It might have been wiser for President Obama not to have announced the death of Osama Bin Laden so triumphantly but to have let the news leak out from “official sources” in the Pentagon, or from the Pakistan government, or even from Al Qaeda itself. As a martyr, Bin Laden might become more influential than he was in life. He might re-ignite Al Qaeda-friendly groups that are dotted all round the Middle East and in Africa, particularly across North Africa—including, it might be added, the eastern rebels centred in Benghazi. If the latter win in the present civil war against Gaddafi, then Western politicians might wish that they hadn’t supported the anti-Gaddafi tribes.
In his most dangerous period, Osama Bin Laden was one of the middle-class, educated sons of the rich and numerous semi-royals of Saudi Arabia who turned to religion for their ambitions instead of secular careers. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists were of similar ilk. It is almost always the case throughout history that those who protest against existing governmental regimes—their own or foreign ones—and whether inspired with political or religious ideologies—are not from the poor but from a frustrated, educated middle class who have, nevertheless, a great degree of social confidence built into them from their earliest childhood and feel equal to those whom they oppose.
This has always been a danger to governments or other power establishments and this is why they always keep their eyes open to the highly talented of the younger generation and try to select them as efficiently as they can. Most of them can be safely absorbed into the existing power and career structures, but there’s always the danger of a surplus arising. And this can occur in fast-developing and already-developed countries as much as in those countries where their governments or their people want to develop but are, for one reason or another, not succeeding.
If anything, this applies to the advanced countries even more so than the others. We are rapidly moving into an economy which is more science-dependent than ever before. Now that science has produced the Internet there is more scope for self-taught specialists than ever before. Already, individual hackers have been able to penetrate defence and banking systems. Some of those systems could be brought down completely in the future. Now that the four nucleotide components of DNA can be bought off the shelf, there is no reason why a self-taught geneticist or a group couldn’t assemble a dangerous virus (which has little more than a handful of genes) that could kill an uncountable number of people or animals.
So what’s the answer? Ever more vigilant governments? Unlikely. Totalitarian regimes have never lasted long. What it does mean is a far better selection of talent than has existed heretofore. But when is talent discernible? At graduate level? Puberty? Childhood? We now know that talent—whether potentially conformist or rebellious—arises in the earliest months of a child’s life. The quicker that talent can be identified, the better it will be both for the child and society, and the quicker it can be befriended and absorbed. Governments had better shift a great more resources into nursery and parental education than they’re doing now. Failing that—which is likely, given their parlous finances—then they had better deregulate the highly protective teaching unions and allow private education to spread into a far wider market that exists now only for a small minority of children.