Osama Bin Laden is dead, according to President Obama in a live statement from the White House, just after midnight on Sunday 1st May. An American team of Navy SEALs in Pakistan “took custody of his body” after a fire-fight and as a result “justice has been done”. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before he was tracked down for masterminding the 9/11 outrage in 2001. What though, will be the immediate implications and impact on Americans [and other western nationals] living outside the US? Much I believe, will depend on the reaction to the news by the American people.
Watching the BBC live feed just an hour after the statement, I saw thousands of Americans on the streets of Washington, cheering and celebrating, as though a war had been won.
We have short memories, don’t we? Do you remember those news images of celebrations in the streets of the West Bank when the Twin Towers were attacked? Do you remember how disgusted many people in the West were with the reaction and how American citizens wanted to strike out immediately at Muslims? Remember the attack on the Indian non-Muslim shopkeeper, just because he wore a turban?
Those cheering American faces reminded me of the former images… Yes, I know that was an “outrage” and this is “justice” but it has long been acknowledged that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom-fighter. In many parts of the world, the jubilant reaction of Americans to the news [as much as the actual act of killing Bin Laden], will I believe, provide the motivation for many new attacks on Americans and others around the world, not just by Islamic extremists but also by Muslims who are offended by scenes of American triumphalism.
I live in probably the world’s most moderate Islamic country, Azerbaijan. An oil-rich state on the shores of the Caspian Sea, it looks towards Europe and the US as a trade partner. Islam here, is more a cultural identity than anything else, where Ramada is sometimes described as a time when you cut back on cigarettes and vodka. It will be interesting to see however, what moderate Azeris, make of both the news and more importantly, the reaction in the US.
Personally, I don’t think pictures of wildly celebrating American will go down at all well here, let alone in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, Libya and throughout the Middle East.
In those places live many thousands of American business people, oil workers, aid workers and their families who interact with ordinary Muslims every day. The jubilation on the streets of Washington is unlikely to endear westerners to those people who provide us with all manner of services, who work in our homes, drive us to work, serve us in shops and whose governments process our work permits, visa applications and all manner of permissions.
For American and all Westerners I predict for the short-term, longer queues for government services, a less good service in shops and a general reduction in the level of goodwill towards all.
I hope I’m wrong…