By Brendan S.
His favorite generals were Bernard Montgomery and Charles de Gaulle. He was a zealous fan of Arsenal Football Club. He would learn to love the West in a peculiar manner, yet despise it with passion all at once.
Bin Laden was a rich kid. His Yemeni father Mohammed was a personal construction manager to King Ibn Saud. The family construction company, Saudi Binladen Group, was one of the most powerful in Saudi Arabia until its dramatic collapse in 2015. While studying civil engineering at King Abdulaziz University, bin Laden joined the Muslim Brotherhood and became obsessed with jihad. According to his mother Alia in a 2018 interview, “He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s.” He left Saudi Arabia in 1979 to channel his obsession as a Mujahideen fighter in the Soviet-Afghan War, where he would be armed and supported by the CIA and ISI.
Instead of basking in a golden adulthood, Bin Laden chose to dedicate his life to jihad. This was the message he emulated which propelled his power and influence, and it resonated with many when he was wounded in action while fighting Soviet forces at the Battle of Jaji in 1987. Bin Laden was determined to convey to the populace of fundamentalist Islamism that money and prayer could not fulfill the Islamist-perceived principles of Muhammed, only blood and willpower could. This mentality saw the birth of modern jihadism, and drove bin Laden to become the most powerful figure in international Islamism. In the words of Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan, “Islamic fundamentalists—they are looking for a hero, and Mr. bin Laden fit the bill.”
Utilizing the influence he gained during his time in the Mujahideen, bin Laden founded
al-Qaeda in 1988, a year before the Soviets were officially forced out of Afghanistan.
Bin Laden had taken the wheel of global terror. He would go on to become one of the greatest enemies of the Western world, commanding the slaughter of thousands of civilians across the
globe and facilitating the casus belli for the US Invasion of Afghanistan. He would possess status as one of the most glaring beacons of extremism in the modern era, and a catalyst of contemporary jihadism.
Four years prior to 9/11, when asked by Peter Arnett in a 1997 CNN interview why he declared jihad against the United States, bin Laden stated:
“The US government has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous, and criminal through its support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and we believe the US is directly responsible for those killed in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. Due to its subordination to the Jews, the arrogance of the United States regime has reached the point that they occupied Arabia, the holiest place of the Muslims, who are more than a billion people in the world today. For this, and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US.”
When asked who was targeted in this jihad, bin Laden answered, “Even though American civilians are not targeted in our plan, they must leave. We do not guarantee their safety.”
“The US today has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist. It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us, and then wants us to agree to all this. If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists... If there is a message I may send through you, I address the mothers of the American troops. To these mothers I say, if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the US government’s policies.”
When asked what his future plans were, bin Laden replied:
“You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.”
Four years after the interview, bin Laden would order the 9/11 attacks, causing the deaths of 2,977 innocent people.
Jamal Khashoggi is a name that rings a bell to many in recent politics, the journalist who was assassinated and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul under the orders of Prince Mohammed in October 2018. An acquaintance of bin Laden in the 80s and 90s, Khashoggi attempted to dissuade bin Laden from his jihadist impulses before the 9/11 attacks. In 2005 he said of bin Laden referring to the 1997 interview:
“I was very much surprised to see Osama turning into radicalism the way he did.”
Khashoggi cut off all relations to bin Laden following 9/11.
He stated in a 2002 article: “Osama bin Laden’s hijacked planes not only attacked the Twin Towers of the Word Trade Center and the Pentagon. They also attacked Islam as a faith. They attacked the values of tolerance and coexistence that Islam preaches.”
After bin Laden’s death in 2011, Khashoggi wrote on Twitter:
“I collapsed crying a while ago, heartbroken for you, Abu Abdullah (bin Laden’s nickname). You were beautiful and brave in those beautiful days in Afghanistan, before you surrendered to hatred and passion.”
Nine years after his death in Operation Neptune Spear, bin Laden’s influence still resounds loudly across the Islamist world today, from Mali to Bangladesh. Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups continue to expand their foothold across Africa and Western Asia, often utilizing their support from Turkey as a conduit for success on the battlefield.
For as long as Islamism remains an outlet to escape repression and Western imperialism, the phantom of bin Laden will continue to haunt society indefinitely.