May 2, 2011
Your initial reaction to news of Osama bin Laden’s death is telling. If you were disappointed, you no doubt harbour terrorist sympathies.
Of course, many non-Muslims have come to suspect many Muslims have been doing just that. The stereotype may be inaccurate. But with repeated silence among moderate Muslims in the face of countless acts of terror committed in the name of Islam since 9/11, it’s easy to see why the suspicion arises.
Bin Laden’s death is thus a golden opportunity to debunk that (mis?)impression; he was not only the mastermind of the deadliest attack on modern American soil but a face more associated with Islam than any other Muslim this century.
Imagine how that image would be challenged by the sight of thousands of Muslims rejoicing in the streets, as Americans did in Time’s Square and outside the White House yesterday morning (the same spot I and thousands of Americans took part in an anti-Iraq war protest a few years ago).
One need not entirely imagine: Arab-Americans celebrated on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan yesterday — a powerful statement indeed.
But more such displays are needed.
For if there’s one thing that has become clearer over the last decade — and more so with the role President Barack Obama has played in reversing global hostility towards America — is that the real loser of George W. Bush’s war on terror has been the Islamic world.
Even moderate Muslim countries like Malaysia got consumed by dualistic perceptions of the world that fed a creeping fundamentalism and undermined national unity and progress. Backlash against Muslims that left them alienated was seen across Europe and parts of the US. While emerging countries like China and India advanced, the Muslim world preserved its victim mentality and often appeared crippled by its own rage.
Muslims frequently deflected the consequences of these developments by drawing attention to America’s shortcomings — whether it be the worst US economic crisis in 80 years, or the failure of the strongest military in history to accomplish its aims. This perpetuated the illusion that radicals — and by extension the Muslim world — weren’t losing.
Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US forces, following nearly 10 years without an attack on US soil and the US’s determined progress in weakening al Qaeda as a global terrorist network, further exposes that self-defeating myth. (It may also find history looking a little more kindly on Bush’s war on terror than has been the case so far (though nothing will fully redeem his presidency).)
Collective expressions of joy and relief of bin Laden’s death among Muslims would symbolically help close the door on a decade of deep suspicion and mutual destruction from which the Muslim world has yet to recover.
* A version of this story ran on Malaysianinsider.com