Obama Needs To Turn New Page In Muslim Relations – OpEd


By Aijaz Zaka Syed

Now that Osama is dead and Obama’s re-election is in the bag, could we please move on? I hate to rain on the president’s victory parade and dampen the endless celebrations in America but the departure of one long isolated and ailing figure changes nothing.

In the words of Brendan O’Neill of Spiked Online, “all that really happened in Pakistan is that a small group of American soldiers shot and killed an ageing, sickly man in a mansion, who was the nominal head of a small and increasingly fractured terrorist organization.”

And, I must add, without putting him through useless irritants like a trial or even consulting the so-called sovereign government of the so-called ally Pakistan. Of course, Bin Laden was no saint and may very well have been guilty of the crimes he has been accused of, including the 9/11 outrage. But even Bin Laden, much reviled and hated as he was, deserved a day in the court to explain himself, didn’t he? How do we know for sure he’s the one who ordered the 9/11 attack. Even the FBI admits there’s no proof linking him to 9/11. Where’s the body of evidence?

Besides, even Nazi mass murderers like Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann, responsible for sending millions to their death during the World War II, were penalized only after elaborate, and transparent, trials by a UN war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. Adolf Otto Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Jewish Holocaust, who was captured much later in 1960 by Israel’s Mossad in Argentina, received a fair trial before being hanged in 1962.

I really hate to bat for someone who in his zeal to avenge the Western crimes against the Arabs and Muslims may have ended up targeting hundreds of innocent people, most of them his fellow believers. But there’s something called the due process. Every criminal and accused — even the terrorists — is innocent until proven guilty.

This is the principle that is at the heart of international justice system and no one is an exception, not even the superpower. Following the release of thousands of incriminating US government cables by the WikiLeaks, Bin Laden had declared: “We are a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate.”

But law-abiding nations do not go to war over flimsy excuses or send armed commandos to invade a foreign country and blow up the brains of an unarmed man in front of his 12-year-old daughter and dump his body into the ocean.

In doing so, Uncle Sam has once again acted as the prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner all rolled into one. Not very different from the Texan-style justice celebrated in numerous Hollywood westerns. Might is right. The old jungle law still holds good and the powerful can do whatever they want. Would the Americans try something like this if Pakistan were an equal rival like the old Soviet Union?

Nearly 2,800 people died in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Doubtless a heinous atrocity and crime against humanity for which the perpetrators deserve nothing but severest punishment. What about all those innocents though who were killed — and continue to be killed — as a direct consequence of the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? More than a million people have perished in Iraq alone and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past 10 years. Who will account and pay for them?

The so-called Operation Geronimo is a very good example of the way this “war on terror” has been conducted. While it has wreaked much havoc across an already ravaged Afghanistan, it is Pakistan that has been the real victim of America’s decade-long disastrous campaign. Its once healthy economy is bankrupt; its institutions are falling apart and its complex religious and ethnic mosaic of society is unraveling fast.

The country has been in a free fall since it was forced to join the US war.

It has lost nearly 40,000 people, including 7,000 military personnel, to this conflict. In fact, as early as 2009, Pakistan’s toll — 12,000 deaths — had exceeded that of Afghanistan. Last year, nearly 10,000 people were killed as a result of US drone strikes and reprisal attacks by militants.

Despite continuing demonstrations and perfunctory protests by politicians, the pilotless drones continue to hit Pakistan almost on a daily basis, feeding the growing groundswell of anger against America. Last year witnessed 111 drone attacks mostly targeting civilians. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says at least 957 victims of drone strikes in 2010 were innocent civilians.

But you aren’t supposed to raise these uncomfortable questions. The reigning superpower and its allies are clearly exempt from laws that apply to the rest of the world. The empire can get away with murder. Indeed, it’s Pakistan that is facing the music as US politicians join the chorus to bomb the ally that has given America a free rein to do what it pleases and a virtual license to kill.

Pakistan is teetering on the brink as it bends over backward to meet the increasing US demands to “do more.” In the process, it’s forcing more and more young people into the welcoming arms of the extremists.

I sometimes wonder if the Americans, who burst out on the streets to celebrate the killing of Bin Laden last week, really know what their government has been doing in their name around the world? If yes, do they care? How would they react if some unmanned planes sent by another country were to come raining death and destruction over their cities and towns?

In his speech after the Abbottabad adventure which eerily reminded me of the ‘Mission Accomplished’ bluster of his predecessor, Obama declared that Bin Laden’s killing has made the world safer: “It is a better place because of the death of Osama Bin Laden.” If Osama’s exit has made our world a safer place, why it is not safe for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan? Why do they still get swatted like flies?

A day after Pakistan’s spineless politicians “warned” the Americans against more misadventures, yet another drone strike killed scores in the northwest as if to rub Islamabad’s nose in.

It doesn’t have to be like this though. Obama has a momentous opportunity to turn the page on America’s disastrous decade and make a fresh start with the Muslim world. He has repeatedly talked about seeking “a new way forward” with the Islamic world. It’s time to show he means it. The so-called Islamist extremism as represented by the likes of Bin Laden is merely a symptom of a far serious disease. And the source of the disease lies elsewhere-in the Middle East. Obama would drive home this message when he hosts Israel’s Netanyahu later this month, if he really believes in what he says.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published columnist. Write him at [email protected]

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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