Sunday, May 8, 2011

To Preempt Militants’ Recruiting Plans

By Musa Keilani 
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 08/05/2011 

Many Jordanians reacted to Osama Ben Laden’s death with jubilation and sighs of relief, since his Al Qaeda group was the one who targeted Jordanian civilians in Amman hotels. He was the one who encouraged Abu Musab Zarqawi to plan nine terrorist operations against government offices and security personnel. People in Madaba and Fuheis exchanged sweets and congratulations on the occasion.

Many Iraqis here rejoiced to hear the news of his death, since he and his Al Qaeda forced many of them to flee their hometowns following the explosions in the churches there. But in Zarqa, Salt and Maan, tribal heads opened condolence pavilions to receive Salafi Jihadists who wanted to express their sympathy, condolences and condemnation of the “Great Satan”.

Ben Laden is gone, leaving behind him an insidious ideological legacy which considers all Muslim Shiites, including the ten million Alawites, infidels, which makes them legitimate targets for killing. His legacy allows the killing of civilians, whether their governments are combating Al Qaeda or not. But the worst part of his legacy is that he made all Muslims terrorist suspects all over the United States and Europe.

A balance sheet of his actions shows that the occupation of many parts of the Muslim world was the direct result of his ideology and actions.

But what does the killing of Ben Laden, once the world’s most wanted extremist, mean to the international community at large?

One thing is certain: an overwhelming majority of the world has welcomed it for mainly two reasons. The Americans and their allies look at his death as revenge for the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Although it came nearly 10 years after the attacks, the death of Ben Laden was a much-awaited event (despite the fact that many had actually given up on the hunt for him and many others believed he was already dead).

The physical elimination of Ben Laden has given a huge boost to the sagging political fortunes of US President Barack Obama who plans to run for president again in 2012. It remains to be seen how far Obama can ride on this success at having killed America’s number one enemy and whether it will be the most influential factor that will return to the White House.

The second reason for the world to rejoice over Ben Laden’s death is that one of the world’s most dreaded man is no more. All those who rallied behind the “war against terrorism”, declared by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, see his death as proof that their perseverance paid off, despite the change of guard at the White House.

For us in Jordan, the death of Ben Laden is doubly significant since the Kingdom was among the first countries to suffer from the extremism unleashed by Ben Laden’s so-called Arab Afghan followers. The world might not remember, but the names of Ben Laden and his Al Qaeda group appear in Jordanian court and police records dating as far back as 1990.

There are many theories about how the US managed to get to Ben Laden, or about whether Pakistani forces helped the US or even Islamabad was caught by surprise about Ben Laden’s presence in Pakistan. The truth and many details will soon emerge and the secrets that the US wants to keep will remain secrets until someone blows the whistle.

The sinister aspect of Ben Laden’s death is that it will not mean an end to extremism. People interpreting religion in ways they find fit are not in shortage and they have managed to rally hot-blooded young men around them in order to carry out extremist attacks against any target they deem deserving. Small groups of Al Qaeda sympathisers have sprung up in many parts of the world that do not even know of the others’ existence. There is no shortage of targets and militants do not need Ben Laden’s directives to carry out attacks.

American interests figure as prime targets because of this sole superpower’s perceived anti-Muslim policies. Washington has vowed to eliminate the entire Al Qaeda leadership, starting with Ayman Zawahiri. That vow does not sound feasible since there is no central leadership for Al Qaeda and there is no interlinked networks controlled by any of its so-called leaders.

In Jordan, they form cluster groups, with no one knowing the rest of the cells, even though their number does not exceed 2,000 members.

For instance, it is doubtful that Al Qaeda front group in Iraq has any organisational link with Al Qaeda of Awlaqi, in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based somewhere in North Africa.

The only effective means of fighting extremism is to address the root causes. To understand why alienated, deprived, frustrated and desperate youth embrace militancy as a way of life. There is a sense of denial of social justice and a yawning gap between the rich and poor in many countries. In Arab countries, 18 million Arabs were unemployed last year. These millions are an endless reservoir for Al Qaeda.

The recent revolts that toppled long-time strongman regimes have given a new sense of purpose to those countries’ young people who now realise that they could change things themselves. Effectively, this servesmilitant recruiters’ many arguments and endeavours to convince potential supporters.

If there is a decline in militant activities linked to Al Qaeda following the death of Ben Laden, it will not be because the militant leader was killed but because of dramatic changes in this part of the world. However, that does not negate the reality that there could be a surge in militant attacks if only to avenge his death.

In the meantime, the US can and should support Arab and Muslim efforts to root out one of the main reasons for militancy, which is the leaders’ financial corruption and authoritarianism. It could start by bringing about fundamental changes in approach to Arab and Muslim issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli problem and the wars in Afghanistan and Iran. If it does not, the Arab and Muslim push to stem the tide of militancy will be ineffective.

For as long as the US is perceived as hostile to Arab and Muslim rights and interests, the militants will have a strong reason to lash out with unpredictable consequences.

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