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Religion of Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Source: The Statesman

Al Qaeda has lost relevance, Muslims cherish freedom too

OSAMA bin Laden was born into great wealth and privilege in 1957 and in his adult life chose to use his fortune and education to spread terror in its extremities to protect and promote a radical misunderstanding of Islam. In the process he became the world's most wanted and his movement, Al Qaeda, a dangerous threat to world peace. Eventually, the nation that helped project his global popularity ended up ending his life.

US, UK, Kenya and other countries, which have a history of suffering violent attacks from Al Qaeda terror have put their nations and citizens on security alert. The common view appears to be that Osama's death does not mean the end of Al Qaeda and the movement it has spawned because Osama, by most accounts, had long been removed from managing terrorists operations. Fear of violent reprisals abound.

While we accept the attractiveness of this view, the New Statesman does not share it in its entirety. We see this threat as at worst temporary. We do not see the death of Osama as a mere Pyrrhic victory for the war against Al Qaeda terrorism. We see it as an opportunity to kill off an unfortunate phenomenon that was fast losing relevance even before the May 1 killing of its leader.

We see the death of the founder and spiritual leader of the global terrorist network, Al Qaeda, as a reaffirmation of the growing irrelevance and unpopularity of Al Qaeda even within its natural recruitment base (meaning Qaeda), a small minority of Muslim youth.

Al Qaeda and other like-minded extremists have used suicide bombing as a major tool for spreading terror. Yet, it took the ultimate personal sacrifice of suicide by a young, educated, unemployed and frustrated Tunisian to spark the kind of popular, pro-democracy revolution that is sweeping across the Arab world. Mohamed Bouazizi, who committed suicide on December 17, was not an extremist. He was just a young man struggling to make ends meet. It is the fulfillment of this basic aspiration, neither hatred for America nor extreme love for religion that has unsettled governments across North Africa and the Middle East.

The stereotype of Islamic countries and their peoples has been shattered and along with it the cover and pretext for movements like Al Qaeda. It took social networking on Facebook and Twitter by the youth of Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, not bombs and violent misinterpretations of the Koran, to bring down unpopular regimes or force democratic reforms. Muslim majority countries are not as backward as the western world was made to believe. Not s single American flag was seen burnt on the streets of unrests by any protestor in the current wave of protests.

It was this stereotype and the overblown impression of the relevance extremists' command that gave Western powers the 'moral' excuse to protect corrupt dictators, aging monarchs and long serving autocrats as a 'safer' alternative.

The message to Al Qaeda today is that Muslim youths are not interested in waging any 'holy war' against any 'infidel'. They want what would enhance their human dignity: liberty, freedoms.

Osama bin Laden might have been successful in creating a decentralized global movement in which loosely coordinated groups are often linked by little more than a shared ideology, but it is that ideology which is fast losing its appeal among the groups which would have been vulnerable to it – the Muslim youth. Whether a movement or an ideology, the time is up for Al Qaeda.

Osama and his Al Qaeda have manifestly lost the battle for hearts and minds of the Moslem youth. Poll after poll continues to show this declining popularity. Millions of Arabs are more concerned about getting rid of their dictators and securing a secular, free, democratic society than praying for Osama's version of organized society.

However, while studies in predominantly Muslim countries reveal that very large majorities continue to renounce the use of attacks on civilians as a means of pursuing political goals, many of them also are not happy with American military interference in Muslim countries.

America's obsession with Osama contributed immensely to the surge of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. It was that which goaded Bush to invade Iraq, using September 11 and Osama as pretext, and supported by other Western powers such as Britain. The September 11 attacks on US soil cost 3000 lives (including the 19 hijackers) and $40 billion in direct damage. But, its consequential war in Iraq killed 4000 US troops, hundreds of troops of its allies and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

It cost the US taxpayer some $1 trillion, 2500 per cent greater than the estimated cost by the September 11 attacks. In the end, the way the war on terrorism was waged was what gave Osama strength which he did not deserve.

If any US leader can tackle the prevailing culture of anti-Americanism, then barrack Obama, the man who got Osama, is the man. We will urge him to make this a priority in the long-term goal of ultimately putting a bullet in Al Qaeda's relevance and throwing it into the deep blue sea. He must apply all the necessary wisdom and foreign policy strategy to attack the anti-Americanism that the narrow pursuit of American interest generated in its wake. Studies show that Al Qaeda's appeal fed on four key factors. The propagation of a simple message, the projection of a powerful and captivating image as the world's most feared terrorist organization, the military excursions of America in Muslim countries and Al Qaeda's global character, with membership opened to any Muslim willing to accept its extremist ideology.

Muslim youths are doing their bit to kill off Al Qaeda. What is Obama's America and Cameron's Britain doing?