Wednesday, May 04, 2011

One more post on Bin Laden.

I hope and expect that this will be my last post on the death of Osama bin Laden. Before moving on, though, I did want to share three news items on Bin Laden's death that have drawn my attention.

On Monday, AsiaNews offered a report from a Roman Catholic bishop in Pakistan expressing concern that the country's Christians could be "an easy target" for reprisal by extremists in the coming days:
Christian institutions, schools and organisations in Pakistan have closed down today for fear of attacks. Many fear that the operation by U.S. Special Forces that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden could spark a negative reaction by Muslims against the religious minority. Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, calls for greater protection for Christians, an "easy target" for possible reprisal. . . .
Archbishop Saldanha's concerns seem to be well-founded, as Pakistani Christians have suffered frequent harassment and violence in recent years. This March, Pakistan's only Christian cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered because he sought the reform of the country's blasphemy laws. Though I pray for the safety of all Pakistanis in these difficult days, the well-being of the country's vulnerable Christian community remains foremost in my mind.

Bin Laden's death will certainly have some impact on Pakistan's domestic politics as well its relations with the United States, but what will this event mean in the Middle Eastern nations that have been convulsed in recent months by the pro-democracy movements of the "Arab Spring"? If Washington Post reporter Liz Sly has things right, the answer seems to be 'not much':
A decade ago, the Middle East might have responded to the killing of Osama bin Laden with fury at the United States. But with the region convulsed by mostly peaceful popular revolutions, the response to his death has been muted, another signal that the old Arab order is being swept away.

For this new generation, the young Tunisian who set himself on fire and ignited a revolution is a bigger hero than bin Laden, whose vision of martyrdom and jihad has been replaced by more prosaic aspirations such as free elections, good governance and an end to corruption.

"You will see protests for freedom and democracy, yes. But for Osama bin Laden? Definitely not," said Mustafa Alani, director of the Security and Terrorism Studies Program at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

In the Arab world, he said, al-Qaeda was "already dying."
Sly's reporting seems to confirm two analyses that I referenced yesterday, both of which suggested that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have already become irrelevant in the eyes of many Arab Muslims. I still have my own particular concerns about the Arab Spring, but I also believe that it's critically important that Westerners realize that what people in the Middle East want right now is peaceful political change.

Finally, I was struck by what this New York Times article had to say about the significance of Bin Laden's death for members of the Millennial Generation who have come of age in the decade since 9/11:
Text messages and social networks did not only help people get and spread the news about Bin Laden’s death, but they also helped people absorb it, spurring impromptu gatherings at ground zero and outside the White House.

It left some reporters and observers trying to place the shared experience of the Bin Laden news in context. "Kennedy moment for a new generation," wrote Alan Fisher, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, on Twitter. "For my generation, they’ll remember 9/11 and Diana’s death. For those younger, Osama’s death will be on that scale for its global impact."

Sam Dulik, 20, a sophomore majoring in Latin American studies at Georgetown University, was writing a paper in his dorm room when he looked at his Facebook page and saw an update from a friend, making reference to a coming announcement by Mr. Obama and speculation about Bin Laden’s death.

"It just ripped across Facebook," said Mr. Dulik, who watched in real time as bits and pieces of the story exploded in his Facebook news feed. Then he saw calls urging students to gather at the university’s gates and head to the White House.

"For the first time ever, rather than just informing me, it spurred me into action," said Mr. Dulik, who grabbed an American flag off his wall and headed out. "I know that this is different from what happened in Egypt. But it put me in the shoes in a very real way of whose people who use social media as a tool for political activism, for coordination and communication."
I am not a Millennial, but I've spent enough time with them to know that our respective worldviews have been shaped by very different sets of experiences (for example, I have vivid memories of the Reagan presidency and the late Cold War, both of which ended before many of my current students were born). Alan Fisher and I must fit into the same age bracket, as I vividly remember everything I experienced on the day of 9/11 and can easily recall exactly what I was doing when I heard the news of Princess Diana's death (in case you're wondering, I was playing billiards in a student pub). It's fair to say that the news of Bin Laden's death affected me strongly when I first heard it, but I'm sure that it means something very different to people who were children at the time of 9/11 and have grown to adulthood in the decade since.

This concludes our coverage of the death of Osama Bin Laden. We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming. AMDG.


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