Gil Troy: Lessons from Osama bin Laden's Biography

Roundup: Historians' Take

The writer is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com

As President Barack Obama sought the right tone in announcing Osama bin Laden’s death – not too triumphal, not too cerebral – Americans took to the streets, celebrating the news. They were frustrated, having waited nearly a decade to eliminate Al-Qaida’s terrorist mastermind. Still, Osama must have suffered, fleeing from cave to cave. In many ways, that punishment paralleled the punishment he tried to impose on the civilized world. The terrorist wants millions to feel perpetually harassed, everywhere targeted, constantly endangered. The man constantly on the lam is perpetually harassed, everywhere targeted, constantly endangered.

Osama bin Laden fancied himself the preacher-terrorist, a jihadist firing off religious fatwas one minute and RPGs the next. He emerged unwittingly as a teacher-terrorist. His blood-splattered biography taught the world important lessons, including:

We can’t escape history. Too many Americans awoke the morning of September 11, thinking we were enjoying a holiday from history. The Soviet Union had fallen. The Dow Jones was rising. Electronic gadgets were proliferating. Serious thinkers and superficial commentators were feeding this notion that Americans had transcended history – using “history” as a euphemism for troubles....

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