Many people are happy that Osama bin Laden has been killed. He was the symbolic and literal leader of a radicalized Islamic movement for the past 20 years. His message spread violence and false aspirations among some of the world's most oppressed people. His political goals were hatred and intolerance for any person who did not support his interpretation of Islam. This led to the loss of life for thousands of innocent people, mostly Muslim. How did this man come to be such a contentious symbol -- hated and loved, feared and revered -- by hundreds of millions of the people on this earth? And how does his death teach us important lessons?
Osama bin Laden was a wealthy son of a Yemeni porter who, despite humble beginnings, was able to build a great business fortune in Saudi Arabia through his connections with the powerful Saud and Faisal families. His father gave him everything he needed except perhaps a close, loving relationship. He was the seventh son of 50 children. Biographies of Osama report that his father had a dominating personality and insisted on very strict discipline with his children. Osama's father died when he was 13 years old. The great family wealth allowed him to marry early (at 17), pursue a comfortable life while completing a degree in Public Administration in 1981, and to travel throughout the Middle East where he became an activist in the jihad against the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. He was able to collect money from wealthy Muslims and bring construction equipment to aid the fight against the invaders in 1982. By 1984, he was well established among the Mujahedeen (Afghan Freedom Fighters) and built camps to help train fighters. By 1988, he created a more disciplined and organized infrastructure called Al-Qa'edah to facilitate communication. When the Russians were defeated in 1989, he returned to the Kingdom, calling for a new Jihadhi front, agitating against Saddam Hussein and warning of a potential Iraqi invasion. Embarrassed with his rising agitational influence against Iraq that was currently a friend and not a foe, the Kingdom prevented him from traveling at that time. But after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Osama bin Laden was seen as prophetic in his call to fight Iraq. He sent letters to the Saudi King offering military advice and the assistance of the Arab Mujahedeen. He was ignored and when the Americans came to the Kingdom in January, 1991, to fight Iraq, Osama was outraged and humiliated. It was after this that he began his Jihad against America and the West, establishing base camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan to train fighters against the western "invaders". His radical agenda for Al-Qa'edah was now to organize a world-wide terror network. He trained impressionable young men who had no personal freedom or future in their own countries headed by dictators who appeared to have sold out to western powers and allowed American military bases to be established on Arab lands. Within 10 years, with numerous successful terrorist attacks under their belt, Al-Qa'edah completed their greatest attack in the heart of America on 9/11/2001.
I repeat some of this highly simplified history only to remind us that Osama bin Laden was an opportunist who was able to develop a great following for his radical philosophy because of a number of factors: dictatorships and absence of democracy in the Middle East and Africa being primary, but also: inequality, lack of economic opportunity, corporate greed, the Cold War, ignorance and poverty, American complacency, disregard of good foreign intelligence in the Middle East, and last, but not least, some really bad foreign policy decisions by the USA. Hopefully, American foreign policy and our application of military solutions to the complex problems of the Middle East is changing under President Obama. The Arab Spring is a sign that the people who have suffered the most because of the above, have now taken things into their own hands and are demanding democracy and self-determination. We Americans need to support their aspirations. We need to stop using military solutions as our first response. We need to "trust" that the people in the Middle East and Africa truly aspire for those very things that inspired the birth of our own country: freedom, equality, and self-determination. Osama bin Laden and the strategy of terrorism found acceptance among opressed Muslims because larger and more powerful Nations ignored this simple fact. On the other hand, terrorism did not deliver the sweet fruit promised to its followers. The false ideology resulted in hundreds billions of dollars spent by wealthy nations not to support democracy, equality, education and economic development in poor and opressed nations, but rather for national security, military armaments, and war. The bitter fruit that terrorism provided did not nurture the souls or bodies of the hungry millions of people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, and the like. Indeed, it is ironic that after 20 years of Al-Qa'edah's campaign against Western ideas and for the destruction of dictatorial rule in Islamic countries, that the real destruction of these dictators was by the uprising of ordinary people who aspire for democratic rule and equal rights, and that it was largely accomplished via non-violent protests by unarmed young people wielding their cell phones.
Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, I hope that a new chapter is starting for Islamic nations that brings new hope and true reforms within their countries. I also hope that we Americans continue to develop a new foreign policy that relies on mutual respect and interdependence rather than military solutions to resolve differences. I hope that we support nascient democratic institutions in the Middle East and Africa with financial and material support. I hope we withdraw our troops from Afghanistan starting now. I hope we use all our influence to support a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian Question. Most of all, I hope that the people who are valiently fighting for freedom and democracy in the Middle East and Africa do win their struggle and that men and women achieve full equality and that each individual is forever more treated with dignity and may achieve their life goals. That will be the sweet fruit yielded from a democratic revolution.