Arab And Muslim World React To Bin Laden's Death

Originally published on May 2, 2011 2:29 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. By now, the news has been heard around the world. Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks and the inspirational force behind countless other terrorist attacks around the world, has been killed by U.S. forces, as the president of the United States, Barack Obama, announced from the White House late Sunday night.

President BARACK OBAMA: We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaida's terror: Justice has been done.

MARTIN: In this hour, we will hear what this means for the people who lost loved ones to al-Qaida. We'll speak with Jay Winuk, who lost his brother Glenn when the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11th, 2001. We'll also hear from Edith Bartley, whose brother and father died in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy at Nairobi some three years before that. That was the first time many of us even heard about al-Qaida. And we'll talk about what the reaction of the rest of us should be. Is public rejoicing OK, even upon the death of someone who caused so much suffering? A faith leader challenges our thinking about this.

But, first, we want to hear about reaction in the Arab and Muslim world to this development, so we've called, once again, upon Abderrahim Foukara. He is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera International. He's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: It's good to be with you.

MARTIN: And from Beirut, we are joined by Rami Khouri, the editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star. He is an internationally syndicated political columnist and author. He's on the line with us from just outside Beirut. Rami Khouri, thank you so much for joining us once again.

RAMI KHOURI: My pleasure. Thanks.

MARTIN: Abderrahim, I'm going to start with you. How are you reporting this story on Al-Jazeera? What kind of reaction are you seeing, particularly from capitals in the Middle East?

FOUKARA: Well, we've obviously been reporting on this story all night, ever since the news came out before midnight last night. It was an interesting moment, because for weeks now, we have been covering round-the-clock uprisings, revolutions, whatever you want to call them, in the Middle East. Now this story has - at least temporarily - eclipsed the coverage of what's going on in Libya and Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

I think as far as governments are concerned in the region, we've been hearing what was expected to hear from them, which is that they support the killing of bin Laden, that he had wreaked havoc not just on the United States on 9/11, but also on Arabs and Muslims in various parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds. But we've also been hearing other voices from the region, people who are saying that Osama bin Laden, agree with him or disagree with him, but in the end, he did force a conversation that the United States wasn't willing to have. He did force a conversation that many of the Arab governments in the region, autocratic Arab governments in the region were not willing to have. And I guess over the next few days and weeks, you'll be hearing a whole plethora of other different voices coming from the region.

MARTIN: Before we turn to Rami Khouri, I wanted to ask you, you saw that there were demonstrations and celebrations - there's no other way to put it - in Washington, D.C. and in New York, which were the direct targets of the 9/11 attacks. And there was this spontaneous outpouring at the White House - outside the White House - and at the site of Ground Zero of people expressing relief, joy at the death of bin Laden. I wanted to ask: Were there any counterdemonstrations of expressing - that you are aware of - expressing anger at the manner in which bin Laden met his end?

FOUKARA: We've heard some demonstrations of - or expressions of anger. We haven't seen the full magnitude of that anger. If it's going to happen, we haven't seen it yet. What I do find interesting is that the people who started demonstrating outside the White House and in New York, including today, most of them are young people, and I find that really interesting, given that the people who've been leading the demonstrations in the Arab world to change governments, to change autocratic rule in the region, were young.

So we're getting that significant, historical moment, in my eyes, where young people in the United States are visibly expressing enthusiasm for something that, at some level, does connect with what young people in the Arab world have been celebrating, which is the push to freedom, as they call it.

MARTIN: Rami Khouri, two questions for you. First, I wanted to ask about reaction where you are. And then I want to ask you about a piece that you wrote. So, first, what's the reaction, you know, where you are?

KHOURI: Well, the reactions pretty evenly break down according to what people thought of bin Laden before and what - the issues that he raised... (technical difficulties) such an interesting and important historical figure - important in a criminal way, but also important in an analytical way. And that played on grievances that are (technical difficulties) all across the Arab-Asian-Islamic region, grievances of foreign armies, post-colonial predatory moves by global powers, Israeli colonization and wars, Arab corrupt leaders, police states, the degradation of individual citizens. He played on all of these themes.

And these themes resonate deeply throughout the region, but almost nobody followed him in terms of what he was doing. So he was - and he's an important figure as a figure of action, somebody who took action and took these resentments and degradations and tried to do something about them. And that's why so many people were fascinated by him, though they would never do what he did.

And people realized very quickly that what he was doing was killing and tormenting Muslims and Arabs and Asians far more than he was hurting Europeans and Americans and Australians, that there was tens of thousands of people in this region who were killed over the years, especially in places like Iraq, because of the forces that he unleashed. So he was an extremely complex figure. And what's important now is that the personality and the man, but the issues beneath the bin Laden phenomenon. It's not bin Laden that's important. It's bin Ladenism. And I think this is the real challenge as we go forward, to understand, well, why is it that our environment and our region across the Arab-Asian-Islamic region, why is it that we generated these kinds of figures? What were the underlying forces? What are the factors at play? And who's responsible for them? Is it Arab corrupt leaders? Is it Israeli colonization? Is it American-British armies in Iraq? Is it Russians in Afghanistan? Who's responsible for allowing these kinds of monsters to take root?

But they are figures of the past. I mean, the important thing is that the bin Ladenism phenomenon is history. This guy has been eclipsed. People have turned against him. Very few people supported him. He's a cult criminal. And this is a dead-end movement and (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: I want to talk...

KHOURI: The future is - now is these millions of people demonstrating for their freedom. And this is a fascinating moment.

MARTIN: I want to talk more about the piece that you wrote, and we're speaking with Rami Khouri. He's the editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star. We reached him just outside Beirut on his cell phone, as you can hear. Also with us, Abderrahim Foukara. He is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera International.

And so I want to talk about what the implications are of this going forward, particularly in the Arab world and the Middle East. So, Rami, I'll start with a piece that you posted today. The piece is titled "Work to Be Done in a Post-Bin Laden World." The point that you make in the piece is one of the things you've been talking about here. You say the celebration should not cause us to repeat the same mistake on bin Laden's death that many around the world made during his life, to exaggerate the man and the institution of al-Qaida, but to downplay the political dynamics that defined his world and ours.

And by that you mean that, as you just said, that the vast majority of Muslims thought the bin Laden response was nonsense. But you also talk about the - sort of the political grievances that led to his rise and whatever support that he had, even as a cult-like figure that you pointed out.

So the question I have sort of going forward is: What do you think - briefly, 'cause I also want to give Abderrahim a chance to respond, as well - the implications are for policy going forward? Do you think that this will perhaps increase the calls for the United States to withdraw completely from Afghanistan and Iraq?

KHOURI: I think, yes, it's important to understand that bin Laden and bin Ladenism, al-Qaida were born and flourished with two foreign military presences in the Islamic region: the Russians in Afghanistan, the Americans in Saudi Arabia. And so - and then it flourished again in - with the Americans and the British and others in Iraq.

So the first lesson is get the armies out of this region, because they only breed more terrorists rather than do anything else. Second lesson is connect with the 350 million Arabs, most of whom are in the street marching, braving the bullets of their own corrupt dictatorial regime, fighting for their freedom. Those 350 million Arabs should be the people that the Americans and Europeans connect with, and focus on that overwhelming majority that is agitating for getting to be in freedom and the same values that the Americans espouse.

And don't get all hung up and distracted by a gang - a bunch of criminals who would be nothing more than a weirdo cult movement than any other part of the world. And solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in a just and fair and egalitarian way that gives Israelis and Palestinians equal rights simultaneously, and do it tomorrow. Those three things you would transform not only the Middle East, but the whole world.

MARTIN: Here's a clip, Abderrahim, from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the State Department today, sort of offering her sense of what needs to happen going forward. Here it is.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Our message to the Taliban remains the same. But today, it may have even greater resonance. You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al-Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process.

MARTIN: Abderrahim, last thought from you. Obviously, she's only talking about one of the issues that Rami Khouri just mentioned. But it's a very direct statement. Do you feel that other parts of the region see the conflict in the same way that she does? Or see the choice in the same way that she articulated it?

FOUKARA: Well, I mean, to the extent that bin Laden was thought to be in Afghanistan, I think what she's saying to the Taliban - whether the Taliban will listen to that or not is a different thing. The Taliban are known to start to come back around about this time of year in their spring offensive. So we'll see what happens with that.

But to the extent that bin Laden was actually killed - according to the Obama administration - not in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan. I think that's really where the focus should be. Today, we've been hearing that there all sorts of tensions between the Pakistani government and the United States government over what happens in Afghanistan. It's going to be interesting to see, in the long term, what the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan does to the relationship of the United States, not just with Afghanistan, but also with Pakistan.

MARTIN: Obviously, that's the next conversation we need to have. Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera International. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios on this very busy day. Abderrahim, thank you very much for joining us once again. Rami Khouri joined us from just outside Beirut. He's the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and the editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star. Thank you both so much for joining us.

FOUKARA: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.