By Dr Mustafa Alani
Only a few days separate the actions to “liquidate” Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Colonel Muammar Al Gaddafi in Libya.
The actions were carried out by US/NATO forces operating in Afghanistan and Libya against totally different enemies and in entirely different circumstances and different settings. But very few people are aware of the fact that the first-ever arrest warrant against Bin Laden was issued by Muammar Al Gaddafi in March 1998 and both men have a long history of conflict between them. No doubt getting rid of both men would be good news for the Arab and the wider world, as both, in different manner and for different objectives, have caused a huge amount of suffering and conducted a number of terror attacks which killed innocent people around the world. In the process, they have caused irreparable damage to the image and reputation of Arabs and Muslims.
There is no doubt that the killing of Bin Laden was a remarkable achievement for the US intelligence and military institutions, and represents a remarkable moral and psychological triumph for the American nation and specifically for the families of the 9/11 victims. But once the euphoria dies down, one will have to view this development from a wider, logical perspective. The Bin Laden phenomenon is a regrettable byproduct of the unjust environment in which we live in the Middle East. He and his likes are examples of Arab and Muslim citizens who have felt deeply frustrated (by the policies of their own governments as well as by the policies of the outside powers.
The feelings of frustration, humiliation, hopelessness, and stagnation have taken deep root in the minds of the Arab youth. Some Arab youth took to the streets in peaceful protests, hoping to change a repressive and corrupt political regime only to face the regime’s bullets or prisons. Some societies were successful in removing dictatorships, others are trying, and the rest are watching. Indeed, some months ago, no one could imagine that peaceful protests could overthrow such authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. But it has already happened, and it is happening now.
However, popular uprisings against some local governments in the Arab world constitute only one half of the story. The other half relates to a different issue. Peaceful protest against unjust US and western policies in the region seems to have had little impact. For many decades now, the Arab people, and at times the Arab leadership, have been protesting loudly and relentlessly against the irrational US policy in the region, but these peaceful protests have fallen on deaf ears. A good example is the unlimited and unrestricted US support for Israel’s aggressive policies, expansionist tendencies, and humiliation of the Palestinian Arab people. In the opinion of many Arabs, American support for Israeli policies places the US in the position of ‘partners in crime’ accused of aiding and abetting all of the crimes committed by Israeli governments. US policy makers have turned a blind eye to the Israeli disregard of international laws and humanity’s basic moral code.
Against such a background, political violence directed against the US has established its roots and derived strength from the continuing unjust policies and attitudes of the US, which are a clear departure from the basic moral principles cherished by the founding fathers of this great nation. In the eyes of the average Arab citizen, the US could be everything, but not a moral or just power. Some — and Bin Laden was one of them – believed and loudly preached that peaceful means will never bring an element of justice to US policy. He found many Arab youth willing to answer his call and believe in his political interpretations. We might have the right to celebrate the demise of Bin Laden, the mastermind of the criminal act of 9/11, but we should not indulge in self-deception by believing that his death will bring down the final curtain on political violence in the Middle East, or specifically violence directed against the US. The continuation of unjust US policies in the region could give rise to more bin Ladens in the coming years. One has to emphasise that bin Laden is dead, but Al Qaeda has multiplied, with several franchises still active in many countries.
The misguided US policies in the region helped Bin Laden to move Al Qaeda from a mere terrorist organisation to a deeply rooted ideology that has become popular among many Arab youths. This ideology has now turned into a force by itself giving rise to a new generation of indigenous, self-contained terrorist organisations.
Yet, the news of Bin Laden’s demise should not overshadow or derail the developments of the ongoing Arab popular uprising. Support for the people’s uprising must remain a priority in US policy. If popular protest is able to reform the Arab political system and remove incumbent dictatorships, it is time now that the US takes notice of Arab popular wishes and embarks on a comprehensive review of its policy in the Middle East. The US policy in the Middle East is in urgent need for reform. US politicians must wake up to the new realities shaping up in our neighbourhood.
Dr. Mustafa Alani is Senior Adviser and (Director of Security Department, (Gulf Research Center