May 18th 2011

Only Defeat Awaits Violence and Extremism

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

The death of Osama bin Laden will not change the nature of the threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates in the short-term. In fact, bin Laden's death, coupled with the nationalist-driven - not Islamist-driven -Arab Spring, could lead bin Laden's followers to enhance efforts to attack Western targets in order to demonstrate that the global jihadist movement remains a potent force. However, as the largely muted reaction of the Arab world to bin Laden's death attests, the ideology of Al Qaeda is waning. The death of bin Laden offers a symbolic moment of opportunity for key players in the region. They should all now utilize this moment to re-assess and re-calibrate the means by which they pursue their interests, as well as their regional postures and relationships: from the United States and Israel to Pakistan and the nations of the Arab Spring, to Islamist groups like Hamas.

The importance of the symbolism of the death of bin Laden is perhaps most palpable in the United States, where Al Qaeda's mastermind orchestrated attacks that killed over 3,000 Americans. With any clear notion of "success" in Afghanistan becoming increasingly opaque, the death of bin Laden offers a chance for President Obama to begin to set in motion policies that he enunciated more than a year ago that would draw down the United States' military presence in the war-torn nation now that he has achieved the most critical objective for which the war was launched: decapitating the leadership and effectiveness of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. The trove of documents seized at Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabod is likely to lead to further intelligence and military advances.


On the heels of such achievements, President Obama can confidently begin to withdraw American troops-but in doing so he must ensure that key components of stability for the territory remain in place. The United States should encourage dialogue between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban, even as it continues to track down the Al Qaeda leaders which the Taliban has aided and harbored. Key to any American withdrawal will be a negotiated agreement with the Taliban provided that the agreement insures that: 1) Al Qaeda will not be allowed to operate from Afghani soil 2) a basic level of human rights and shared dignity for all people of Afghanistan is maintained, and 3) the integrity, security and stability of the neighboring nuclear armed state Pakistan is preserved.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has been questioned vociferously in the wake of the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. President Obama's recent remarks that bin Laden was likely aided by a network of support in Pakistan, and the fact that his compound was found not far from Pakistan's premier military training facility, raises legitimate questions regarding the integrity of Pakistan's military elites, if not their competence, particularly that of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). The United States is now in a bind. Failure to maintain a close working relationship with Pakistan - including the annual $3 billion in aid supplied by Congress for Pakistan's military - and withdrawing from Afghanistan will become much more difficult tasks. Furthermore, Pakistan's delicate political stability, and its nuclear arms demand vigilant U.S. attention to ensure that those weapons do not wind up in the hands of terrorists.

Now as the United States considers recalibrating its policies vis a vis Pakistan, officials in Islamabad are under a bright spotlight. In an interview in 2008, former Pakistani General and then-President Pervez Musharraf told the television program, 60 Minutes, "We are not particularly looking for (Osama bin Laden), but we are operating against terrorists and Al Qaeda and militant Taliban. And in the process, obviously, combined, maybe we are looking for him also." Such unconvincing answers can no longer be acceptable, either to the United States or to Pakistan, if their relationship is to endure. Pakistan should recognize the tide in the region is toward Arab nationalism and empowerment, and away from Islamism. To demonstrate that they are following suit, they should make announcements of their own that they have found figures such as Al Qaeda number two Ayman Al-Zawahiri and others who are likely in similar hideouts in unsuspecting neighborhoods within Pakistan. Pakistan has legitimate security concerns in Afghanistan but it must now operate above the fray with the US to bring about a solution to the war-torn Afghanistan that meets both the American and Pakistani objectives. Pakistan can no longer have it both ways and the message from the Obama administrating to that effect must be loud and clear.

Evidence that Osama bin Laden's ideology has failed the Middle East is appearing throughout the region. There were sporadic protests against his killing by U.S. forces, but most young people were busy in other protests-against their corrupt rulers. It is prescient that bin Laden's message to the youth - to rise up against the United States and Israel and restore Islamic law to the nations of the region - could be so completely ignored. The current "Arab Spring" has been about rising up against the regional despots that have not provided the kind of opportunity and freedom that the West enjoys, and that bin Laden detested. That the region-wide protests today have been organized heavily by the utilization of modern technological tools developed in the West, like Facebook and Twitter, and that they have been the result of peaceful, not violent protests, only adds insult to injury to the Al Qaeda mindset.

Today, the people of Syria are demanding change not through the suicide-bombing means of Al Qaeda, but by chanting "salmiya" - peaceful - in the streets. Going forward, the reforming nations of the region and the United States should take lessons from this rejection of Al Qaeda's ideology. As the nations craft new systems of government, they must be focused on genuine political freedom and economic opportunity that restores the dignity for which the protestors yearn. Furthermore, the United States must be clear in its support for the development of such policies and its opposition to the indiscriminant killings not only conducted by Muammar al Gadhafi's forces in Libya, but now by Bashar al-Assad's in Syria as well.

Finally, the death of Osama bin Laden should send a clear message, both symbolic and real, to Islamists: Violent extremism will not be tolerated in the new Middle East, and no terrorist leader is immune to bin Laden's fate. In particular, Hamas should be paying attention to this message-and perhaps they are. After bin Laden's death, Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh made headlines by condemning the killing of bin Laden, whom he described as "an Arab holy warrior." The West's condemnation of Haniyeh's statement was swift, particularly as Hamas was intending to sign a unity agreement with Fatah in a pact that seeks to maintain Western aid for the newly united Palestinian political front. Days later, after the unity agreement signing ceremony in Cairo, Hamas' Damascus-based chief Khaled Meshaal articulated a much more moderate message, stating: "We are talking now about a common national agenda. The world should deal with what we are working toward now, the national political program... a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return." However, when pressed whether an agreement along these lines would be considered an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Meshaal responded, "I don't want to talk about that." But if Hamas is to survive as a political entity seeking the national aspirations of the Palestinian people, he will need to answer that question. The transition from terrorist to political organization requires a renunciation of violence and the removal of the clause that calls for Israel's destruction in Hamas' charter.

Last weekend, recognizing that international aid for the Palestinian Authority is in jeopardy if Hamas maintains its hard-line views and support for violence, Meshaal sounded an even more moderate tone, stating "First allow the Palestinian people to live on their lands freely ... to establish their independent state ... then ask the Palestinian people, its government and leaders about their position towards (recognizing) Israel." Even more, Hamas forces in Gaza broke up a rally of Salafists decrying the murder of bin Laden ten days ago. In the face of what appears to be a moderating trend within Hamas, the United States and Israel should not allow their skepticism to create undue roadblocks to Hamas' maturation from terrorism to politics. Instead, a wait-and-see policy is in order, one that pressures Meshaal's Hamas to match his new moderate rhetoric by following the footsteps of Fatah, permanently renouncing violence as a mean by which to attain statehood. This would be a first good step toward being taken seriously by the international community.

The people of the Middle East understand the power of symbolism. The videos released by the United States depicting Osama Bin Laden rehearsing video remarks with his beard dyed jet black indicates that he was well-aware of his own self-image, and the power of demonstrating a symbol of a vibrant jihadist leader. Now, in his death, more potent symbols are being conveyed as lessons to be learned: that violence and extremism fail the people of the region, misread their aspirations for freedom and opportunity, and will ultimately be defeated, regardless of how long it takes.

*A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post on 5/13, and can be accessed at http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=220267



Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."