After Osama bin Laden: In Arab world, America's troubled post-9/11 legacy lingers
The shrug that greeted news of Osama bin Laden’s death here in the Arab world was not surprising given that most never thought bin Laden belonged to them. His death offers an opportunity for reconciliation and accountability – for Americans and Arabs – for all the events that followed 9/11.
The shrug that greeted news of Osama bin Laden’s death here in the Arab world was not surprising given that most across the region never thought Mr. bin Laden belonged to them. To the contrary, bin Laden was seen as an American creation and to some, in recent years, an American phantom, who surfaced to justify American policies and military presence in the region. The details of his recent life, in a comfortable suburban home in a country supposedly allied with the US, were further proof to the more conspiracy-minded here that he was essentially in US witness protection and was merely terminated when he no longer served a purpose.Skip to next paragraph
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But for most, not just the conspiratorial, there was nothing authentically Arab or Muslim about bin Laden. So similarly, it came as quite a shock when after 9/11, bin Laden came to define Arabs and Muslims in the American imagination. Many had expected the opposite, that victimization at the hands of Al Qaeda, which Arabs and Muslims had already experienced themselves, would instead provide an opportunity for Americans to see Arabs and Muslims as hardly monolithic and peoples with whom they had something in common.
But as Arabs and Muslims in the diaspora would immediately come to learn, bin Laden would be branded an Arab and Muslim invention. He became the lens through which they, even Arab and Muslim Americans, came to be seen by many in the US and Europe. Indeed, bin Laden’s definitive arrival on the global scene with 9/11 launched an era of Islamophobia and nativism in the US that cost people not only their sense of belonging, but also their jobs, freedom, and other human rights and liberties.
And so his death is already being greeted hopefully, by those living under the weight of that hate and suspicion, as an end to that period. For the Arab world, bin Laden’s death merely punctuates his already waning relevance, as a new Arab Spring both eclipses him and refutes the empty promises of Al Qaeda’s philosophy. Thus there is a sense, buoyed by a great desire for as much, that with his death, the world is finally moving on from the post-9/11 era and its ills.
The Iraq War issue still festers here
But putting that era to rest is not as easy as sinking a body to the bottom of the Arabian Sea; a reckoning of several post-9/11 legacies still needs to happen. From here in the Arab world, it is evident that of 9/11’s heirs, the Iraqi invasion, whose illegitimacy is ultimately sanctioned as long as no one from the previous US administration is held accountable, still festers even when not mentioned at all.