The bin Laden effect: How the Al Qaeda leader changed America
In life, Osama bin Laden made a huge impact on the US, all in the name of preventing another 9/11. If he and Al Qaeda fueled antagonism between the US and the Muslim world, they also pushed America toward a better understanding of the Middle East.
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Many Democrats and US Muslim groups argued that this hearing was a form of racial profiling, and should be expanded to include other groups. But just over half of respondents to a March 9 Gallup poll believed otherwise, and thought the hearings should be held.Skip to next paragraph
The same poll found that 36 percent of Americans – a substantial slice – believe that Muslims living in the US are too extreme in their religious beliefs. Half of all Republicans held this view. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said US Muslims are sympathetic to Al Qaeda. Fifty-four percent said they are not.
The death of bin Laden could become a pivot point for US officials to try to ease the antipathy to Islam at home and improve the image of the US in the Muslim world. In particular, it might allow the US to move more forcefully to align itself with the Arab Spring street revolutionaries who are remaking civil societies throughout the Middle East.
Violent extremist groups have been marginalized in many of those upheavals, notes Seyom Brown, holder of the John Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He says that's something the US should continue to emphasize publicly. "The bin Laden episode provides us with the opportunity to differentiate between those who are our enemies and those who are our friends," says Dr. Brown.
Is it time to stop being scared?
Ten years on, the images of the 9/11 attacks remain icons of American history. But the fear engendered by those bolts from the blue faded long before US Special Forces rappelled into a sleeping Pakistani compound.
Look at it this way – in October 2001, 46 percent of Americans in a Gallup poll said that terrorism was the biggest problem facing the nation, the highest such ranking ever. Five years later, when asked the same question, 11 percent of respondents put terrorism at the top of the national problem list. By September 2010, only 1 percent did so – a result much more in line with Gallup's pre-9/11 results.
One big reason for this fade is that there haven't been any successful terrorist attacks on US soil in that period, of course. Concern blips up anytime a thwarted plot, such as the 2009 "Christmas Day bomber" incident, becomes public.
But one major aim of terrorists is to create fear – and bin Laden had largely ceased to terrify the US public years ago.
This doesn't mean Americans aren't worried. Sixty-seven percent of respondents to a new Pew Research poll said they are at least somewhat concerned that the killing of bin Laden will lead to a retaliation attack. The point is that 10 years after 9/11, the threat of terror appears to be part of the nation's new normal. It is something the US lives with.
"Over the longer term – unless there is a big major terrorist event – the issue of terrorism won't continue to be an important component of American politics," says McCarty of Princeton.
IN PICTURES: Osama bin Laden death: reaction