Bin Laden's Death Forces Examination Of America's Relationship With Muslim World
The death of Osama bin Laden is bringing closure to family and friends of those lost on 9/11 as well as a collective outpouring of celebration and relief from many Americans.
At the same time, representatives of the (very diverse) Muslim world want to know if the U.S. is finally ready to decouple its War on Terror from widespread animosity toward Islam.
“Mr. Obama said, ‘Justice has been achieved,’ ” said Bilal al-Baroudi, a Sunni Muslim preacher in the conservative Lebanese city of Tripoli. “Let’s see how.”
Between the perception that American intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya is motivated by anti-Muslim ambitions and the fierce hatred displayed in opposition to the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" (among countless other, smaller acts of domestic aggression), a great deal of reconciliation is needed.
The New York Times published a piece Monday examining bin Laden's waning influence in the Arab World since 9/11, but it's clear that al Qaeda's late spiritual leader has maintained a certain presence that speaks to the underlying issues of the divide:
"Marwan Shehadeh, an Islamist activist and researcher in Jordan, argued that Arabs would see Bin Laden’s death through the lens of their antipathy to American policies without regard to Bin Laden’s own views. 'Osama Bin Laden is a popular, charismatic figure for many people, even among the moderates,' Mr. Shehadeh said. 'They consider Osama Bin Laden to be a model for fighting American hegemony. And people see him as a revolutionary struggler, whether they agree with the ideologies that he carries or not.'"
The flip side to the powerful anti-imperial sentiment described by Shehadeh is the domestic xenophobia and racism against Muslims that kicked into high gear after the World Trade Center towers fell. Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles said he has hope for a better future, both in the U.S. and around the world:
“[His death] represents the beginning of the end of a dark era in U.S.-Muslim relations," Al-Marayati said. “And hopefully it ushers in a new era of hope and democracy in dealing with the grievances of Muslim people throughout the world without resorting to political violence. Bin Laden has been sitting on an empty throne of self-righteousness while sending young people to their deaths.”
A number of Muslim communities across the country celebrated like the one in Buffalo, New York:
The local Muslim community is celebrating the news that Osama bin Laden is dead.
Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the local Muslim Public Affairs Council. Qazi said the reaction he is hearing in the Muslim community is "absolute delight."
He said bin Laden is one person every single Muslim wanted captured dead or alive because he was responsible for the murder of so many people worldwide. Qazi said his death deals a serious blow to al-Qaeda recruitment efforts.
"The fact remains that he still was an inspiration for the type of people who were following him and, therefore, it was absolutely important to eliminate him because that inspiration had to be totally dismantled and destroyed," said Qazi.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and some religious leaders in Lebanon, Pakistan and Palestine condemned the American killing of bin Laden for different reasons. The Brotherhood said it would have preferred a fair trial to an assassination while some clerics said bin Laden's burial at sea was a breach of Islamic tradition.
"The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don't think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration," said Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical cleric in Lebanon. Another Muslim scholar said bin Laden was put out to sea because the U.S. didn't want to see "his grave become a shrine."
The fact that bin Laden was discovered to be hiding comfortably in Abbottabad, Pakistan will not do anything to help already strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. However, it is unclear exactly what information the Pakistani government had and what its relationship with the American operation was.
A mix of optimism and cynicism about the tangled relationship between the U.S., the West, the Arab world, the Muslim world, extremists and moderates flooded the discourse Monday. We don't yet know whether bin Laden's death will be a turning point toward reforming hostile relationships or a reinforcement of existing beliefs and attitudes.
Muslims currrently make up less than one percent of the U.S. population, but their numbers are expected to more than double by 2030.