The Death of Osama Bin Laden: Islamophobia goes to America[1]

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BY DR. AYLA GOL** | 08.06.2011

osama_binladenIt was a bullet that killed a terrorist and revived a presidency. On the morning of May the second 2011, the world woke up to the breaking news of Osama Bin Laden’s (OBL) death. He was murdered in a top-secret operation by the elite US Navy Seal Team Six with two shots – a ‘double tap’ maneuver – once in the torso and then in the head to ensure the enemy’s death.[2] “We got him!”, President Barak Obama added as he heard what he had long wanted to hear: ‘Geronimo EKIA’ (‘Enemy Killed in Action’). The enemy was, of course, OBL, America’s Public Enemy Number One and, since 9/11, the personified embodiment of ‘Islamic terrorism’. The US Special Forces captured him in a fortified compound locally known as ‘Waziristan Mansion’, in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, in North-West Pakistan. Curiously, he was not hiding in a ‘cave’ in the mountainous area of Tora Bora in Eastern Afghanistan, as the world had been led to believe. Indeed, ‘Waziristan Mansion’ was located just one kilometre away from the Pakistani Military Academy and about 100km (62 miles) from the capital Islamabad.[3] Pentagon officials and the US media claimed that OBL’s body was ‘buried at sea’ following the Muslim practice of burial within 24 hours and to prevent his grave becoming a shrine, while Obama hailed the operation as “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda”.[4] Although there is no question that OBL’s death has brought to an end an 11-year-old man hunt and is the beginning of the end for the so-called War on Terror (WOT), the defeat of al-Qaeda is far from being any closer. Achieving the latter is far more complicated than killing Bin Laden and requires a new set of strategies. Four of them will be discussed here:

The first strategy consists in ending the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric and policy. Since the Bush administration launched the WOT in order to combat al-Qaeda’s the terrorist activities, the exhausted and age-old discourse of a ‘clash of civilisations’ between the West and the Rest resurfaced with specific reference to Islam. Yet for many of us in the Muslim world, the ideologies and terrorist activities of al-Qaeda under the leadership of OBL did not at all reflect how true Muslims should act and live. A faith of peace and love for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, Islam is nevertheless all too often portrayed as ‘uncivilised’, ‘traditional’, ‘irrational’, ‘violent’, and ‘alien’ by Orientalist and essentialist understandings that are deep-seated and centuries-old.[5] Influenced by these assumptions, much of the current literature and debate continues to adopt a rather simplistic and stereotypical view of Islam as a violent, irrational, and backward religion that has the potential to turn its believers into potential terrorists (such as OBL himself). Hence, the US-led WOT can be identified as the continuation of such orientalist, ethnocentric and cultural biases that characterize the relationship between the West and the East – or the ‘Orient’ or ‘Islamic world’ – in the form of violent conflicts between ‘us and them’. Such simplistic views impede the understanding of WOT by creating a ‘false-consciousness’ for non-Muslims – ‘us’ – as rational, non-violent, and peaceful beings in the West, while alienating the dedicated (and diverse) followers of Islam worldwide  – them – as irrational and violent. Although it seems that the Obama administration stopped using the ‘War on Terror’ expression at the level of policy and rhetoric, the idea of being ‘at war with Al-Qaeda’ has never been abandoned and indeed it has recently been used to justify the killing of OBL.[6] Reactions to his death varied from the celebrations and chanting of Americans, to the condemnations for the way he was killed and ‘buried at sea’ by his followers and ordinary Muslims. There were also some critical voices in the West. Hence, the US Special Forces’ operation has raised many questions about the legality of the killing and the handling of his burial among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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*Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2 | No. 2

** Director, Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Contemporary Political Violence (CSRV); Lecturer in International Politics of the Middle East and Islamic Studies; Department of International Politics; Aberystwyth University.

© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN

[1] Note:

Some parts of this extract are taken from, “the Editor’s Introduction: Views from the ‘Others’ of the War on Terror”, Special Issue, Critical Studies on Terrorism, Vol.3, No.1, April 2010, pp. 1-5; and Ayla Göl, ‘The War on Terror and the Rise of Neo-Orientalism in the 21st Century’, e-IR




[5] E. Said, Orientalism: Western conceptions of the Orient. New York, NY: Random

House, 1978; Culture and Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993; Covering Islam: How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world. London: Vintage, 1997.

[6] See, ‘Interview: The War on Terror after bin Laden’, 10 May 2011

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