News of Osama bin Laden’s death has prompted a deluge of analysis from all over the world. It is not possible to consider each one of them here, nor is it necessary. Instead, it is worth focusing on the two most typical and disturbing trends that seem to be emerging in reaction to bin Laden’s killing.
The first disturbing trend is the reaction seen in sections of the Arab media, especially in countries that have recently overthrown their autocratic regimes. While some have opted for careful “no comment” statements (such as “free” Egypt’s new Foreign Minister Nabil al Arabi), others have been virtually openly praising the late terrorist for “services rendered.”
“Watching Al Jazeera’s Arabic broadcasts you get the impression that the network is all but openly mourning bin Laden’s death, with presenters displaying only distress and frustration at the news,” Iraqi anthropologist Hosham Dawod told the French newspaper Le Monde. “The channel barely makes any mention of the crimes al Qaeda has committed throughout the world, including in Arabic and Muslim countries. It did not show the bodies of people al Qaeda has killed in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Central Asia, and even the Gaza Strip, not to mention Europe and the United States […] Instead, commentary on bin Laden’s death focused on his unselfish nature, his detachment from worldly life, his dedication to hard work, struggle, and jihad,” Dawod continued.
The second disturbing trend is the fact that there has been no condemnation of this response in the liberal Western media. Not so long ago public opinion in the West virtually saw any attempt to justify the actions of the world’s most wanted terrorist as a casus belli. In fact, the war in Afghanistan in 2001 was launched following the Taliban government’s refusal to condemn and expel bin Laden and other al Qaeda terrorists. Just a year ago, a lack of sympathy for Christian or even Muslim victims of al Qaeda in the Arabic media would have been denounced in the West. All we see today, however, is European and American newspapers ecstatically embrace the Arab spring, media pluralism and the revival of political life in these “new Arab democracies.” As if the presence of elections, the Internet and satellite TV can themselves expiate the gravest of sins – the justification of murder.
“From the media coverage perspective, bin Laden belongs to a bygone era,” Omar Saghi, co-author of Al Qaeda in its Own Words, who teaches political science in France, writes in Le Monde. “Osama bin Laden came to the forefront when political regimes across the Arab world were closed and terrorist attacks were among the stories that made the headlines.” Saghi continues, “Now we see a competitive media environment and the Arab revolutions have produced new and exciting news stories. The new Arab regimes are once again pursuing domestically oriented policies: Tunisia is focused on Tunisian affairs, and Egypt on internal Egyptian issues. Osama bin Laden’s old message calling on the entire Arab-Muslim world to unite in the struggle against America does not work any more. While anti-American politicians will continue to appear both in Egypt and Tunisia, they will not back violence,” argues Saghi.
Unfortunately, it appears that al Qaeda has adapted excellently to working on this local level, including in the fledgling Arab democracies. It not only calls for violence, it actively practices it. The New York Times is not alone in reporting on the intensified activities of the AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) in Yemen and the spike in AQIM activity (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) not only in North Africa, but also in Africa’s hinterlands. There have been reports that the al Qaeda “franchise” is also present, and active, in Russia’s North Caucasus. Should not these facts help the West realize that, at least temporarily, it is in the same boat as Russia?
Sadly, the liberal U.S. media does not seem to be too concerned. For the New York Times, all these disturbing reports are outweighed by the “big picture” of North Africa’s transition to democracy. Western media blames the region’s troubles on the previous, authoritarian, regimes. The New York Times writes that Ayman al Zawahiri, who “has replaced bin Laden as al Qaeda’s leader,” was radicalized in the prisons of autocratic Egypt. The newspaper predicts that terrorists will move beyond this current phase of violence and terrorism, and act within the law.
Dostoyevsky once ridiculed Russian liberals for their limitless tolerance of terrorists. For liberals, terrorists are never to blame, they are merely the victims of social injustice: given the opportunity, they will become honest, law-abiding citizens. It appears that the West is falling into the same trap 150 years after Dostoyevsky first made this perceptive observation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.