After Bin Laden: A Turning Point in U.S.- Muslim World Relations?

Bin Laden and the Arab Spring: A Turning Point in U.S.-Muslim World Relations?
Coauthored by John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani
Huffington Post, May 4, 2011

The death of Osama bin Laden like the Arab Spring signals a possible turning point in the Arab and Muslim world and an opportunity to strengthen U.S.-Muslim world relations.
The killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad is a major psychological blow to al Qaeda, who lost a charismatic leader, and global terrorists for whom he symbolized their militant jihad. It does not end the transnational threat. As President Barack Obama has stated, "There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must -- and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad." At the same time, significant change has occurred.

In recent years, al Qaeda and other terrorists have been weakened by counterterrorism efforts not only by the U.S. and Europe but also by Muslim countries. Indeed, as the Gallup World Poll indicated, Muslims globally, like majorities in the West, share a common fear and concern about the threat of religious extremism and terrorism to their families and societies. From Egypt and Algeria to Iraq and Pakistan, terrorist attacks and suicide bombings have slaughtered innocent Muslim civilians.
While terrorist groups, a fraction of 1% of Muslims, are able to appeal to and recruit from small pockets of Muslims, they have failed to inspire a mass movement or topple oppressive governments. In contrast, as recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen and calls for democratic reforms Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman have demonstrated, broad based non-violent opposition has proven an effective mode of resistance and regime change.

The challenge for American and EU policymakers today is to construct a new narrative and framework to replace a failed paradigm and conventional wisdom, based on support for authoritarian regimes and the "democratic exceptionalism" in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Policymakers must move beyond policies that equated protection of national interests with the stability and security of regimes and were driven more by fear of the unknown than support for Western principles of self-determination, democracy and human rights. This policy, while attractive to authoritarian allies and their entrenched elites, fed anti-Americanism and fears of Western intervention, invasion, occupation and dependency.

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