The Second Death Of Osama Bin Laden

Editorial: This year's “Arab spring” was the death knell for Osama Bin Laden's ideology of international jihad. Still, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to restrictions on civil liberties in Europe and the United States, his legacy l

The Second Death Of Osama Bin Laden

The timing could not have been better. The man who embodied international jihad for so long died just as the "Arab spring" delivered a serious blow to this totalitarian fantasy.

Osama bin Laden's political demise began when Arab peoples rose in the name of democracy and not in the Islamist caliphate envisioned by Al Qaeda.

What U.S. President Barack Obama announced May 1, when he reported that American commandos in Pakistan had killed the Al Qaeda founder, was in many ways Bin Laden's second death.

Politically speaking, the first end for the Saudi dissident occurred when protestors in Tunis and Cairo started brandishing their revolutionary banners. They carried no message of anti-Western hatred, no threat towards "crusaders, Jews," or towards America – Bin Laden's usual targets. What Arab protestors around the world called for instead was freedom and democracy, values the jihadist leader deeply loathed.

In the Arab world, at least, bin Laden had already lost the battle – quite simply because the current uprising is not carried in the name of the Islamism so dear to the Al Qaeda leader. Bin Laden's vision called for the establishment of an Islamist caliphate that would somehow solve all the problems facing Muslim countries, maybe even the entire world.

Bin Laden died just as the ability of Islamic terrorist groups to mobilize and train their fighters was waning. This is not to say there will be no more terrorist attacks in the world. The death of Bin Laden will not put an end to the killings and kidnappings carried out by Al Qaeda's North African affiliates. The recent bombing in Morocco is an unfortunate case in point.

The cult of violence in its most ferocious form is not the only thing that Bin Laden leaves behind. It is not overstating the case to say he marked the beginning of the 21st century – both profoundly and tragically, shaping the world's strategic landscape.

Convinced that it should wage war in response to the 9/11 attacks, the United States is still stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. These interventions have not only had huge military and economic costs, they have also durably tarnished America's image in the Arab and Muslim world. Even if Present Obama can benefit from Bin Laden's death at home, the Afghan mess is far from over for him.

Al Qaeda also proved that a small group of people could successfully organize large scale murder. Had Bin Laden been able to kill 3 million people in New York City instead of 3,000, by unleashing a chemical or biological weapon, he would most certainly have done so.

The possibility of such an attack has made the fight against terrorism a top priority for most countries. In both the United States and Europe, the obsession for security has led governments to restrict certain civil liberties. Osama bin Laden's horrific heritage lingers on.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Jaques Delarue

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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