In from 1970, bin Laden joined the Mujahideen, as

In the following essay, I will be
outlining and analysing the political and religious motives of Osama bin Laden,
beginning with his emergence in the Afghan-Soviet War in 1979 to his most
notorious attacks against America on 9/11. The 9/11 attacks against the World
Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were “the largest work
of destruction against United States interests in modern times” (Bayati, 2001,
p. 11). As a result, nearly 3000 civilians were killed, and President George W.
Bush assembled a coalition known as ‘War on Terror’ which ultimately led to the
U.S. War in Afghanistan from 2001 till present, and the controversial U.S.
invasion of Iraq in 2003 to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussain. The
consequences of 9/11 have had a negative impact on the Muslim world as there
was an unfair link between Islam and terrorism and still exists today. For
example, President Bush used the word ‘crusade’ in his reference to the war
against terrorism (Bayati, 2001, p. 14). In addition, there are various hate
crimes towards Muslims and the attacking of mosques in Western states. However,
the death of bin Laden left a legacy which intensified radical groups to fight
against western beliefs; even President Obama realised that “al-Qaeda will
continue to pursue attacks against us” despite killing bin Laden (Nasrawi,
2016). Therefore, in this essay, I will be focusing on the rise of bin Laden,
his formation of al-Qaeda in 1988, the ideology of al-Qaeda which influenced
his motives, and finally, his legacy within the West and the Muslim world.


During the Afghan-Soviet War from
1970, bin Laden joined the Mujahideen, as his responsibility to fulfil his duty
as a Muslim to fight the enemy. At the beginning of his tenure, bin Laden
provided logistical help, including cash and construction gear, making himself
useful to the Afghan resistance (Bayati, 2001, p. 36). Eventually, he took part
in battlefield operations, and later became the leader of the Mujahedeen taking
refuge with the Taliban. Throughout the war, bin Laden relocated to Peshawar,
and with the backing of the United States under the CIA program ‘Operation
Cyclone’, he began training with the Mujahideen (, 2017).
Moreover, during his stay at Peshawar, he was building a network of jihad
contacts, based on faith and funding, not just with the Mujahedeen chiefs, but
also with the ISI and the Arab ‘Afghans’ (Bayati, 2001, p. 37). Bin Laden saw
it as imperative gathering the large numbers of Arab youth so that their
objective of removing the Soviets is accomplished. Thus, this forced bin Laden
to support the organisation of Qalb Addin Hikmatyar, in order to arrange this
Arab presence in Afghanistan, since he considered the Arab youth, with their
wealth, weapons and amounts of military expertise, the main driving force in defeating
the Soviets (Bayati, 2001, p. 37). When the Soviets ended the war in 1989, bin
Laden returned to Saudi Arabia as a hero and the U.S. honoured him and his
soldiers as “Freedom Fighters” (, 2017). Therefore, the
Afghan-Soviet War marked the beginning of bin Laden’s era over the next 20

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Bin Laden adopted the concept of
pan-Islamism. He viewed Islam more than just a religion; it affected his
political beliefs and influenced every decision he made. During his time at
college, he was a follower of the radical pan-Islamist scholar Abdullah Azzam,
who believed that every Muslim should take part in jihad, or a holy war, to
establish a single Islamic state (, 2009). This concept appeared to
be ideal to bin Laden, as he began to resent the growing Western influence on
Middle Eastern values and culture. Therefore, the Afghan-Soviet War proved that
bin Laden and his associates were able to put pan-Islamism into practice
(, 2009). Furthermore, when bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, he
was dissatisfied with what he witnessed as a ‘corrupt Saudi government’
(, 2017) – and his anger deepened when the U.S. had military camps
based in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War which lead to increasing
tensions between bin Laden and the Saudi government. Bin Laden spoke in public
against the Saudi’s dependence on American troops, believing that their
presence ‘profaned sacred soil’ (, 2017).


In 1988, bin Laden established a
new group, known as al-Qaeda (“the base”) that would place their emphasis on
symbolic acts of terrorism instead of military campaigns (, 2009).
When bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia from Afghanistan, he was hoping to
receive financial back-up from the Saudi government to fund his new and more
difficult mission. However, as mentioned beforehand, the alliance between Saudi
Arabia and the U.S. angered bin Laden, and therefore, the Saudi government were
anxious that bin Laden’s fierce pan-Islamic rhetoric might cause trouble in the
Kingdom, and so tried to restrain bin Laden as much as they could. As a
consequence, the Kingdom confiscated his passport and rejected his offer to
send the “Afghan Arabs” to safeguard the border after the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait in 1990. Then matters became worse as the Kingdom sought help from the
“infidel” U.S. instead (, 2009). Angry over the situation, bin Laden
made a promise that it was al-Qaeda, and not America, who would one day prove
to be “master of this world” (, 2009). Bin Laden saw America has the
main adversary trying to harm Muslim’s way of life, and in 1998 issued his
famous fatwa announcing a global war against America (BBC, 2009). As a result
of his actions, Saudi Arabia exiled bin Laden in 1991, and a year later he
moved to Sudan.


The main objective of al-Qaeda
was to spread jihadism across the world and to avenge the perceived wrongs
against Muslims (BBC, 2009). Moreover, bin Laden hoped that all Muslims, united
through battle, would establish a single, true Islamic state (Biography, 2017).
Thus, after years of preparation, al-Qaeda carried out numerous of attacks
across the globe during the mid-late 1990s. For example, the most devastating
attacks were the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, where 213 people
died, and 4,500 injured, and Dar-es-Salaam, where 11 died and 85 injured
(, 2009). Nevertheless, bin Laden’s adoption of pan-Islamism once
again proves that it is in full motion, especially after the attacks al-Qaeda
carried out.


The campaign of holy war
unleashed by al-Qaeda is likely to sustain itself and the current Islamist
generation. This is because al-Qaeda’s actual power does not come from its
global infrastructure and membership but instead from it’s all-embracing and
highly appealing ideology (Gunaratna, 2005). The main objective of al-Qaeda
today is to influence and provoke Islamist movements and the Muslim population
worldwide to fight the supposed enemies of Islam. Despite the majority of
Muslims condemning the actions of al-Qaeda, the group is continuing to
strengthen the global jihad movement by capitalising on the widespread
suffering, resentment, and anger of Muslims across the world at the expense of
the U.S. and its allies (Gunaratna, 2005). Although bin Laden was killed and
other key figures were arrested, the ideology has managed to survive and is
still in full motion today, despite facing rivalry from other Islamist groups
such as ISIS. Nonetheless, the distribution of al-Qaeda’s ideology around the
world, especially after 9/11, has increased its threat on a wider scale
(Gunaratna, 2005). Al-Qaeda’s radical ideology, fuelled by anti-Western and
anti-Semitic views, has supporters among many individuals and groups, some of
whom are linked in any considerable way to bin Laden or those who surround him
(Gunaratna, 2005). They simply follow his principles and methods, living the
life of al-Qaeda.


The founders of al-Qaeda were
Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden; it was formed just before the Soviets
withdrew from Afghanistan. The creation of al-Qaeda was influenced by Egyptian
theorist Sayyid Qutb. He envisioned a revolutionary Muslim forefront that would
overthrow secular regimes in the Middle East and impose Islamic rule. Qutb’s
notion was on the basis of stories told about the early Muslim generation who
received education and supervision from the Prophet Mohammed in the house of
Arqam bin Abi Arqam (Gunaratna, 2005). They were acquaintances of the Prophet
Mohammed whose prayers and pledges to the Islamic struggle against pagans
during their time were supreme by later generations (Gunaratna, 2005). Due to
their success as well as proof of their brilliance by the Prophet, they were
admired and respected (Gunaratna, 2005). Therefore, according to al-Qaeda, they
became a source of inspiration and model for Muslims to look upon. Azzam hoped
that al-Qaeda would be the main driving force for the Afghan Mujahedeen to
fight on behalf of the oppressed Muslim masses – an Islamic “rapid reaction
force” ready to defend their fellow Muslims and to heighten the values of Islam
(Gunaratna, 2005).


However, after the Afghan-Soviet
war, Azzam’s main issue was the future of Islamist movement. Azzam’s intention
in creating al-Qaeda was not to mould it into an international terrorist
organisation. According to various analysts, Azzam was a firm believer that
“the end does not justify the means” (Gunaratna, 2005). For example, during the
Afghan-Soviet war, Azzam rejected an offer proposed by the Maktab al Khidmat
Egyptian members to exploit jihadi funds to train the Mujahideen in terrorist
methods and strategies (Gunaratna, 2005). Azzam viewed jihad as a religious
duty in defence of Islam and Muslims against a defined enemy, and not a notional
one. Eventually, bin Laden took over from Azzam as leader of the organisation.
Furthermore, after the Afghan-Soviet war, the relationship between Azzam and
bin Laden worsened. The issue over Azzam’s controversial support for Ahmad Shah
Massoud, who later became the leader of the Northern Alliance, caused tension
(Gunaratna, 2005). Whereas, bin Laden supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former
Prime Minister and leader of the Islamic party, Hizib-i-Islami, who also had
anti-communist anti-western views (Gunaranta, 2005). In addition to this,
merging together with the Egyptian members of al-Qaeda, bin Laden advocated a
series of terrorist attacks against Egypt and other Muslim secular regimes.
Azzam was aware of such consequences if these attacks took place and thus, was
strongly against it. As a result, Azzam was assassinated by the Egyptian
members of al-Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan.


After Afghanistan won the war
against the Soviets, bin Laden was seen as an idol in the eyes of those who
fought with him as a fearless soldier and an honourable Muslim leader. Bin
Laden’s followers were persuaded that the actions of the Mujahideen,
predominantly supported by the Muslim world, was the sole reason why the Soviet
Union collapsed and the Cold War ended (Gunaratna, 2005). They also argue that
the U.S. had achieved its goal of becoming the only global superpower because
of the accomplishments of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (Gunaratna, 2005).
Finally, the internalisation of the victory developed a belief in the power of
armed jihad, and that their hard work will be rewarded by divine legitimacy and
their future path will be directed by God (Gunaratna, 2005).


It was argued that the killing of
bin Laden removes one of the most potent symbols of non-state terrorism in the
modern era (Azzam, 2011). After the death of bin Laden, al-Qaeda had been
damaged and relatively weakened by the ongoing offensive attacks by U.S.
counterterrorism efforts. Most of their key figures were either captured or
killed, its leadership was forced to live in hiding, in particular, the son of
bin Laden Hamza, and its operations were severely intercepted. However, the
fall of al-Qaeda had its consequences; it tested the safeguard of civil
liberties in democracies, resulted in the execution and involvement in possible
torture by democratic governments and the prejudiced imprisonment scheme at
Guantanamo (Azzam, 2011). In addition, it strengthened the powers of dictators
in the Middle East to crack down on its opposition, including moderate Islamist
movements, for the sake of security (Azzam, 2011). Al-Qaeda was already in a
weak position in the Arab world; it failed to win the majority of support of
most Muslims in the region, even though they attracted peripheral elements.
Furthermore, its ideology and appeal were greatly disrupted by the changes that
took place in the Arab Uprisings which resulted in a profound popular
mobilisation for critical political change without the urge and need to fulfil
any terrorist or violent attacks (Azzam, 2011). Despite al-Qaeda’s strong
Egyptian connection through Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation found it
difficult to keep up the social and political change that occurred in Egypt
during the 25th January revolution.


Regardless, bin Laden did manage
to challenge the superpower of America after succeeding in targeting the U.S.
homeland and threaten its interests during an unstable period when the U.S.
became ultimately unpopular in the Middle East due to the Gulf War, and because
of its absolute support for contentious dictatorships within the region and for
Israel, who was a common adversary in the Muslim world (Azzam, 2011).
Nonetheless, the death of bin Laden is seen as a huge victory for the Obama
administration, as they achieved justice for the American people who are
affected by the 9/11 attacks. The ‘War on Terror’ was seen as a worldwide
campaign, orchestrated by the U.S., where the emotions of the masses wanted to
avenge the wounds of 9/11, both on a personal level for victims’ families and
on a patriotic level for the evident wound to national pride (Azzam, 2011).
However, the threat of al-Qaeda still exists and has expanded into Europe.
Therefore, the security threat has increased, with expected revenge attacks to
be carried out by affiliation groups either in the West, the Middle East, or in
Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Whereas in Afghanistan, bin
Laden’s death will not change the scenario much. The Taliban are dedicated to a
time-honoured Afghani war against foreign powers, which will continue to
progress in its own dynamic (Azzam, 2011). As a consequence, the pressure will
continue to mount on the U.S. and its allies to leave immediately. On the other
hand, in Pakistan, there are high suspicions on how he was able to live in a
wealthy area next to a military college without being caught by the
intelligence services there (Azzam, 2011). On a note, this will leave the
question whether bin Laden’s absence will end the dissatisfaction of U.S. drone
attacks (Azzam, 2011)?


In November 2017, the CIA
released a journal handwritten by one of bin Laden’s daughters which gives us a
deeper insight on how bin Laden viewed the world and also reveals his interest
on capitalising the 2011 Arab Uprisings. The 228-page document concentrates on
discussions, thoughts and reflections bin Laden shared with family about how to
capitalise on the uprisings, what to make of the rapid changes occurring within
the Middle East, and when al-Qaeda should speak out (Batrawy, 2017). For
example, bin Laden claims that “this chaos and the absence of leadership in the
revolutions is the best environment to spread al-Qaeda’s thoughts and ideas”
(Batrawy, 2017).

The journal consists of
conversations between bin Laden and his daughters, Miriam and Somiya, his wife
and his sons, Khaled and Hamza – the latter of whom would become a possible
successor to al-Qaeda. The title of the journal is “Special diaries for Abu
Abdullah: Sheikh Abdullah’s points of view – a session with the family”
(Batrawy, 2017). The dates of those conservations took place between February
and April 2011. During that period, revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia had
overthrown dictatorships, which led to a wave of protests in Libya, Yemen,
Bahrain and Syria. At one point in the journal, bin Laden condemned
Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the deadly protest in Yemen which showed graphic
images. He argued that a warning should have been given to prevent children
from viewing them (Batrawy, 2017). However, the Qatari-backed channel is also
praised for “working on toppling regimes” and for “carrying the banner of the
revolution” (Batrawy, 2017).


Bin Laden was cautious by the
timing of the Arab Uprisings, believing that a measured approach would assist
to thwart the back-fire of a counter-revolution as dictators were willing to
hold onto power at any cost. He argues that he’s, “upset by the timing of the
revolutions. We told them to slow down” (Batrawy, 2017). Yet, this is not
indicating on which countries he is talking about. On Libya, bin Laden believed
that the uprisings “has opened the door for jihadists… this is why Gaddafi and
his son say that the extremists will come from the sea, which will be an area
of operation for al-Qaeda” (Batrawy, 2017). On the other hand, he was wary of
making his support for Islamists in Libya public, in case America inject their
influence there once Gaddafi is removed from power. Furthermore, Yemen is a
primary focus of the journal entries. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is the most
active in the world and the journal claims that the group was arranging the
assassination of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh (Batrawy, 2017).


Additionally, during the period
of the Arab Uprisings, a new political platform was established, therefore
causing bin Laden to call on Arab disciples to capitalise on the uprisings as a
reason to overthrow their “unjust and despotic” governments (Nasrawi, 2016). He
argued that “it is a great sin and a gross act of ignorance to let this
opportunity which the nation Muslims has been (a)waiting for decades to slip
away,” (Nasrawi, 2016) – bin Laden urged his followers. In today’s world, with
the democratic hindrances after the Arab Uprisings, the emergence of ISIS,
which begun from al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda’s franchises across the Middle East are
continuing to fulfil bin Laden’s prophecy. This brings forward a question
asking whether the descent into chaos of religious radicalism was truly bin
Laden’s prophecy and ambition or was it simply a piece of his legacy? (Nasrawi,
2016). For example, soon after bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda released a statement
which vowed that “the soldiers of Islam” would continue his path “tirelessly
and without desperation… Sheikh Osama did not build an organisation that will
die with his death and leave with his departure” (Nasrawi, 2016). Even
President Obama acknowledged that despite the death of bin Laden, the war
against al-Qaeda is still ongoing.


As I have mentioned beforehand,
the CIA has released a series of documents, images, and computer files obtained
during the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 2nd, 2011. These
documents will give us a deeper insight into bin Laden’s thought process, and
the way he conducted the operations of al-Qaeda behind the scenes. The first
article shows bin Laden’s international network. During the final months of his
life, bin Laden was communicating with his subordinates around the world.
Recovered memos suggest that various agencies and lieutenants helped bin Laden
shape his empire of terror (Joscelyn, 2017). For example, groups such as
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and
Shabaab in Somalia, often took and received bin Laden’s direction (Joscelyn,
2017). Nonetheless, bin Laden was up to date with contemporary events in
international relations and reviewed America’s strategy to the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. For example, one of his devotees translated sections of
Bob Woodward’s 2010 book, ‘Obama’s Wars’, so that he could comprehend the Obama
administration’s approach for those conflicts (Joscelyn, 2017).


Furthermore, the files specify
new details with regards to al-Qaeda’s surprise relationship with Iran. There
is a 19-page document which covers a senior jihadist’s evaluation of the
group’s alliance with Iran (Joscelyn, 2017). The author explains that Iran
offered some “Saudi brothers” in al-Qaeda “everything they needed,” including
“money arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for
striking interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf” (Joscelyn, 2017). It is quite
apparent why al-Qaeda and Iran had a firm relationship because they both shared
the same enemies in Saudi Arabia and the United States. However, bin Laden was
contemplating whether to cut off ties with Iran over their influence in the
Middle East which he viewed as distressing. Yet, he realised the consequences
if he threatened Iran (Joscelyn, 2017). Therefore, in a letter, bin Laden
described Iran as al-Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and
communication” (Joscelyn, 2017).


Overall, Osama bin Laden was a
very influential character in the Muslim world and in the construction of the
Western foreign policy, particularly after the 9/11 attacks. However, his
legacy revived other jihadi groups as they fight against the Western ideology
and restore the caliphate and therefore also restore the Islamic state. Yet,
according to Dr Sajjan Gohel of the Asia Pacific Foundation, “bin Laden’s death
did leave a legacy but has been usurped by ISIS who have taken over and built
on his goals for creating a transnational terrorist project” (Gardner, 2016).
Moreover, it is possible to argue that the two decades of bin Laden’s era
reflects the violent ideology of ISIS today. For example, both groups have
embraced a narrow-minded, intolerant account of Islam, accusing anyone – even
other Sunni Muslims – as apostates if they do not have the same common goals
and beliefs (Gardner, 2016). From a western perspective, the global effort
remains to find a solution to overthrow Islamic extremism. But, the absence of
such a captivating figure as bin Laden makes it “highly unlikely that such a
crucial one-off moment as his death 7 years go will ever be repeated” (Gardner,











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