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Dr Musa A Keilani: Address militancy causes
May 07, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

What does the killing of Osama Bin Laden, once the world’s most wanted extremist, mean to the international community at large? One thing is certain, an overwhelming majority of the world has welcomed it for mainly two reasons. For the Americans and their allies, it meant revenge for the Sept.11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Although it came nearly 10 years after the attacks, the death of Bin Laden was a much-awaited event (despite the fact that many had actually given up on the hunt for him and many other believed he was already dead).

The physical elimination of Bin Laden has given a huge boost to the sagging political fortunes of US President Barack Obama ahead of his re-election prospects in 2012. It remains to be seen how far could Obama ride on his success to have killed America’s number one enemy and whether it would be the most influential factor that would return him to the White House for another four years beginning in January 2013.

The second reason for the world to rejoice over Bin Laden’s death is that one of the world’s most dreaded man is no more. All those who rallied behind the “war against terrorism” declared by Obama’s predecessor George W Bush see it as the vindication of their perseverance with the US despite the change of guard at the White House.

For us in Jordan, the death of Bin Laden is doubly significant since the kingdom was among the first countries to suffer from the reign of extremism unleashed by his so-called Arab Afghan followers. The world might not remember is now, but the name Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group appear in Jordanian court and police records dating as far back as 1990. There are a lot of theories about how the US managed to get to Osama, whether Pakistani forces helped them or caught by surprise and even Islamabad had known about Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistani territory.

Surely, the truth and other details would soon emerge and the secrets that the US wants to keep secret will remain secrets until someone blows the whistle. The sinister aspect of the death of Bin Laden is that it does not signal an end to extremism. People interpreting religion in ways that they find fit are not in shortage and they have managed to rally hot-blooded young men around them in order to carry out extremist attacks against any target they deem deserving to be attacked.

Small groups of Al Qaeda sympathisers have sprung up in many parts of the world and they do not even know the existence of each other. There is no dearth of targets and militants do not need Bin Laden’s directives to carry out attacks. American interests figure as prime targets because of what is perceived as anti-Muslim policies followed by the world’s sole superpower.

Washington has vowed to eliminate the entire leadership of Al Qaeda starting with Ayman Zawahiri. That vow does not sound very feasible since there is no central leadership for Al Qaeda and there is no interlinked networks controlled by any of its so-called leaders. For instance, it is doubtful that the Al Qaeda front group in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, has any organisational link with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said to be based somewhere in North Africa.

The only effective means to fight extremism is to address the root causes why youths embrace militancy as a way of life: A sense of denial of social justice and the yawning gap between the rich and poor in many countries. It is also the case in many Arab countries, but the recent revolts that toppled longtime strongman regimes have given a new sense of purpose to those countries’ young generation who have now realised that they could change things themselves.

Effectively, this deprives militant recruiters their many argument to convince potential supporters. So, if there is a decline in militant activities linked to Al Qaeda following the death of Bin Laden it would not because the militant leader was killed but because of dramatic changes in this part of the world. However, that does not negate the reality that there would be a surge in militant attacks if only to avenge the death of Bin Laden. The immediate priority is to remain highly alert and respond with firmness and swiftness to any sign of potential militancy.

In the meantime, the US could and should support Arab and Muslim efforts to root out the reasons for militancy. It could start by bringing about fundamental changes in approach to Arab and Muslim issues, including the Palestinian problem and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If it does not, then Arab and Muslim push to stem the tide of militancy would be ineffective. For as long as the US is perceived as hostile to Arab and Muslim rights and interests, the militants would remain strong and could lash out left and right with unpredictable consequences.
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The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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