May 3rd, 2011
08:56 AM ET

Can al Qaeda survive bin Laden’s death?

Fareed Zakaria argues that the death of Osama bin Laden is a fatal blow to al Qaeda.  

Fareed reminds us that bin Laden's death comes on the heels of the Arab Spring, which already sapped al Qaeda of its raison d'etre.  Al Qaeda argued that dictatorial regimes - sponsored by the United States - were plaguing the Muslim world and that the only way to achieve radical change was to wage violence against these regimes and their sponsor, the United States.

But then a mass of largely non-religious, non-violent protestors transformed the Middle East and North Africa. They proved that change could come without terrorist bloodshed.

This was a crippling blow to al Qaeda's ideology. Then al Qaeda lost bin Laden, its charismatic leader - the man new recruits pledged fealty to.  No other leader has nearly the same mystique as bin Laden.  No one is likely to die for Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two, in the same way.

Taken together, Fareed argues that the Arab Spring and the death of bin Laden deliver a one-two knockout blow to al Qaeda.

Other pundits like Nick Kristof maintain that killing bin Laden does not end al Qaeda.

Kristof argues that al Qaeda is "more of a loose network than a tightly structured organization."  He concedes that says that branches of al Qaeda "may admire Osama and be inspired by him," but emphasizes that "they also are believed to be largely independent of him."

The New York Times reports on the views of a number of analysts who claim:

"While his death is significant...it will not end the threat from an increasingly potent and self-reliant string of regional Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and Yemen or from a self-radicalized vanguard here at home."

Fareed acknowledges that "there are groups of terrorists around the world," which will continue to exist after bin Laden's death.  They are loosely affiliated groups - many of which may claim to be al Qaeda. "But gangs of bad guys have always been around," Fareed says.

The real question is: Does al Qaeda still pose an existential ideological threat to America and the West. Can al Qaeda central mobilize new recruits and affiliates like it seemed to do around 9-11? Or does the death of bin Laden reduce the group to little more than violent thugs in lawless parts of the world - not much different than, say, Somali pirates.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts below, on Facebook or Twitter and through the poll.

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Topics: Osama bin Laden • Poll • Security • Strategy • Terrorism

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soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. elinor zen

    only in Gaza there are six bases of Al-Qaeda; Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt are fully at Al-Qaeda's mercy; they have their people in EVERY country, every region, every big city of this world. can Al-Qaeda survive without Bin-Laden?

    May 6, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  2. deepwater805

    Of course al Qeada can survive. Look how long cockroaches have been around.

    May 7, 2011 at 3:55 am | Reply
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