Absorbing the news, implications of Bin Laden’s death

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May 2nd, 2011

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Omaha, NE – As the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden is absorbed around the world, the questions are numerous. What does it mean for the fight against terrorism, has it shifted momentum, does the threat remain? And what about Pakistan? How much did the government know?

U.S. Army Maj. Marty Reigher salutes the flag in remembrance of the September 11, 2001 attacks. (Photograph taken in Baghdad, Iraq in 2009, courtesy Wikimedia)

“Symbolically it’s been huge, no question,” said Moshe Gershovich, Professor of History and head of the Middle East Project Fund at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Gershovich said the death of Bin Laden comes at a historic time, and sends a message to a region already on its way to massive transformation.

“In the entire Middle East, we see in country after country, people who have lost their fear,” he said, “people going to the street, demanding change.”

“More and more people, especially young people who are the natural recruits for such thing, are realizing the Al-Qaeda way is not the way for them,” Gershovich said. “They are fighting within their countries and they are fighting for things that are very different things than the Al-Qaeda agenda.”

Gershovich said the momentum shifted away from Al Qaeda several years ago, when individual Muslims began to perceive the network as targeting them, and detrimental to all. But, he said, although taking out Bin Laden delivers a symbolic blow, his death was not an operational victory.

“The greatest threat is not so much from an organization called Al Qaeda, which is more theoretical than real, but from what I might call freelance terrorists,” he said, “people who organize locally, assume the identity of Al Qaeda, and carry out their operations.”

“These local initiatives are very hard to detect ahead of time, to penetrate through intelligence and to foil their activity. We usually get familiar with those after they carry out their initial operation.”

Tracking those locally organized operations, however, may become more intently focused on Pakistan. Bin Laden was found in a compound in Abbottabad, what some have called a “suburb” near the capital city of Islamabad in Pakistan…not hidden in a cave on the border with Afghanistan as initially believed.

“No one can come to the conclusion, knowing now what we do about where he was found, that someone in Pakistan’s ISI didn’t know where he was,” said Thomas Gouttierre, the Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at UNO, who travels to the region regularly.

“I haven’t been to that compound where they found him, but I have been to Abbottabad, and I can tell you that’s not the type of town where that building where we found Osama Bin Laden would go unnoticed,” Gouttierre said, “and particularly in a country where the intelligence organization keeps such a tight tab on everything that’s happening.”

Gouttierre said the United States needs to sit down with the Pakistani government, and figure out how the countries might have a relationship “based more on reality than claims that prove to be unproveable.” Gouttierre, who is often in close contact with the leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said an initial response of Karzai was to point out that his government has said all along the centers of terrorism are not in Afghanistan, butare in Pakistan.

“And this only proves that,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for the Pakistanis to dispute that.”

The fallout from the historic event will likely continue for weeks and months, as more information comes to light. For now, around the world, people continue to absorb the news, and the reactions are varied… from celebrations by protestors in Yemen to rallies in New York and Washington D.C to a message of mourning from Hamas in Gaza, who called Bin Laden a “Muslim and Arab warrior.”

One Response

  1. Bechara Rolando Embaid says:

    Dr Moshe is an appreciated friend of mine and I agree with him that Bin Laden lately became a symbol only.In a lecture coordinated by Dr Moshe at UNO on Thursday 04/28 I was pleased that there are some efforts to deal with the source of the “despair” of Arab youth at least.It will take time for everybody to sort our priorities and to focus on what we really need:Wellbeing for everybody !

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