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

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "