The festive character that prevailed over the announcement in the United States of the killing of Bin Laden reveals an important political fact that is difficult to reconcile with the way of thinking in the most advanced countries in the world. There is a great deal of “demagoguery” and “Hollywood” characteristics in the US Administration address and in the reception by the US audience of the event, as if it is another end of history.
On the other hand, the reaction of the Arab street and of some Arab media organs has been controlled by a similar form of oratorical language and conspiracy theories. This is to the extent that issues such as throwing the corpse in the sea, the nature of the raid launched by the commandos, the type of weapons used, and the extent of the credibility or lack of credibility of the published photograph of Bin Laden, have become the issues prevailing in media and popular discussions. This is as if the region has overcome its greatest problems, and as if it is not witnessing at the same time grave events related to the fate of entire countries!
By this I do not mean to say that no one has the right to ask questions of this kind, and to try to ascertain the official version of the story of the issue. However, what is frightening about these two ways, the United States and the Arab-Muslim ways, in discussing the events is their tendency to ignore the deeper and more important and radical issue in the subject, here I mean the “Bin-Ladenism,” in favor of focusing on Bin Laden as a person and Bin Laden as a corpse.
In the United States there is a great deal of oversimplification of the issue, and sometimes ridiculing it. Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are introduced as the absolute evil that has been punished by an operation, which I can state almost categorically that it will be made into a movie in the near future. In discussing the events the focus is on its formal dimension, the “heroism” of the military, and the high technology used in the operation. This reflects all the characteristics of a Hollywood production, where “the heroes kill the baddie,” and the movie has a happy ending.
However, this is not the reality of the situation. Neither the world is that simple to divide into goodies and baddies, nor will the Al-Qaeda phenomenon, or at least the violence linked to it, end with the end of the baddie. Behind this “glittering” and “heroic” image there is no discussion of the causes that led to the emergence of Al-Qaeda, and the background on which all this violence and all this ability to destroy started; the causes that made Al-Qaeda’s hatred focus on the United States, and made Al-Qaeda’s address attract a wide audience to be more sympathetic with Al-Qaeda’s hostility toward the United States more than anything else. Many of the causes that produced Al-Qaeda still exist today, especially if we understand Al-Qaeda as a phenomenon that expresses Islamic-western conflict based on the inability to establish a healthy relationship between the two sides.
Al-Qaeda is not Bin Laden only, political Islam is not Al-Qaeda only, and the hostile stance toward the west is not Islamic only; therefore, reducing the issue to manifestations of celebrating the death of Bin Laden during the era of a US Administration that is supposed to be wiser and more sensitive toward such type of issues will only lead to preserving the psychological, political, and cultural barrier between the western and Muslim worlds. This barrier has been built and consolidated because both sides have avoided self-criticism, and the attempt to understand the issue away from the logic of the two universes, which has been adopted by Al-Qaeda in its address, and also it has been adopted explicitly by the previous US Administration and implicitly by the current US Administration.
Had it not been Bin Laden, it would have been any other person; had it not been Al-Qaeda, it would have been another organization; and had it not been political Islam, it would have been another tendency. The root of the issue is the dysfunctional relationship between the two sides, and the insistence on dealing with the Muslim peoples as irrational entities whose only apprehension is a religious one, and whose only issue is fighting the “infidels.”
Al-Qaeda has failed to attract the Arab street to support it specifically because it has expressed this logic, and ignored all the complexities of the Arab and Muslim societies, the aspects related to the absence of freedom, and the aspects related to the economic and social disparities, and the political and social backwardness, and reduced everything to a stance toward another devil called “the Christian west.” Al-Qaeda justifies the conflict with this devil through a biased and close-minded religious logic that does not belong to the era and what it requires of accepting the other, who is different, and of respecting the cultural diversity nurtured by human dignity, regardless of belonging, religion, and identity.
Therefore, the prevailing Arab and Muslim reaction also seems not to be based on self-criticism and self-revision. Some people do this because their hostility toward the west and the US policy make them find it easier to place themselves with Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden in the same trench, and hence accept the logic of the two universes. This is the same logic that makes us tend to throw all calamities on the other, and ignore our inabilities and major problems. To weep over the corpse of Bin Laden, and not to look at the thousands of Muslim and non-Muslim victims who fell as a result of Al-Qaeda’s terrorism means that we are incapable of understanding rationally our dilemma that has produced Al-Qaeda and made us imagine that it represents us as Muslims.
The western political way of dealing tends to deny the role of the western countries in the crisis of the Arab societies during the colonial and post-colonial eras. On the other hand, our popular logic tends to deny that our crisis cannot be resolved except through self-criticism and free and open debate over our problems as Muslims and as national people rather than relying completely on accusing the other, and portraying him as a devil.
Al-Qaeda’s violence is not temporary, but it is a part of our political, social, and cultural system that has found the suitable conditions and opportunity to materialize in the shape of an entity called Al-Qaeda. The source of existence of this entity is the hatred of the other, i.e. the western other, who is not a Muslim, and does not embrace the Islam of Al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda has had nothing other than a hatred and destruction project. Thus, it has become the shelter of all those people who are resentful and those ignorant enough to present a single message to the world, a message of killing and destruction. For this reason Al-Qaeda seems to be the opposite of the hope spread by the Arab revolutions, and the youths’ movements that demand freedom and dignity, because these movements look forward to the future, and their project is a construction project, while Al-Qaeda has been looking to the past, and has a project based on demolition.
Therefore, it is clear that the way the west will deal with the current popular moves, and the way in which these moves will be able to make their project mature and applicable are what will decide whether Al-Qaeda will diminish and end as a phenomenon based on terrorism and extremism, or it will be vitalized, even under another cloak and ideology. The challenge that faces the world today does not come to an end by putting a bullet in the head of Bin Laden and throwing his corpse in the sea, but by facing up to the embedded causes that have produced the “Bin-Ladenism.”