Al Qaeda, the public domain franchise

Millions of people will have cheered today when they heard the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. The leader of Al Qaeda had been on the FBI’s most wanted list since the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and became even even more infamous after the 9/11 attacks.

Bin Ladin’s death is by no means “Mission accomplished” in the struggle against terrorism in countries around the world. More likely his death will make little difference.

For the last ten years he’s been little more than a figurehead for the movement he founded. “Al Qaeda in Iraq” picked up the brand name for its guaranteed headline value, but had different roots. Likewise the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid were organised independently. Bin Laden needed the Taliban and their paymasters at the ISI in Pakistan more than they needed him.

Other than its name recognition value, there was little in Bin Laden’s “brand” that couldn’t be found elsewhere by those who shared his world view and goals. Al Qaeda’s franchise manual is not proprietary information, it has been in the public domain for years.

To me the most hopeful news this year came not through the death of this evil man but through the courage of young men and women in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, who boldly stood up against corrupt despots in their own countries. When young people in the Middle East have a stake in running their own countries, when they no longer feel powerless and abused then the likes of Al Qaeda will find it much harder to find new recruits amongst them.

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