Arab pro-democracy activists were on Monday terming the killing of Osama bin Laden a politically irrelevant event, as radical political Islam no longer determines the destiny of a region that has been undergoing a fundamental transformation.
As the news set the cyberspace alight, blogger Iyad El-Baghdadi, a supporter of the “Arab Spring,” pointed out that “bin Laden was made irrelevant in December 2010, when Muslim people discovered that they can achieve regime change through peaceful means, contradicting al-Qaeda's message that violence was the only solution.”
Mr. Baghdadi was referring to the self-immolation in December 2010 by a Tunisian youth, which sparked a pro-democracy uprising in Tunisia that later engulfed Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.
The Arab blogger added that with bin Laden's death, the Muslim world had “entered a new phase in its history.” He added: “Al-Qaeda as an organisation may well stick with us for a bit, but it's as doomed as a fish removed from water. As an idea, it's already dead.”
Mr. Baghdadi's perception that as an ideological force the al-Qaeda is doomed, was shared by Khaled Hamza, an ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, a formerly banned organisation that played a significant role in the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Hamza points out on the Muslim Brotherhood website that the al-Qaeda had been making a “desperate” attempt to “impose itself as a player for change amid the huge popular and international support for non-violent revolutions across the Arab world.”
He added that the unseating of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt through peaceful political activism “was a significant blow to al-Qaeda extremist ideology, which always claimed that violent Jihad was the only way of regime change in the Middle East.”
Seeing a mixed legacy
Nevertheless, many people in the region believe that bin Laden has left a mixed legacy, where his call for resistance against foreign occupiers was combined with the methodology of terrorism.
Mr. Baghdadi points to two seemingly contradictory aspects of bin Laden's persona. “The first was a devout Muslim who called for resistance against occupation. The second was a terrorist who called for violence against innocent people based on flimsy and contrived scriptural evidence. Never did we support him when he advocated the killing of innocents, and yet never did we complain when he called for picking up arms against aggressors and occupiers.”
Responding to bin Laden's slaying, Agil Siradj, chairman of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, said bin Laden's death would help restore Islam's image as one of people, not violence.
However, he warned that “terrorism will continue as long as there is injustice against Muslims.”
Commenting on the post-bin Laden scenario, Ghassan Khatib, spokesman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, stressed that “what counts is to overcome the discourse and the methods — the violent methods — that were created and encouraged by bin Laden and others in the world.”
However, in neighbouring Israel, triumphalism rather than introspection was the mainstream mood that followed the news. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the al-Qaeda chief's killing was a “resounding triumph for democratic nations fighting terrorism.” And, President Shimon Peres saw the slaying as “a great achievement of the free world.”