- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - In life, Osama bin Laden was burned into the Muslim consciousness in countless ways: the lion of holy warriors, the untouchable nemesis of the West, the evil zealot who soiled their faith with blood and intolerance.

Since his death, however, the voices across the Islamic world are relatively muted in sharp counterpoint to the rage and shame or hero worship that he long inspired.

For some, the account of bin Laden’s death during a U.S. raid last week on his Pakistani compound is still too much to accept. One post on a militant website asks: “Has the sheik really died?”

A more complex explanation for the relative quiet on the Muslim streets lies, in fact, on those same streets.

The pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world suggest to many that al Qaeda’s clenched-fist ideology has little place for a new generation seeking Western-style political reforms and freedoms, even though al Qaeda’s offshoots still hold ground in places such as Yemen and Pakistan.

Bin Laden died in Egypt before he was killed in Pakistan,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University.

“The young people who successfully challenged the status quo with peaceful means proved change the bin Laden way - the violent way, the jihad way - did not come.”

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who took office after his father, Rafik Hariri, was killed in a 2005 truck bombing in Beirut, said bin Laden’s death serves as something of a moment of silence for those killed by al Qaeda or groups inspired by its creed of violence.

“Any Arab or Muslim who believes that terrorism is destructive and harmful to Arabism and Islam cannot but receive the news of the fate of Osama bin Laden with feelings of sympathy toward the family of thousands of victims who died in different areas of the world because of him or by his orders,” Mr. Hariri said a statement.

Even in Iraq, there have been few public outpourings of happiness or grief in a country that has suffered years of relentless bombings and attacks by al Qaeda-linked groups targeting American forces or supporters of the U.S.-backed government.

A Baghdad-based political analyst, Hadi Jalo, said the muted reaction appears to reflect a shift in Sunni insurgent groups that once called for a medieval-style Islamic caliphate in Iraq. They now are increasingly plotting ways to influence Iraq’s political world with U.S. troops scheduled to leave by the end of the year.

“Iraq today is different from Iraq in 2004, 2005 and 2006,” Mr. Jalo said. “If the death news came at that period, we would see mourning ceremonies in different areas where al Qaeda’s insurgents were active.”

In neighboring Iran - which backed the Shiite militant foes of Iraq’s al Qaeda militants - bin Laden’s death brought little public reaction, but it was used by the Islamic rulers to jab at Washington. A commentary last week by Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency mocked the epic costs of the near decade-long hunt for America’s most wanted figure and its wars in the region.

“American lives are being lost. Innocent civilians are being killed. Several of the conflicts appear to be primed to go on for a long time,” said the agency, which is closely aligned with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.

The lack of major public outpourings or declarations from al Qaeda also add another layer of guesswork about its future. Most assume that bin Laden’s top aide, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, is the apparent al Qaeda heir. Calls for quick revenge against the United States from protesters or on jihadist websites have been isolated.

Just hours after bin Laden’s death was announced, however, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta warned that “terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge” the killing of the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bin Laden is dead,” Mr. Panetta wrote in a memo to CIA staff. “Al-Qaeda is not.”

In Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi one day last week, about 1,000 mourners joined prayers for bin Laden arranged by a militant-linked charity, but few other protests have erupted in the country that bin Laden may have used as his fugitive base for years.

In Afghanistan, many people still refused to believe that he was dead despite Washington’s assertions of positive DNA tests. Bin Laden was sheltered there by the brutal Taliban regime until the United States invaded after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I don’t think he’s dead,” said Salam Jan Rishtania, a 26-year-old student in Kandahar. “I don’t trust the Americans because they are playing games over here. This may be part of their game.”

Still, some acts of homage could be found in other parts of the Muslim world.

About 25 people in the Gaza Strip held pictures and posters of bin Laden a day after he was killed. On the podcast channel of the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, some messages praised bin Laden among many others denouncing him.

“You are the sheik of the mujahedeen [holy warriors]. God may grant you Heaven,” said one post. Another read: “You are in Heaven, Sheik Osama.”

Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas-controlled Gaza, portrayed bin Laden as the victim of a state-sponsored “terrorist act.”

“We disagree with the vision of holy warrior Osama bin Laden, but we condemn this terrorist act,” Mr. Haniyeh told the Associated Press.

“What the U.S. did is not a heroic action, but a targeted killing. To pursue and kill him in Pakistan, which is Muslim land, means for us a further intervention in the land of Islam.”

But in Somalia, where a hard-line Islamist group holds sway over large parts of the country, demonstrators marched defiantly through government-held parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and burned a flag that they said represented al Qaeda.

“Terror, terror go away,” they chanted. “Little kids want to play.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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