No New Bin Ladens

The title is both a prediction and a plea.  The prediction is that Bin Laden is sui generis and none of his successors will combine in one person the man’s organizational skills, media savvy, and personal charisma.

The plea is that experts on al-Qaeda resist the temptation to answer the media’s question, “Who Will Be the Next Bin Laden?”  Putting forward a name risks misunderstanding Bin Laden’s unique role and capabilities, which are not likely to be replicated in a single person.  It also risks elevating the global stature of others who might otherwise fail to win the international following that Bin Laden won.

Note that answering this question is different from answering the perfectly innocuous question, “Who Will Run al-Qaeda?”  That’s a question about an organizational role, not a person.  Leah has provided the best answer so far.

Readers may wonder why I am harping on experts and not the media. It is because the media relies on experts, who should resist the temptation to feed fear for the sake of fortune or advance a name to advance their own career.  In recent years, both impulses have led to a strange symbiosis in which AQ ideologues and Western experts feed off one another’s attention.  Watching the Watchers indeed.

Lest anyone think me holier than thou, I confess I am as susceptible to this temptation as the rest and I have not always resisted it well.  But I do try, particularly in this time of peril for AQ.  I don’t want to give the organization an assist.

To end on a high note, here’s a good example of how some AQ experts are doing the right thing.  And tomorrow I promise no more righteous finger but rather a post on some new Sayf al-`Adl letters.

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