The Washington Post this morning ponders a portion of President Obama’s Sunday night speech that likely made many Americans take pause — the portion in which the president explicitly said “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” This key phrase directly counters an integral tenet of the “war on terror” narrative: the vision of the current era as an epic conflict between the United States and a global Muslim population supposedly guided by the al-Qaida mastermind.
However, despite the ubiquity of this kind of Islamophobic “us-versus-them” framing, and despite the Post’s perseverating, Obama was exactly right, and not just because, as the president correctly noted, bin Laden was “a mass murderer of Muslims” — but because bin Laden doesn’t meet a basic definition of “Muslim leader” in terms of mass support and following in the Muslim world.
That’s right, as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports, “In the months leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, a survey of Muslim publics around the world found little support for the al-Qaida leader [and] al-Qaida also received largely negative ratings among Muslim publics.”
In fact, a comparison of these results with Pew’s larger study from 2010 shows that in terms of favorability ratings, Obama outpolled bin Laden and the United States outpolled al-Qaida in almost every Muslim nation surveyed.
Of course, just because bin Laden and al-Qaida are wildly unpopular in the Muslim world doesn’t mean the United States is winning over those populations in the long haul.
As America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs Libya and Yemen, conducts drone strikes in Pakistan and props up repressive dictators in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pew’s data shows the Muslim world still conflicted as to whether the United States is an ally or an aggressor. So, a recent Zogby poll finding that “a majority of the public across the [Middle East] — including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia — believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.” That’s not because Muslims necessarily support the Iranian regime at large, but because, as one of the pollsters noted, many Muslims see nuclear arms as the only deterrent to U.S. aggression in the region.
The bottom line, then, is clear: While insinuations that the Muslim world monolithically loved bin Laden and continues to love al-Qaida are absurd, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that our current occupations and bombing raids aren’t winning the “war on terror” — that is, as long as you consider the “war on terror” as much a long-term battle for hearts and minds as a short-term exercise of military maneuvers.
By: David Sirota, Salon, May4, 2011
It was inevitable, with the emergence and escalation of the “birther” campaign, that we would experience the same bizarre skepticism when it comes to Osama bin Laden. If there are a group of conspiracy theorists who insist on seeing proof of U.S. birth for President Obama, is it any surprise that there would be a concurrent call for proof of death for bin Laden?
President Obama has decided not to release a photo of the dead bin Laden. True, it would perhaps appease those who don’t really believe that the U.S. military and intelligence personnel, under Obama’s direction, completed the task of killing the hated bin Laden. But releasing a photo or video could also rally terrorist forces around the world, buttressing any movement to turn bin Laden into a martyr.
We’ve become unfortunately accustomed to a YouTube, reality TV, cell phone photo approach to living–a world where privacy and dignity are sacrificed for hyper-transparency and more commonly, pure voyeurism. But images matter, and sending provocative images or videos around the world can have a destructive effect. The Internet posting of a video showing the burning of a Koran in Florida is one such example, giving amplified attention to a local pastor whose narrow-mindedness and ignorance does not deserve to be promoted.
What would be the purpose of releasing a photo? Would it really reassure Americans that bin Laden is really dead? Or would it just provoke a new wave of conspiracy theories about doctored photos and lies? There are people, remarkably, who still don’t believe Obama was born in Hawaii, despite indisputable evidence to the contrary. Why would a picture of a dead bin Laden be any more effective? At best, it would give some satisfaction to those of us who want to see the face of hate bloodied and lifeless. At worst, it will incite would-be terrorists around the world.
And at its heart, the demand for pictures of a deceased bin Laden are not much different from the demands for further proof of Obama’s domestic birth. In both cases, we are dealing with people who simply cannot believe that a mixed-race man became president, and further, will refuse to believe he could have accomplished something so great. The Obama haters will believe what they want to believe, regardless of what is shown them. Releasing photos won’t change their minds.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 4, 2011
It was a very different Barack Obama who stood in the White House late Sunday to deliver the astounding and satisfying news that Osama bin Laden was dead. Or was it?
Obama was derided during the 2008 presidential campaign for saying he would be willing to go into Pakistan unilaterally to nab the hateful and hated leader of al Qaeda. The idea was naïve at best, diplomatically disastrous at worst, his opponents said. Obama’s calm tones, lack of swagger, and professed desire to repair relationships with the rest of the world—the Muslim world, in particular—were used as a weapon to portray him as weak, someone who would not possess the cool-headedness to destroy the most cold hearted of mass murderers. And yet, Obama, with the able help of U.S. intelligence and military minds and bodies, pulled it off brilliantly, and in a manner entirely keeping with the personage he offered during the campaign.
For most of us, the mere fact of bin Laden’s death would be enough. But the way the operation unfolded was virtually perfect: bin Laden was hunted down by U.S. forces and shot in the head—not killed in an air strike or explosion, but in a manner in which we can presume that bin Laden, in his final moments, knew that it was American troops who would personally take his life. No U.S. troops were killed, and civilian casualties (except, possibly, for the unidentified woman bin Laden used as a human shield) avoided. His body was identified by DNA, preemptively silencing any “deathers” who would circulate rumors that it was all just a public relations stunt and a lie. Bin Laden’s body was disposed of at sea—to avert the need to find a country willing to bury him, and to avoid having his grave site used as a rallying spot for al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers. He was buried quickly, in Muslim tradition, averting criticism that the United States was being insensitive to the religion. Pakistan, which Obama said cooperated in the mission, but which apparently did not know the details of it until it was done, has not accused the United States of any invasion of sovereignty.
In his White House address, the serious-faced president avoided showing any glee over bin Laden’s death, although he surely was as happy about it as the rest of America. Nor did he take a cheap political victory lap, declaring “mission accomplished” against terrorism; in fact, the president rightly warned, the nation needs to be on alert for any retaliatory attacks. He reiterated that the United States is not at war with Islam, but with terrorism. There was no comment, implicit or otherwise, that he had managed to achieve what former President Bush had failed to do—to get bin Laden. Obama had the good manners to call Bush personally to tell him of the feat, and Bush responded in his statement with grace.
Obama lacks Bush’s aggressive style and provocative rhetoric. That does not mean he is weak or was less determined to get bin Laden. And while the president had not mentioned bin Laden much in public recently, that does not mean the administration wasn’t working on it. Similarly, while the Bush administration did not manage to kill or capture bin Laden, we have no way of knowing how many major attacks the previous administration defused.
Obama on Sunday night might have shown some of his critics a side they didn’t think existed, that of a determined commander in chief. But that was exactly the approach Obama presented during the campaign. It was just that his opponents didn’t think he could pull it off. He did—and the fact that Obama is not hanging a “Mission Accomplished” banner across the East Room makes the feat even more impressive.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 2, 2011
In a measured East Room address late yesterday, President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden and took a somber look back at Sept. 11, 2001, a tragically beautiful day on the East Coast. A “cloudless sky” set the scene for nearly three thousand deaths and two fallen towers by the time it was done.
Listening for what the president didn’t say in speaking to the nation, I came away impressed with his choice of words. He deftly left out three of them: “war on terror.” Cutting that phrase out of the political lexicon is a graceful, silent rebuke to its authors. Never has that been seen in a clearer light as last night. It’s far from just semantic.
Even in his winning mode, Obama disowned that particular dog of war—and did not let “terror” bark. Good for him, good for the nation, good for the world. President George W. Bush and his dark side, Dick Cheney, used this vague construct constantly and carelessly from day one, while the ruins of September 11 were still smoking.
Waging a “war on terror” made the American people estranged from each other and made the whole world seem like a more dangerous place. Our initial unity after the September 11 attacks dissolved in a sea of stress and anxiety. The “war on terror” ran counter to our can-do spirit because, we heard, there was nothing we could do to fight terrorism, but go shopping. So much for sacrifices. Lots of dark acts were committed in the name of the “war on terror,” often literally in the dark and far from where we live.
As citizens, we have no full reckoning of what the “war on terror” was used to justify, no receipt for its cost in lives, U.S. treasury dollars, and our fallen place in the world community. Sunday’s late-night speech indicated Obama has given this matter serious thought and its fair due. He’s sending out signals to friends and foes alike that the Wild West doesn’t live at the White House anymore, not even on a day when he achieved Bush’s fondest dream as president. In more specific language, he simply spoke of our “war against al-Qaeda.” How sweet it was to watch and to hear his well-chosen words that steered clear of “with us or against us,” “dead or alive,” or bragging about being the greatest nation. Gloating does not become a president.
Speaking of Bush, his official statement indicated he knew “war on terror” is no longer acceptable in policy parleys, so he changed it to “fight against terrorism.” Do they have enough crow down there in Texas for him?
Save some for the prince of darkness, too.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, May 2, 2011