In Islamic world, joy, grief eclipsed by official silence

US Muslims welcome demise of Osama bin Laden, while Iran raps ‘Zionist terror’ and Arab regimes remain mum.

By OREN KESSLER
May 2, 2011 19:29
Police stand near a wanted poster of bin Laden

Bin Laden wanted poster 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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News of Osama bin Laden’s death Monday was greeted in large swathes of the Arab and Islamic worlds with an uncanny silence, while a minority expressed relief at the arch-terrorist’s demise and militant Islamists called for swift and uncompromising revenge.

The timing of the offensive was sensitive, coming just two days after a NATO bombing in Libya killed the son and three grandchildren of Muammar Gaddafi, and reportedly nearly killed the country’s longtime leader himself.

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For much of the day the only official comment from the Arabian Peninsula came from Yemen, bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, where an official speaking on condition of anonymity hoped the killing would “root out terrorism” worldwide.

“We welcome the operation that was completed, and we hope that targeted measures will be taken to end terrorism throughout the world,” the official told Reuters.

In the afternoon Saudi Arabia’s official news agency quoted an unidentified official as saying, “Saudi Arabia hopes that the elimination of the leader of the terrorist al-Qaida organization will be a step towards supporting international efforts aimed at combating terrorism and dismantling its cells.”

Still, Riyadh issued no official statement.

The foreign ministers of Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, attending a meeting of Gulf foreign ministers in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, all declined Monday afternoon to comment on bin Laden’s death.

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Iran said that the US and its allies had now “lost the excuse to continue their presence in the region with the aim of fighting terror.”

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “This incident proves that there is no need for a huge war in order to deal with one person.” He added that Iran “condemns all acts of terrorism in the world, including the organized terror of the Zionist regime.”

On the streets of bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia, which stripped him of his citizenship after September 11, there was a mood of disbelief and sorrow among many.

“I feel that it is a lie,” said one Saudi in Riyadh, who did not want to be named. “I don’t trust the US government or the media. They just want to be done with his story. It would be a sad thing if he really did die. I love him and in my eyes he is a hero and a jihadist.”

“I am not happy at the news. Osama was seeking justice. He was taking revenge on the Americans and what they did to Arabs; his death to me is martyrdom, I see him a martyr,” added Egyptian Sameh Bakry, a Suez Canal employee.

But Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, described bin Laden’s death as “a body blow” to al-Qaida at a time when its ideology was already being undercut by the wave of popular protests sweeping the Arab world.

“Their narrative is that violence and terrorism is the way to redeem Arab dignity and rights. What the people in the streets across the Arab world are doing is redeeming their rights and their dignity through peaceful, non-violent protests – the exact opposite of what al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden have been preaching,” Indyk, now at the Brookings Institution, told Reuters.

Zuhdi Jasser, the Syrian- American head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said in a statement, “We will not be free of terror until we openly confront the ideology of political Islam, which is the underlying fuel for the militant Islamism of groups like al-Qaida. To deliver true national security we must demonstrate the same dedication and steadfastness in creating a liberty narrative within the Muslim conscience as we did in hunting bin Laden.”

In Dearborn, Michigan, dozens of residents of the heavily Arab and Muslim Detroit suburb celebrated the news.

“It’s a special day for us to show Americans we are celebrating, we are united,” Iraqi-born Ahmed Albedairy told the AP. He was one of about 20 people outside City Hall after midnight.

Cafe manager Mohammed Kobeissi said justice has finally been achieved for the victims of 9/11. The 54-year-old lifelong Dearborn resident said he too feels safer, both as a Muslim and an American, because bin Laden is gone.

But Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist and blogger wrote on her Twitter feed that she had been taken aback by the tone of the celebrations near the site of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York.

“Scene at Ground Zero like ‘my team beat the rival team.’ What did I expect? tourists come here and pose for pictures, site of mass slaughter,” she wrote.

In Pakistan, the scene of bin Laden’s last stand, authorities remained silent for much of the day before the Foreign Ministry issued a statement in mid-afternoon.

“This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world,” the statement said.

“It is Pakistan’s stated policy that it will not allow its soil to be used in terrorist attacks against any country. Pakistan’s political leadership, parliament, state institutions and the whole nation are fully united in their resolve to eliminate terrorism,” it continued, without specifically welcoming bin Laden’s death.

The news channel France 24 wrote on its Twitter feed: “In Pakistan, the people we speak to refuse to accept bin Laden’s death. One thinks it’s ‘just a publicity stunt.’”

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood warned a violent reaction would be likely across the Islamic world.

“Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Algeria might react violently as the influence of al-Qaida is pervasive there,” said Essam al-Erian, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s governing body.

Members of militant Islamist forums said they prayed the news of bin Laden’s death was not true and hinted at retaliation if it was.

“Oh God, please make this news not true... God curse you Obama,” said one message on an Arabic language forum, according to Reuters. “Oh Americans... it is still legal for us to cut your necks.”

“Osama may be killed but his message of jihad will never die. Brothers and sisters, wait and see, his death will be a blessing in disguise,” said a poster on another Islamist forum.

But on the Islamic Awakening forum, some suggested bin Laden’s death should be accepted and a new leader found: “Why can’t people admit he was killed? He is a human being, not a prophet. Another man will replace his shoes, it’s easy.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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