Bin Laden leaves behind a thin legacy | World| Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 11.05.2011
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Bin Laden leaves behind a thin legacy

Setting up an Islamic caliphate and driving the Americans out of the Middle East belonged to al Qaeda's unachieved goals under Osama bin Laden. Where was the terror organization successful?

osama bin laden

Osama bin Laden had many plans for the region he operated in

A lot of the things which Osama bin Laden propagated in his various video messages over the years remained nebulous and mainly influenced by the ideology of jihad.

The aspired establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq was one concrete political goal. It was an undertaking which at times had top priority for the terrorist network due to the invasion by US troops in 2003. Indeed, the US-led troops have in the meantime been largely pulled out of Iraq. But al Qaeda cannot take credit for this.

"Al Qaeda failed in Iraq," said Michael Bauer, Middle East expert at the Center for Applied Political Research at the University of Munich. "This was mainly due to al Qaeda riding an extremely bloody terror campaign in Iraq which also stirred up its potential ally, the Sunni clans, against the terrorist network."

September 11: the greatest success

In Afghanistan, bin Laden had a powerful ally in the Taliban until 2001. Of all countries in the region, the Taliban rule presumably came closest to al Qaeda's notion of a religious state. But there, too, bin Laden ultimately failed due to his own mistakes, said researcher Asiem El Difraoui from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

world trade center collapsing on september 11

The images of 9/11 have ingrained themselves in the world's collective memory

"This country which tolerated al Qaeda and was viewed as an Islamic state by al Qaeda is gone," said El Difraoui, an expert on jihad. "But without the terror attacks of 9/11, it could still possibly exist."

On the other hand, the September 11 attacks spread fear and terror beyond US borders and across the entire western world. It was bin Laden's greatest direct success and the aim of all terror. In the aftermath, a further phenomenon occurred - already predicted by the American political theorist Samuel Huntington in the mid-1990s as a "clash of civilizations."

"Al Qaeda managed to create something like a rift between Muslims and the rest of the world's population - though this was of course also due to the tough US reaction on the war against terror," El Difraoui said.

US presence in the Arab world

Bin Laden, however, intended something completely different by the terror attacks on the US. They were supposed to put pressure on the United States to leave the Middle East altogether. But in the next few years, the opposite was the case.

Almost 10 years after 9/11, the strategic presence of the US in the Gulf region continues to be strong. Bahrain hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet and the US military headquarters for the entire region, including Afghanistan, is in Qatar.

"When it comes down to it, from the view of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, there is no other reassurance for their own sovereignty than the partnership with the Americans," Bauer said. This was particularly the case in view of Iran's desire for control in the region.

Saudi king abdullah and us president obama

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is an important partner for the US in the fight against terror

As a born Saudi, bin Laden became an archenemy of the Saudi kingdom in the course of his life. He considered the monarchy corrupt and attempted to undermine its power with a series of terror attacks he personally ordered between 2003 and 2006. Here, too, he only enjoyed moderate success, said Bauer.

"Even now the Arabian peninsula is still a region in which al Qaeda has a serious organizational structure," he said. "But this doesn't mean that it could seriously endanger the Saudi kingdom."

An ideological legacy

According to El Difraoui, the legacy of bin Laden is most evident ideologically.

"Al Qaeda created this relatively strong ideological corpus and substantiated the ideology of jihad," he said.

In addition, it has firmly entrenched in some Muslims a belief in martyrdom not otherwise inherent in Islam as well as an attitude that jihad is legitimate and all nonbelievers in the world need to be fought, he added.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge

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