Bin Laden Death Holds More Symbolic Value than Practical Implications, UWG Professor Says

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces in Pakistan has more symbolic value than practical implications, says Greg Dixon, assistant professor of political science at the University of West Georgia.

The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces in Pakistan has more symbolic value than practical implications, says Greg Dixon, assistant professor of political science at the University of West Georgia. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden has been the most wanted man in the world and the personification of evil in the minds of many.

“While it’s a big deal, it will have fairly minimal impact on what al-Qaida is doing around the world,” said Dixon, who teaches courses in international relations, American foreign policy and international conflict management.

“In the short run, there may be an uptick in al-Qaida activity in terms of revenge: with them trying to counter the symbolism of his death and with them saying ‘we are not going away,’ ” Dixon said.

“A lot of Americans are very happy to say ‘We got him.’ In the Muslim world a lot of people have not supported him and are probably glad to see him go.”

The United States has been very good at killing al-Qaida’s leadership since the attacks. As a result, the terrorist organization has grown “very diverse and its leadership is widely dispersed as well,” he said.

“I think we are no more and no less secure in the long run,” Dixon said. “Al-Qaida has long-since dispersed.”

The implications for Pakistan remain to be seen because of the strained relations that already exist between it and the United States.

“He was living in a fairly large city. How much did the Pakistani government and its intelligence services know and what role did they play is a big issue,” Dixon said.

Since the start of 2011, the democratic uprisings that have cascaded through the Middle East “are a repudiation of al-Qaida,” Dixon said.

Those uprisings “show that peaceful protests by individual folks going out into the streets beats violence to get the kind of change that people want. In the Arab world it’s a repudiation of al-Qaida’s message of violence first, change later.”

Within hours of President Barack Obama’s announcement that bin Laden had been killed, conspiracy theories began. Among them, that the announcement was timed to boost the president’s sagging popularity.

“If the president made the announcement for political value, “he would have waited until it was closer to the election,” Dixon said. 

Such theories “make for a good Saturday night movie on the Sci-Fi channel.”