Tuesday, May 03, 2011

On the Death of Bin Laden

Justice must be served because, unlike revenge, justice is a moral imperative. Without justice, there can be no peace, no progress and no closure.

With the commando raid in Abbottabad that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, there is now a sense of closure, not just for the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks but for Muslims as well. The violent ideology of bin Laden and al-Qaida held Muslims captive for a decade and created existential difficulties for them. With the demise of the terrorist mastermind, Muslims, especially American Muslims, heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Tahir Anwar, the Imam of the South Bay Islamic Association of San Jose, California, struggled with words to express his relief. “It is actually beyond relief,” he said. “Beside killing thousands of innocent people, Bin Laden damaged our religion and society. Other than a few extremists, his message of violence never resonated with Muslims. He was a marginal figure who inflicted tremendous suffering on people. I am happy that the head of the snake has been cut-off and there is now one less evil person on earth.”

The Quran is clear on the question of justice. “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both.” (4:135)

Dr. Rajabally, a frequent speaker in Islamic conferences who also runs a shelter for abused Muslim women and victims of domestic violence in the San Francisco Bay Area, hopes for two developments to occur in the wake of bin Laden’s death. First, that the recruitment of the vulnerable to fanatical causes around the globe will stop and second, that the U.S. government will treat American-Muslims as an ally in the fight against terrorists and not subject them to racial profiling and similar indignities. “Islam is for justice,” said Rajabally. “Bin Laden committed injustice on a global scale. He gave Islam and Muslims a bad name. He treated Muslims who did not agree with his violent methods – the overwhelming majority of Muslims – as his number one enemy. We are grateful that justice has been finally served.”

Bin Laden was no martyr. He created a personality cult out of his feral fantasy and unbounded egotism, even as America helped create the monster that he became. Many impressionable young Muslims unfortunately fell under his sway only to undermine their faith and waste their lives. Bin Laden preached an ideology of violence in the name of Islam that was rooted not in theology but in ruthless political ambition.

The Arab Spring that is currently transforming the Middle East is proof of how insignificant bin Laden had become. One could argue that he still wielded some influence among the Arabs but after the Tunisian uprising, he became completely irrelevant. While he tried to channel Muslim anger against U.S. foreign policy for his own political hegemony, the revolutions by Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis and Syrians are signs that Muslims are taking responsibility for their own condition instead of blaming others for it. In that context, ideologues like bin Laden lose all credibility.

American-Muslims were heartened by President Obama when he said “… the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam … Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al-Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

In spite of these considerations, I must confess to being disturbed by the raucous celebration that broke out when bin Laden’s death was announced. How can the death of a human being, no matter how vile, be a cause for celebration and exultation? What should have been a somber occasion turned into a festival with street-dancing and fist-pumping. There is something morally repulsive and spiritually eroding in taking pleasure in the death of a human being.

With the bin Laden "event" behind him, Barack Obama has all but ensured a second-term for himself as president of the United States. Unless something goes horribly awry, and this president has proved extraordinarily lucky in everything he has done so far to make that possibility remote, look for Obama to deliver his second inaugural speech in January of 2013.

Now that bin Laden is dead, America must get out of Afghanistan and Iraq fast. Unlike George Bush, Barack Obama can claim that the mission has indeed been accomplished. There is no need to linger in those countries anymore. What should have been a war on ideas after 9/11 became two viciously polarizing wars of death and destruction, costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Only in withdrawal can come the ultimate closure.

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