The end of the beginning

The death of Osama Bin Laden is by now old news, but the reactions have been very interesting to read. Not a few people have asked the question about why the body of Al Qaeda’s leader was buried at sea, and no pictures or video has been released of him. As a result, conspiracy theories have begun to take root, largely among the Nigerian online community.

In a nation whose favourite pastime is ascribing astounding capabilities to unseen forces, it is perhaps not a surprise that conspiracy theories are common. However, a recourse to logic is more than sufficient in this case. First of all, former US President George W. Bush had the greatest incentive to fake Bin Laden’s death, and improve his legacy. He didn’t, because he couldn’t. Since 2001, America has been on a steep learning curve in what makes terrorists tick. Osama Bin Laden was more than a criminal, and more than a terrorist. He inspired love and devotion from those who have bought into his ideas.

Publishing photos of him or burying him at any site will quickly inspire hero-worship, emboldening those he has left behind. Also, even a public trial will give him a chance to continue to spread his ideas, and attract sympathy. At the trial of captured Nazis in 1945, Hermann Goering upstaged the Allies who were supposed to convict him. In today’s media age, a similar performance by Bin Laden would have created a circus that would have proved counter-productive. Photos of him, a burial site (that could be turned into a shrine) or a public trial can be turned into tools of propaganda and recruitment by terrorist groups.

All things considered, the US seems to have taken the best option. If nothing official ever gets out to ‘prove’ Osama is dead, my guess is that the US government would happily take a few conspiracy theories over the possibility of more terrorist recruits. After all, some still don’t believe the Moon landings were real. There are several sub plots to this event, such as the benefit to Barack Obama as he seeks re-election, its impact on the war on terror and the Middle East, among others. These stories will run for months and maybe even years to come. Winston Churchill put it best when he said: ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning‘.

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