lunes, 9 de mayo de 2011


Few individuals in recent history have exerted greater influence on world events than Osama bin Laden - and even fewer have inspired as much mythology. From the origins of the al-Qaeda terrorist network to the devastation of September 11, 2001, to the manhunt that came to an end with such drama last week, bin Laden's life has been shrouded in mystery and misconceptions.

1. ''The CIA created Osama bin Laden'': Common among conspiracy theorists is the notion that bin Laden was a CIA creation and that the September 11 attacks were blowback from an agency operation gone awry. Typifying this view is the filmmaker Michael Moore who, on the day after the terrorist attacks, wrote: ''WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA!''

In fact, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the CIA had no dealings with ''Afghan Arabs'' such as bin Laden and had few direct dealings with any of the Afghan mujahideen. Instead, all US aid to Afghanistan was funnelled through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf, the ISI officer who co-ordinated Pakistani efforts during the war, explained in his 1992 book, The Bear Trap: ''No Americans ever trained or had direct contact with the [mujahideen].'

Bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his autobiographical Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet, wrote, ''The truth that everyone should learn is that the United States did not give one penny in aid to the [Arab mujahideen].'' Abu Musab al-Suri, long an associate of bin Laden's, explained in his The Call to Global Islamic Resistance: ''It is a big lie that the Afghan Arabs were formed with the backing of the CIA.'' There are very few things that al-Qaeda and the CIA agree upon - except that they have never had any relationship.

2. ''Bin Laden attacked us because of our freedoms'': This was a common trope of President George W. Bush. ''They hate our freedoms,'' he told Congress after September 11, ''our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.'' Yet, in all the tens of thousands of words uttered by bin Laden, he was strangely silent about American freedoms and values. His focus was invariably on US foreign policy in the Middle East. In a review of 24 statements made by bin Laden from 1994 to 2004, the political scientist James Payne found that 72 per cent of the content referred to alleged Western or Jewish attacks against Muslims, while only 1 per cent criticised American culture or way of life. In a 2004 video bin Laden said: ''Contrary to what Bush says and claims - that we hate your freedom. If that were true, then let him explain why did we not attack Sweden.''

3. ''Al-Qaeda's ideology has nothing to do with Islam'': To his credit, Bush was quite firm that al-Qaeda represented a perversion of Islam, and one of his first acts after September 11 was to visit a mosque in Washington. But members of al-Qaeda firmly believe that their struggle has everything to do with the defence of what they consider true Islam. And bin Laden found ammunition in the Koran to give his war some Islamic legitimacy, often invoking the ''Sword'' verses of the holy book, which can be selectively interpreted as urging attacks on those who won't submit and convert to Islam. They read: ''Once the Sacred Months are past (and they refuse to make peace), you may kill the idol worshippers when you encounter them, punish them, and resist every move they make. If they repent and observe the Prayers and give the obligatory alms-giving you shall let them go.'' Of course, that is a selective reading of the Koran, but for believers, this is not a mere book - it is literally the word of God.

4. ''Zawahiri, not bin Laden, is the real brains of al-Qaeda'': The conventional view is that Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor and al-Qaeda's longtime second in command, has been bin Laden's ''brain.'' But in making the most important strategic shift in al-Qaeda's history - identifying the US as its key enemy, rather than Middle Eastern regimes - bin Laden brushed aside Zawahiri's obsessive focus on overthrowing the Egyptian government. Noman Benotman, a Libyan militant who has spent considerable time talking with both of al-Qaeda's leaders, told me in an interview that ''Osama influenced Zawahiri with his idea: Forget about the 'near enemy'; the main enemy is the Americans.'' Bin Laden also kept Zawahiri in the dark for years about al-Qaeda's most important operation, cluing in his deputy only during 2001.

5. ''Bin Laden's death is symbolically important but irrelevant to the ongoing war on terror'': When recruits joined al-Qaeda, they pledged an oath of religious allegiance to bin Laden, rather than to the organisation. Similarly, when affiliated jihadist groups have attached themselves to al-Qaeda central, as al-Qaeda in Iraq did in 2004, their leaders pledged their fealty to bin Laden. With bin Laden gone, there is no one of his stature and charisma to become not only the leader and strategic guide of al-Qaeda, but to inspire the group's affiliates across the Middle East and North Africa and the wider jihadi movement around the globe. For that, we can all be grateful.

Este artículo fue escrito por Peter Bergen, Director de Estudios de Seguridad Nacional de la  New America Foundation, y fue publicado en The Washington Post.

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