But in the final years of his life, bin Laden’s “charisma” was reaching smaller and smaller fractions of young Muslims, turned off by the group’s bloodthirsty reputation and looking for solutions to their nations’ problems that didn’t involve restoring a medieval Islamic caliphate.
“The fact is, al-Qaeda had already been effectively marginalized within the mainstream of the Arab world long before bin Laden died,” writes Marc Lynch, a political science professor at George Washington University. “His death removes the only al-Qaeda figure still able to speak effectively to that Arab mainstream, and marks the end of an era of Arab politics which had already largely faded away. Al-Qaeda's marginalization in Arab politics has been developing for a long time, and will only be further advanced by bin Laden's death.”
The numbers back Lynch up. A Pew poll released yesterday, and conducted before bin Laden's death, shows that Muslim "confidence that Osama bin Laden will do the right thing in international affairs" has plummeted in the past eight years. In Indonesia, the number of supporters fell from 59 percent to 26 percent. In the Palestinian territories, the number fell from 72 percent to 34 percent, while in Pakistan it dropped from 46 percent to 18.
Bin Laden's actual relevance to recent global terrorist operations was limited. Like-minded terrorist groups – the so-called Al Qaeda franchises in Iraq, in Yemen, in North Africa and elsewhere – had put out shingles of their own. They use the Al Qaeda name and share bin Laden’s austere and chauvinistic salafy brand of Islam, but are free agents.