Who is bin Laden now?

This week marks the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of US soldiers. The anniversary has triggered several speculative stories and blog posts from amateurs and professional journalists, asking what the future of terrorism is, what state al-Qaeda is in, and what the United States’ next move should be.

But how is the once-feared leader of al-Qaeda represented now, a year after his death?

Bin Laden’s infamy was cemented over the last decade, and undoubtedly he will be as historically significant as history’s other ‘villains’, such as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. In Western media he was represented as the face of terror, and the search for bin Laden became a ‘good vs evil’ struggle. He became the archetypal representation of evil, a villain constantly plotting and scheming the downfall of the world.

The ‘myth’ of bin Laden will remain, but the way he is represented has changed, due to new information being unearthed, and changing perspectives following his death.

An article from Yahoo News eloquently titled: ‘Osama bin Laden death anniversary: 10 things we’ve learned about terror leader since raid’ says Osama was “isolated”, “delusional” and “depressed”. It paints a clear picture of bin Laden as an unwell man who had been pushed into a corner and knew his defeat was inevitable. This is certainly a contrast to the character bin Laden was before his death. However, the same article still says “he was the last word on terror”, and continues the imagery of bin Laden as a grand schemer.

An opinion piece from CNN argues that the removal of bin Laden does not mean the US can become complacent, and argues throughout that bin Laden was just one chess piece in a much larger game. This, again, is different to representations of bin Laden before his death, where he was the figurehead of al-Qaeda. The piece suggests that bin Laden is now realized as a less significant actor than represented in the larger ‘War on Terror’.

A cartoon from US newspaper The New York Times, making light of the anniversary of bin Laden’s death

The New York Times published the above political cartoon, making bin Laden’s death almost comical. While bin Laden was certainly made fun of in entertainment programs such as ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad!’, the satirizing of the situation in The New York Times shows the fear that bin Laden’s name once held has diminished.

Bin Laden remains a household name, but what will that name mean as the ‘War on Terror’ reaches its end and the US begins to draw out of the Middle East?


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