Published in National Review Online
With the killing of Osama bin Laden, we return to the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Or, in our context, which came first—the jihadist vision or the jihadist? The ideology or the ideologue?
Did Osama “create” the ideology of jihad, or did the ancient ideology of jihad create him—and countless like him, past, present, and future?
Years ago, Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al-Qaeda’s undisputed leader, placed it all in context. After he was asked about the status of bin Laden and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, he confidently replied:
Jihad in the path of Allah is greater than any individual or organization. It is a struggle between Truth and Falsehood, until Allah Almighty inherits the earth and those who live in it. Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden—may Allah protect them from all evil—are merely two soldiers of Islam in the journey of jihad, while the struggle between Truth [Islam] and Falsehood [non-Islam] transcends time (The Al Qaeda Reader, p.182).
In short, bin Laden’s death, while intrinsically good, has no instrumental value against the jihad—a phenomenon that “transcends time” and “is greater than any individual.”