The death of Osama bin Laden delivered another symbolic blow to two interrelated concepts that have done much to bedevil the West: Islamic radicalism wedded to terrorism as its most suitable expression. The Arab Spring had already done much to discredit bin Laden's foundational ideology. Al-Qaeda had long denounced pluralism and representation as fraudulent conceits of the West. Granting power to men who presumably knew the mind of God, violence against the West and imposition of severe cultural restrictions were its only offerings to the region's restive youth. There was little room in this vision for political emancipation, diversity of opinion, or economic empowerment. From Tunisia to Yemen, the Arab masses rejected this ideology through word and deed. The Arab revolt is a denunciation of radicalism in all its hues: whether autocrats ruling in the name of modernization or Islamists pledging redemption through terror.
As the region moved beyond bin Laden's ideology, it also left behind his methods. Al-Qaeda had professed that the only means of displacing Arab despots was to unleash terror against their presumed patron--the United States. The "enemy abroad" was the focal point of its wrath. Yet the Arab masses proved that the likes of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine-el-Abidine Ben Ali can actually be overthrown through peaceful mobilization of people power. Islamist terror only offered the Arab strongmen a rationale for maintaining power, as they conveniently brandished the specter of Islamist power as a justification for their autocracy. Ironically, al-Qaeda, its ideology, and its terrorism may have prolonged the lifespan of an order it professed to despise.
In the end, the Middle East has moved beyond bin Laden. Though his death should certainly be celebrated as a triumph of painstaking efforts by the U.S. government, he can only be remembered as a discredited relic of an increasingly vanishing era.