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Muslim Reaction to bin Laden's Death

Author: Toni Johnson
May 5, 2011

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Muslims around the world have had a mixed reaction to the killing of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces on May 1, from elation and anger to concerns over Pakistan. While overall response has been "surprisingly muted" across the Muslim world, say Associated Press analysts, some Muslims--ranging from those in the United States (AFP) to those struggling in Somalia (Mareeg)--have rejoiced, blaming bin Laden for a host of troubles including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the deterioration in Pakistan's security, and the war on terror. "For the Muslim world, it is like a lifting of a curse," says a Saudi-based Arab News editorial.

But some radical clerics and Islamist groups, such as Indonesia's Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, called bin Laden a martyr (JakartaGlobe). Other Muslims have reacted to his death with disbelief, anger, and criticism (FT). Saudi columnist Dawood al-Sherian criticized the Obama administration for not bringing bin Laden to trial to "face justice like Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein" (AFP). A government-backed Iranian newspaper notes that rather than seeking democracy in politically repressive Saudi Arabia, of which Bin Laden was a product, Obama "only kills bin Laden" (PBS).

Concerns are high in Muslim countries from Somalia to Pakistan, to Indonesia about possible reprisals from al-Qaeda-linked groups."Don't be too happy for Osama's death, because it will not automatically eliminate radicalism from the face of the earth," said one Indonesian political official.

At the same time, many say bin Laden's efforts to exploit political disaffection in the Middle East have been made irrelevant by the region's prodemocracy uprisings that have largely shunned radical violence and anti-Western rhetoric. "Osama bin Laden tried to ignite the demarcation lines between the Muslims and the West," writes Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of al-Hayat, a pan-Arab paper. "However, the winds of the past months showed the wish of Arabs and Muslims to enjoy freedom, dignity, and progress." CFR's Ray Takeyh agrees, noting, "The Arab revolt is a denunciation of radicalism in all its hues."

Still, whatever goodwill President Obama has created in the Middle East and with Muslims elsewhere may depend on the outcome of efforts to resolve the Palestinian question. He also faces continued criticism (Reuters) about the continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The U.S. raid on Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan also has raised significant questions.  Islamabad continues to deny harboring bin Laden (NYT) or being negligent in the face of U.S. and international scrutiny, while denouncing the raid as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. CFR's Daniel Markey says the incident comes at a crisis point in the U.S.-Pakistan and raises questions about whether the relationship can continue.

Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan's Herald Magazine, argues that finding bin Laden in Pakistan means "whatever trust or goodwill the country has been trying to build" in the recent past has "suffered a serious blow" (Dawn). Lahore's Mohsin Hamid writes Pakistan could be on a "collision course" with the United States at a time when Pakistan is suffering badly (Guardian) from radicalized Muslims at home, in part due to U.S. military action in Afghanistan. "America's 9/11 has given way to Pakistan's 24-7-365," he says, noting that if bin Laden's death leads to U.S. pullout from the region, there would be reason to celebrate.

Analysis:

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk says bin Laden's death gives President Obama "a lot more credibility in the Middle East."

In the Times of London, CFR's Ed Husain writes, "al-Qaeda is no longer a mere organization, but a global brand, an idea, a philosophy that now has its first Saudi martyr from the holy lands of Islam."

In the Washington Post, Vali Nasr discusses the implications of the hunt for bin Laden on the relationship between the CIA and Pakistan's ISI, as well as overall U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Background:

This CFR Issue Guide provides background and analysis on the foreign policy implications of bin Laden's death.

CFR's Crisis Guide: Pakistan examines the roots of Pakistan's challenges and what it means for the region and the world.

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