One Year After Bin Laden's Death,
Al-Qaeda's Message Continues to be Marginalized

May 4, 2012

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden. While some analysts and policy-makers highlight his death as the decline of Al-Qaeda's power and influence, his ideology was dying long before his physical death. In fact, according to documents found in the compound where he was killed, bin Laden and his organization were severely divided over issues of tactics, strategies and messaging. Bin Laden was well aware that his influence among Muslims, fellow terrorists and his adversaries was rapidly waning.

After 9/11, our domestic and foreign policies became centered on the al-Qaeda threat and national security. More than a decade later, after declarations of al-Qaeda's "strategic defeat" and bin Laden's death, our policies, unfortunately, have remained focused toward that approach. With the political climate changing around the world, we need to modify our policies to reflect this ongoing shift. Failing to do so is also detrimental to the "shared values and interests" President Barack Obama described in his 2009 Cairo speech between America and Muslim-majority nations. One year later, we must do a better job of thoroughly addressing the broader social, political and ideological factors that fueled his message of hate and destruction.

Bin Laden was not the founder of al-Qaeda's twisted version of Islam — he was the result of those ideas. Bin Laden is dead, yet acts of terror occur. The conclusion would be that as toxic as he was, the ideology was the driving force behind the actions of his followers.

However, the truth is that bin Laden's ideology was already losing steam before he was killed. Al-Qaeda's wanton killing of innocents, a majority of whom were Muslim, violently exposed its hypocritical message of being a vanguard to save Muslims. The Arab Spring provided people of the region an authentic alternative to bin Laden's blood lust and marginalizing agenda. He was increasingly becoming more irrelevant and, as the declassified documents show, he knew it.

As nations around the world deal with transitions to democracy, bin Laden's ideology has proven unsustainable in an environment permitting a free marketplace of ideas where ideologies could be openly exposed to criticism. Learning from his example of being stuck in a constrained model of thinking, we should continue to shift our focus and policies to positive models of constructive engagement between nations.

Though terrorism will continue to be a concern for the foreseeable future, policy-makers should continue to ensure that when shaping effective policy, religious affiliation and criminal activity are divorced. Al-Qaeda's narrative is already in a malaise; our policies should reflect that reality and be malleable to ever-changing political conditions.

It has been more than a decade since the horrific 9/11 attacks and one year since the death of bin Laden. It is time to close one painful chapter and elevate a new one of hope and strength. Part of our nation’s power and greatness has been its ability to deal with and rise above atrocious events. Indeed, 9/11 will always be part of our history and narrative. That day's terrible tragedy will also include the strength of America's citizens, as well as their partnership with Muslims across the world in rejecting bin Laden's violence and re-affirming a universal desire for human freedom and dignity. America's Muslims will continue to play that vital role of the human bridge of understanding between the United States and Muslim-majority nations.

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