The following is from the perspective of an American Muslim, someone who straddles 2 worlds, seemingly able to opine both sides of the argument. It’s an opinion I’d not really come across before, and thought it worth sharing. The author imparts “insider” information which helped me to understand a little better how his countrymen think. I fear we Americans often fail to accept that citizens of other cultures might have differing world views which are as valid as our own. Then again I think most people tend to see things one way…their own. That’s human nature, unfortunately. This need not be carved in stone, however, if we keep an open mind.
The trail had grown cold, but the case for justice had never gone away. Osama bin Laden had warred against the United States, he had called on every Muslim “by God’s will to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can.” He had erased the boundary in the laws of war between combatants and civilians, and he had set out the case that the age-old ailments of a deeply troubled Islamic civilization could be laid at America’s doorstep.
He and his top lieutenant and partner, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, had made sure that America would be caught in the crosshairs of a deadly civil war between their foot soldiers of terror and the Arab regimes in the saddle. The “near enemy” they dubbed the incumbents in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. The “far enemy” was the name they gave the U.S. It was halal, it was permissible, to war against the far enemy, to exploit its freedoms, in a campaign of vengeance against these regimes and the Pax Americans said to sustain them.
There was plenty of victimhood and rage in Arab and Muslim life, and this man of checkered background–Saudi citizenship, Yemeni ancestry on his father’s side, a Syrian mother–found his themes as he went along. There was his mastery of lyrical Arabic, and it played to the gullible. There was the legend on offer of the man born to wealth but giving it all up in pursuit of a holy cause. In his run, his decade if you will, Arab political and cultural life was a scorched earth–terrible, plundering regimes, disaffected and sullen populations trapped in no-man’s land, the absence of any hope of economic and political improvement. Some 300 million or so Arabs seemed cut off from history’s progress.
Bin Laden and Zawahiri had little to offer that world, but what they presented, it must be conceded, had its appeals. There were media spectaculars, attacks against American embassies and battleships and military housing compounds. There was the sheer satisfaction of seeing the mighty get their comeuppance.
From perfectly educated and otherwise normal folks in Arab and Muslim cities could be heard echoes of bin Laden’s sentiments, sly insinuations that the man was an avenger for the slights suffered by Arabs and Muslims in modern life. For a perilous moment, when Osama bin Laden held spellbound the audience of the television channel Al Jazeera, there was a rancid wind at play in Islamic lands. Even with the terror of 9/11, when soot and ruin hit American soil, there could be seen that deadly mix of moral indifference and satisfaction in Arab Muslim places. Bin Laden had sold a cult of power. When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse, he had famously opined.
But American power held steady in the Islamic world. We did not cede that vast region to the jihadists and their enablers. We were not brilliant in every campaign. We did not fully know our enemies and their cunning. We were not always at home in the tricks of the dictators and the hustlers in that vast arc of trouble in the Greater Middle East, but we held the line when it truly mattered.
In Afghanistan and Iraq we fought back, we even put on the ground–in the face of all kind of obstacles–a reasonably successful democratic experiment in Iraq. Bin Laden and his ilk (not to mention some neighboring powers) had done their best to thwart the Iraqi project, but the experiment had survived. And al Qaeda was to be rebuffed in Iraq by the very Sunnis it had presumably come to rescue. Bin Laden’s bet had failed: There would be no hasty American retreats a la Beirut and Mogadishu. We had awakened to the connection between Arab pathologies and our own security here at home.
In the decade that separates us from 9/11, the bin Laden legend dimmed. The tapes he sent were “proof of life” and little else. Arabs began to reconsider their place in the world, and that grotesque disfiguring of a religious tradition, the cult of martyrdom, lost its luster. There was no way back to the Islamic caliphate.
It was bin Laden’s deserved fate to be struck down when an entirely different Arab world was struggling to be born. The Arab Spring is a repudiation of everything Osama bin Laden preached and stood for. If al Qaeda found an appropriate burial ground, the place must be Midan al-Tahrir, Liberation Square, in Cairo. Of all Arab lands, Egypt is the biggest, the most culturally evolved polity, the one with perhaps the most acute economic and demographic crisis. This was Zawahiri’s birthplace and a special target of the jihadists–claim this realm and you will have upended the entire balance in the region.
Yet no one in Liberation Square paid heed to bin Laden and Zawahiri, no one chanted “Death to America.” They had, in their own peaceful way, settled their account with the dictator and signaled their desire for a free, modern society. The drums of anti-Americanism, steady during the Mubarak years, came to a halt.
Men and women came together to bid for a New Egypt, to reclaim their country. No gaze was fixed on the Hindu Kush guessing as to the whereabouts of the remnants of al Qaeda fighters and their wives and children. To the extent that ideologies could be dead and over with, the ideological challenge of al Qaeda is a spent force. “Affiliates” of al Qaeda will survive in Yemen and North Africa, but they will be a nuisance, a matter for police and security services.
The Arab Spring has simply overwhelmed the world of the jihadists. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, younger people–hurled into politics by the economic and political failures all around them–are attempting to create a new political framework, to see if a way could be found out of the wreckage that the authoritarian states have bequeathed them. It is a risky thing to say, but Arabs appear to have wearied of violence. I hazard to guess bin Laden’s fate was of no interest to the people in the sorrowful town of Deraa enduring the cruelty of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his death squads.
When our remarkable soldiers gave him a choice, Osama bin Laden gave them a fight. Fittingly, he was not in a cave. He had grown up in the urban world of Jeddah, and he was struck down in a perfectly urban setting, a stone’s throw from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, in odd proximity to a military academy, in a visible and large compound. He had outlived his time and use, and doubtless Pakistani intelligence was now willing to cast him adrift.
A savvy American official once observed that Pakistani’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, must have an “office of hedging your bets.” A generation ago, South Asia made room for the Saudi plotter and financier. He had money, and the aura of the Arabian Peninsula, the land of Islamic revelation. Now all that was of the past.
(Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is co-chair of the Hoover Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. …Wall Street Journal, 5/3/11)