May 10, 2011

When President Obama announced that U.S. special forces had helicoptered into Pakistan, broken into a secret compound an hour from the capital and killed Osama bin Laden, celebrations broke out all across America.

The man who plotted the mass murder of 3,000 of us had at last received his just reward. College students ran to the White House to chant “USA! USA!”

Even if one believes that rejoicing at executions of murderers is unseemly for a Christian people, the demands of justice had been met. The world is a better place without bin Laden, who was developing plans to blow up U.S passenger trains on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Yet, in Pakistan and across the Middle East, even in London, some came out to praise the “martyr” and threaten revenge.

In a way, this is the more interesting phenomenon. Why would people, who must believe themselves righteous and moral, keen and wail at the death of a monster who did what bin Laden had done?

Though Osama’s time was past—only 18 percent of the Arab world held a favorable view of him at his death—he was once among the most admired figures in the Islamic world.

“It was when al-Qaida took to killing Arabs and Muslims that Osama lost the prestige he once had.”

In 2003, in Jordan, 56 percent of the pubic voiced confidence in Osama. In 2005, in Pakistan, 52 percent agreed. In July 2009, after Obama’s Cairo speech to the Muslim world, 22 percent of Palestinians said the U.S. president inspired confidence; 52 percent said Osama bin Laden did.

How to explain this? Do Arabs and Muslims approve of mass murder of innocent civilians? Why did so many find so much to admire in a man who planned the atrocities of 9/11?

In one man’s judgment, Osama was admired because he alone in the Arab world had the astonishing audacity to stand up and smash a fist into the face of the world’s last superpower, which had become one of the most resented powers in the Middle East. He was applauded because he had struck the most savage blow dealt America since British troops burned the Capitol and White House in 1814.

In short, the awe and admiration accorded bin Laden in the first half of the last decade were directly proportional to the depth of Arab and Muslim resentment and rage at the United States.

He was admired—for the enemy he hated and had attacked.

Nor is this unusual.


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