The Muslim World Sounds off on Bin Laden’s Demise

Usama Bin Laden, a mass killer, passed virtually unmourned from the scene. There were no demonstrations against his killing in the Arab world. A few Taliban protested in Quetta and Afghanistan, as one might expect. Mostly Muslims denounced him and expressed relief he was gone.

Bin Laden carried out 9/11 to begin a big political and social movement. Nearly 10 years later the vast majority of Muslims did not trust him and many seem glad to see the back of him, while large numbers had decided that he was irrelevant to their lives.

President Asaf Ali Zardari, whose own wife (Benazir Bhutto) was killed in a terrorist attack, said in an op-ed in WaPo on Monday,

“Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing”. . .”Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation…The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as as it is America’s.”

Zardari belongs to the Shiite branch of Islam, which was targeted by Bin Laden. Pakistan itself has seen larges numbers of bombings since summer, 2007.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, seemed mainly concerned about appearances, telling US Special Representative Marc Grossman and UK Prime Minister David Cameron that “positive messaging about Pakistan rather than finger pointing was the need of the hour”…

Many observers, including Cameron himself, have questioned how Bin Laden could be living in a large compound in the military garrison town of Abbotabad without the knowledge of Pakistani officers and security officials.

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai said that Usama Bin Laden had massacred thousands of Afghans in the late 1990s, even before 9/11. He warned the Taliban to take a lesson from the terrorist leader’s demise and to accept peace negotiations. He said he was vindicated in his position that ‘the fight against terrorism is not in Afghanistan…’ adding, ‘I want to call on NATO that the fight against terrorism is not in our homes or villages, nor is it in searching our homes. They should stop that.’

Outgoing Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri , a Sunni Arab politician backed externally by Saudi Arabia, exulted in Bin Laden’s demise, saying that “The harm inflicted by Osama bin Laden to the image of Islam and Arab causes is equal to the harm inflicted by the enemies to the causes of Muslims everywhere… [Bin Laden] represented over two consecutive decades a black mark in this history and who introduced the culture of killing, terrorism, destruction and sabotage to minds of thousands of youths…” The recent Pew Charitable Trust shows that only 1 percent of Lebanese Muslims say they trust Bin Laden.

Jordan hoped that the death of Bin Laden would end the smearing of Islam as a matrix for terrorism. King Abdallah II of Jordan had said of al-Qaeda, “They are religious totalitarians, in a long line of extremists of various faiths who seek power by intimidation, violence, and thuggery.” Polling shows that most Jordanians turned against Bin Laden and al-Qaeda with the fall, 2005, bombings of hotels in Amman by “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.”

The Turkish foreign ministry called Bin Laden’s death a significant step forward in the fight against terrorism. Turkey, pop. 72 million, is a largely Muslim country where only 3 percent of the people trust Bin Laden to do the right thing.

The Yemeni Embassy in Washington DC said, “The Government of the Republic of Yemen welcomes the elimination of Usama Bin Ladin, the founding father of the Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network. The successful operation, spearheaded by U.S. forces, marks a monumental milestone in the ongoing global war against terrorism.” Yemen has fought its own small branch of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (some 300 men) in the rugged southeast of the country, and has played up that threat to seek US aid monies.

Both the Yemeni and the Saudi governments welcomed Bin Laden’s demise as possibly signalling the end of an age of terror. Palestinians were divided, with PM Salam Fayyad of the secular PLO exulting that a dark age had ended, while the Muslim fundamentalist organization Hamas protested Bin Laden’s killing and lionized him.

The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Sunni Muslim Kurd, said, “I’m delighted to see the end of Bin Laden.” A self-announced al-Qaeda franchise killed thousands in terrorist operations in Iraq in the aftermath of Bush’s invasion of the country and destruction of its security apparatuses.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said that Bin Laden was not representative of Islam and they condemned his methods. On the other hand, they objected to his having been killed rather than captured for trial.

Both the Brotherhood and Iran said that with Bin Laden’s death, the US had no reason to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan and should withdraw. The Iranian Shiite regime despises al-Qaeda, and the feeling is mutual, but is wary of the US military presence on either side of it.

Bin Laden’s passing is, then, an anti-climax. A nothing. Terrorism is just garbage, and produces nothing but garbage. It has mostly been taken out, with nothing but the stench hanging in the air. Most Muslims have moved on. So should Americans.

In fact, Americans should mark these days as an opportunity to recover our lost civil liberties.

Aljazeera English has video on the reaction of Arab Americans:

38 Responses

  1. Do you not feel focussing on official government responses when you know all too well how poorly they reflect public opinion might not be the best way to look at things. This doesn’t mean that we need to see mass demonstrations mourning him but the melancholy coverage (at times, at least initially) of Jazeera Arabic and Al-Arabiyya, not to mention the latest editorial of Abd Al-Bari Atwan in the influential (far closer to public opinion than any the officials cited above, wouldn’t you agree?) offer a more nuanced picture of how such a figure can come to take on an anti-imperial aura and become a symbol of resistance, even if his doctine/practice had little resonance and traction.

    • It would be interesting to read Abd Al-Bari Atwan’s piece. Can you post a link?

  2. Prof. Cole,

    You neglected to mention the remarks made by the leader of Hamas declaring Bin Laden “a Muslim holy warrior” and condemning his assassination as “American oppression.” What are your thoughts on this?

  3. To clarify: I meant that you neglected the specific remarks made by the Hamas leader that this was American oppression. If you like I will repost to make it clearer (and myself appear more articulate).

    • I can’t speak for Hamas and I don’t like them, but they are wary of assasinations as they have ben carried out against them by Israel for all these years. Extra judicial killings , that is what they are called. If you wait a little bit, you will know more about the circumstances. Today, it is in NY Times that he was unarmed and put up no resistance contray to earlier reports. Probably as a pro Israeli ideologue you want to use any news you get your hands on to bash Hamas. My point is that people should wait until the dust settles and they can see beyond the spin.

      • Andrew doesn’t need to work very hard to bash Hamas. The head of Hamas refers to the murderer of thousands of people as a “holy warrior.” When Hamas equates the killing of a mass murderer to general actions of the US that could be defined as “oppression” they do a disservice to anyone who opposes oppression in all its forms. And perhaps they provide a moment of pause for people who think they support them. Or at least some pople who think they support them.

        The reports do say Osama was unarmed. They do not say he put up no resistance. It is reasonable to assume that given Osama’s history the SEALS in his compound would be in a very wary state. since they valued their own lives I think we can presume that any movement that was not clearly aimed toward surrender would be interpreted as potentially violent. Perhaps Osama wanted it that way. who knows?

  4. Professor Cole:

    Why did you omit the reactions of the two Palestinian factions? They are rather telling.

    The PA declared that, “Getting rid of bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide but what counts is to overcome the discourse and the methods — the violent methods — that were created and encouraged by bin Laden and others in the world.”

    On the other hand, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh declared that, “We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”

    If Obama intends to announce a new peace initiative in connection with Bibi’s upcoming visit, the PA has done itself no harm while Hamas has done itself no good.

  5. “Terrorism is just garbage, and produces nothing but garbage. It has mostly been taken out, with nothing but the stench hanging in the air. Most Muslims have moved on. So should Americans”.

    This is a real truth. The word itself is so loaded, and it has been so manipulated by those who would….well, no need to get exercised on that and everything that has followed from it.

    911 could have been handled as an extreme case of criminality, without the over-reaction of the GWOT, domestically and overseas. And for a whole lot less in terms of $ and everything else. Similarly, we could have avoided allowing “terrorists” like Hamas from being perceived as threats to anyone other than our 51rst state (which gets back to the political nature and use of the term). What’s left is stray, spontaneous, and ultimately effete anarchism, if we only allow it be what really is.

    But what we have collectively done is allow ourselves, through the word, to be manipulated for the agenda others, legal and illegal. All this for a Word.

    • Travis, to have treated the September 11 attacks on the U.S. as “criminality” (equivalent to armed robbery of a Seven-Eleven convenience store), rather than the act of war that they actually were, would be to pervert the definitions of both “criminality” and “war.” I’m glad we have leaders with a higher intellectual level than that.

      • Wasn’t it a criminal matter when Tim McVeigh killed hundreds?

        Oh, but that was not for a “foreign” ideology. A patriot can be a criminal, but not truly alien.

        • An “act of war” against a country can only be committed by a foreign entity, in the case of September 11, Al Qaida. Tim McVeigh committed terrorism, but as it was internal, it cannot be defined as an “act of war.”

      • Treating the illegal ( e.g. criminal) terrorist attacks on 9/11 as acts of war perverted more than the definitions of two words. Because of that mistake the US is now a police state that has bankrupted itself with wars that ultimately accomplished nothing. You cannot have a literal War on Terror, it’s a swell slogan nothing more.

        We didn’t bomb Alabama after the Oklahoma bombing. We don’t target Cathedrals with cruise missiles when someone bombs an abortion clinic. We dealt with the criminals responsible, just like all the other crazies and predators that strike against society.

        • Again, the fatal flaw in your argument is treating the Septemger 11 attacks against the U.S. as “criminal” acts. They were not. They were acts of war.

      • Acts of war were committed by sovereign States. Currently no sovereign State commits an act of war or occupies another State. Instead we have Police Actions, Military Interventions or Peacekeeping Missions. The phrase is used as a rhetorical device to describe something extremely objectionable. We have a War on Drugs or a War on Crime, but inflating a War on Terror into a decade of fear-mongering makes me wonder how my species has survived this long.

    • Really interesting responses, given my point was clearly about the power of semantics, and these tend to validate it in a oblique way.

      The attacks on the WTC in 93 and on the Cole were overt acts of war, in retrospect unwisely diminished by Clinton treating them as “mere” crimes. But treating them as acts of war in fact, and acts of a mere archcriminal to the public (think of The Joker, in the last Batman installment), would have helped keep the phenomena of “terrorism” in perspective. Assuming that was the wish of a given politician.

      Letting the words get out of hand potentially leads to a guy like OBL becommming more than he rationally deserves to be. Whatever the facts, if the rhetoric gains too much traction in whatever unforeeable way, in a hundred years what has passed over the past ten years could become something quite different.

  6. Well, you know that’s not going to happen. The military-industrial complex needs an enemy. So does the right, which feeds on paranoia and fear of The Other. Obama needs to prove his toughness and virility to the Daddy-craving electorate. The Existential Threat of Global Terror is just too necessary to too many powerful people to declare it a minor problem.

    But you knew that.

  7. This is off topic but it is in line with the final words in Juan’s post today where he suggests that we work to rebuild our democracy here at home.

    This is a 2008 book reviewer by Chalmers Johnson, since deceased, on the 2998 book “Democracy, Inc.” Back a few years ago the corporate takeover of America and its consequences were in some cases an act of speculation. Now it is clear with the right wing attack on our government and the democratic party going along for campaign contributions.

    The book has a lot to say about the war on terror.

    After the 2010 victory by the right wing, at 3 AM I awoke and read a couple of pages from the book. In one physical page the predictions of the 2010 election were described. The book was written in 2007 and published in 2008, well before the election of 2010. He said that the luke warm response of democrats after the 2006 victory in the US House showed how they would react. He said that even if the democrats won both houses and the presidency, for the first time since Jimmy Carter, it would not make a difference. The forces of the media, corporations, military, etc. were so strong, and the democrats already showed that they were mostly part of the status quo, those forces would overwhelm the results of a possible 2008 victory. There you have it – a prediction of the outcomes of the 2010 election. The big question is whether or not we will ever regain our democracy.

    Here is th link

    link to fanonite.org

  8. This post mounts an argument for Bin Laden’s insignificance in terms of de facto influence in country after country. Why then all the hoopla? What is being expressed with all this bloodlust?

    • It demonstrates that Americans are clueless and indifferent about what people think outside of America.

    • This isn’t the 19th century, and states are not the only actors that are relevant to security anymore.

      Didn’t we learn that on September 11?

    • Because Bin Laden did not attack “country after country.” He attacked the U.S. It is not “bloodlust” to feel a sense of achievement in the demise of one who committed an act of war against one’s country.

  9. If I was trying to hide from the whole world, I’d try to hide in the last place they’d look. In this case, Abbotabad would seem to fit that description. Over the years OBL had relations with several intellegence agencies, and likely retains contacts in more than one of them. The location of his hiding place and contacts within intellegence agencies does equate to proof that Pakistan “helped” OBL.

  10. You provide welcome clarity by including the context and/or ideology of the the speakers. When I read your columns, I rarely have to wonder why the speaker said whatever they said. You include that important contextual information. Thank you.

  11. “nothing like putting bullets in someone’s skull and dumping their corpse into an ocean to rejuvenate that can-do American sense of optimism,” Glenn Greenwald expressing for many our sentiments of the present Media Circus.

    How disgusting & foul the whole business, including Our Foreign Policy that allowed for US Base & Barracks into Saudi Arabi in the first place, and, of course, due credit to Our Stench-filled Foreign Policy that overseas(for decades now)our Open-air Prison Settlements of Gitmo, Gaza & oh how many more, scattered upon Weary Mother Earth.
    I think I hear Her wretching.

    • The wretching you hear comes from those who have little understanding of foreign affairs and national security issues. That the United States actually has contributed to stability and a forward-looking foreign policy eludes such people because they are too busy wretching as a result of their own ideological blindlness.

      • Mr. Barkell, you sound just like the apologists for the British Empire before its demise. Oblivious to the coming reality, yet haughtily claiming the mantle of superior knowledge and morality. It’s apparent who the ideologue is here.

        • Right, Chip, the ideologue is you. You will never understand how the U.S. has contributed to world stability because you are to beholden to your ideological position.

  12. Dr. Cole,

    My parents were watching Bill O’Reilly last night. He said that there was virtual “silence from the Muslim World” regarding Osama bin Laden’s death, which he went on to suggest condemns them as, if not complicit, sympathetic. He said that this is evidence that the US has a “Muslim problem” in the world today. I was saddened by that, knowing millions of Americans are going to hear those ridiculous comments.

  13. The statement by Hamas is so disingenuous, given the bloodshed between al Qaeda followers and Hamas security personnel in the Gaza territory.

  14. There has been “news” on a number of websites saying the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt called OBL “sheikh” and provide the following link as the source.

    link to ikhwanonline.com

    However, I cannot translate Arabic and I could not find this reference on the English MB site. I am wondering if this is true, and would it be uncommon for such a title to be used when referring to OBL? Thank You.

  15. In the folk cultures of the Muslim world(especially in South and Central Asia)the narratives about the alleged bloody assassination of Osama Ben-Laden by Americans will produce the cultural and political ingredients for the construction of the equivalent of a MUSLIM CHRIST–a martyr who gave his life resisting and fighting the kofar. There will be shrines all over the region housing his cultural effects. Cemeteries in Qandahar already contain shrines housing such representations assembled from memories and texts about al-Qaeda and Taleban martyrs. A “nativistic movement” is underway in which these shrines will serve important symbolic functions.

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