The ubiquity of bin Laden’s image in the wake of the attacks suggested that he might become a kind of jihadist Che Guevara, destined to live on long after his death on an endless stream of T-shirts and tchotchkes. (Of course, he’d first have to be killed to test that theory.) But there’s another connection: Like the Saudi jihadist, the Argentinian revolutionary had mistakenly assumed that simply demonstrating through violence that a hated enemy was not invulnerable would automatically rouse the masses to rebellion.
While the 9/11 attacks made bin Laden the focus of American fear and rage, his “global jihad” failed to either eclipse or enlist its more localized Islamist rivals. Hamas confined itself to striking Israeli targets, and to competing with Fatah for local political power at the ballot box and on the streets; Hizballah continued to lock horns with Israel on its northern border and to engage in the complexities of Lebanese politics; Iran actually helped the initial U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, although it soon resumed its struggle with Washington and its allies for influence throughout the Middle East. Al-Qaeda may still figure in U.S. debate, but it no longer garners any attention in the Arab political conversation — prompting it to issue increasingly hysterical denunciations of Hamas, Hizballah and Iran.