At times our public discourse feels empty. Osama Bin Laden was killed late Sunday night, and since then very little print or air time has been given to any other story. And yet, the content of these articles and pronouncements has largely been trivialities, cavils, and conspiracies. Very few have ventured into the deeper water of the historical significance of his life and death.
His demise has come during the Arab Spring, a season of immense historic potential. For example, two weeks ago, the rival Palestinian powers, Fatah and Hamas, resolved to bury the hatchet. The former was prompted by the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the latter by the instability of Assad in Syria. Even before Bin Laden's death, many commentators recalled their failed attempt at rapprochement begun in Mecca in 2007, and predicted the alliance would not be consummated. Bin Laden's death may prove them right. Hamas has condemned the killing of this "Arab holy warrior" as "a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood." The Palestinian Authority, however, says that his death is "good for the cause of peace."
The Arab Spring took both the US and Al Qaeda by surprise and neither has formulated a response. I believe Bin Laden was eclipsed before he was killed. His jihadist and anti-democratic, anti-Western, philosophy was tacitly rejected by people brave enough to venture into the streets, unarmed, to demand empowerment and an end to tyranny. The problem is that these tyrants were nominally friendly to the United States. So the question now is whether Bin Laden's death will make him relevant once again.
Untitled by Ismail Gulgee, 2006. This beloved Pakistani artist trained as an engineer in the US but was self taught as a painter. He received many royal commissions for portraits, but turned to abstract art which, in his hands, is spiritual and expressive of his deep Sufi faith. Gulgee, aged 81, his wife, and their maid, were strangled in Karachi in 2007. The crime remains unsolved. Click on the picture for a closer look.