For someone who has been on the run for nearly 10 years, Osama Bin Laden’s end came swiftly. It took the U.S. Navy Seals just 40 minutes to eliminate America’s most wanted man, who was hiding, not in the treacherous mountains on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border — as it was widely believed — but in a sprawling mansion just miles away from Islamabad. Within hours, his body was buried, somewhere in the North Arabian Sea.
Not surprisingly, there was one common thread in the way most people around the world reacted to Bin Laden’s death: relief. In a nutshell, the Al Qaeda founder was responsible for the death of several thousand innocent people, disrupted the way of life of many more and worked hard to widen religious and civilizational fault lines, real and imagined.
Even though Al Qaeda has largely been ineffective for several years now, in the face of a decade-long American assault, the fact that the man who masterminded the most destructive terrorist attack on the U.S. soil continued to evade the law was troubling, to say the least.
On late Sunday, as President Obama announced the most important victory against terrorism under his watch, thousands poured out on to streets in Washington and New York to cheer the news. They were relieved by the fact that justice was finally served to the chief perpetrator of 9/11 attacks. No doubt, as it has been pointed out by many, Bin Laden’s death brings a much-needed closure for the family members of victims on that day.
The U.S. military and various U.S. intelligence agencies, which have been under attack for much of this past decade, are relieved that, at long last, they have brought to a successful end an extraordinarily intense and difficult manhunt conducted in a far-flung and hostile land. For Obama, whose anti-terror strategy was second-guessed and criticized by many, it was a moment of vindication.
The news of Bin Laden’s fall was met with a sense of respite in other western countries and those nations that were on his enemies’ list. Their citizens will no longer have to put up with his threat to blow up their cities and buildings.
Like most of the rest of the world, there is a sense of relief in much of the Arab and Muslim world, the region he claimed to represent. People there are relieved that a huge figurative monkey is off their back.
For 10 years since 9/11, Muslims everywhere, not just in the Islamic world — both young and old, men and women — were having to answer questions about the atrocities committed by Bin Laden in the name of their faith.
It was despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of them never subscribed to his heinous ideology, nor condoned any of the genocidal acts that he ordered. The Saudi-born Bin Laden had hijacked their faith, with them on board.
Even though the most spectacular crime Bin Laden committed was in the United States, his influence has been most vicious in Arab and Islamic countries. Through his daring acts and provocative speeches, Bin Laden had brainwashed a very small, but vocal section of population in those societies.
Now Bin Laden’s demise presents an opportunity for the United States, as well as governments of the Arab and Islamic world, to wean away those people from the destructive path he had lead them on.
Of course, the death of Bin Laden will not end terrorism. Life, unfortunately, is more complicated than Hollywood thrillers, where normally the story ends with the elimination of the dreaded villain.
The United States and its allies must prevent any attempts by smaller, localized groups inspired by Al Qaeda to fill the void. There are many such terror organizations in Pakistan, Iraq and other places that might now launch attacks on U.S. interests in different parts of the world.
As for Al Qaeda, it is hard to predict whether it will survive the death of the founder. Even though it ceased being an organization with a centralized authority long time ago, Bin Laden was synonymous with Al Qaeda. In the absence of a leader of his stature, the organization might not have the capability to cause terror attacks in the scale it did in the past. The United States should continue to pursue the remnants of Al Qaeda leadership.
America should also continue to reach out to the Muslim world, as it has been doing since 9/11. On their part, it is time that Arab and Muslim societies stopped viewing the United States through the same, old prism. They should reflect now what exactly have they got for decades of Anti-Americanism.
What will make the job of the United States and its allies easier is that whatever small support Bin Laden had in the Arab and Muslim world has already been dwindling. As events of the last few months clearly showed, like young men and women everywhere else, the main concerns of today’s Arab youth is jobs, economy and bread-and-butter issues.
One hopes that the death of the Al Qaeda leader would mark the end of Ladenism and the beginning of an era in the Arab and Middle East politics when governance and economic and social well being are going to be the major issues.