has devastated the city of Canterbury, New Zealand this week. There, the response has had less to do with top-down leadership than with community response and personal heroism.

Image

Christchurch Cathedral and the effects of the Earthquake [23rd Feb 2011]. Image from australiangeographic.