The man known as Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, is dead. Last night President Obama confirmed that Bin Laden was shot to death at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan by American military and C.I.A. operatives in a “targeted operation.” In addition to Bin Laden, three men, one believed to be his son and one woman, deployed as a shield by a male combatant, were also killed. According to the President, the United States “took custody” of Bin Laden’s body and buried it at sea. The fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al Qaeda second-in-command, is currently unknown.
The President warned that while the “terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children,” is no longer, “his death does not mark the end of our effort…We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.” He noted that Bin Laden was not only Al Qaeda’s leader but also a powerful symbol. Thus, while his death may be significant, it does not denote the death of terrorism. To be sure, the effect of Bin Laden’s death on Al Qaeda remains uncertain, particularly as his overriding ideology still lives. Some suggest that Al Qaeda “has greater geographic reach and a level of ideological sophistication and influence it lacked ten years ago.” Others contend that the organization is on the decline.
The truth is, we don’t know. However, what we do know is that terrorism is alive and well, reaches across varying borders and goes by many names. It cannot be totalized by Al Qaeda and is irreducible to the “Other.” So, before we reach for our beloved flags and sing our national tunes we should be sure to check for planks in our own eyes. Terrorism takes up residence within us and thrives off of our bigotries. If terrorism is a threat to both global and individual security, and it is, then so are we. Whether at home or abroad, terrorism cannot be ignored.