This week marks the one year anniversary of the capture and death of Osama bin Laden. U.S. Special Forces killed the terrorist on May 2, 2011 in Pakistan (May 1 in the United States). Lawrence Rubin, assistant professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, says we'll never truly know the significance of bin Laden's death on the future of al-Qaeda and terrorism. That's because three events within the last year may actually have a greater historical impact.
First, the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq in December removed many of the mobilizing symbols and physical targets for al-Qaeda. The Iraq war had provided tremendous opportunities for recruitment through videos, images and promises of heroism through martyrdom. Since U.S. and coalition troops are no longer in charge of day-to-day security, they do not run the risk of killing civilians and are simply not exposed to attacks.
Second, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was important because of what didn't happen. There was no attack and no celebration. This "silence" exposed an al-Qaeda on the decline; a group without its famous leader.
Third, and most importantly, the transition from the "Arab Spring" to the "Islamic Spring," or the rise of Islamist parties, is reshaping the Middle East in ways bin Laden never could. The uprisings have refocused attention and the political energies of the most important audience for al-Qaeda, the Arab Muslim world, on new struggles. In fact, since bin Laden's death, the popular uprisings and the subsequent successes of Islamist parties, who have had less than amicable relations with al-Qaeda in the past, have further marginalized al-Qaeda in Arab political discourse.
Will al-Qaeda rebound or will the group disappear like many others after losing their charismatic leader? The past year's three major events occured since bin Laden's death. They did not occur because of it. Because they have reversed some of the conditiions that contributed to al-Qaeda's success, it seems that most signs currently point towards the latter.
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