News Editor, The Pendulum
As details about the last few years of Osama bin Laden’s life continue to emerge, there is growing suspicion that the government of Pakistan withheld important information about bin Laden’s whereabouts from the United States.
Jason Kirk, assistant professor of political science at Elon University, said the United States’ relationship with Pakistan has been strained recently because of the capture of bin Laden within its borders. A recent WikiLeaks document showed that Pakistani intelligence had protected bin Laden for years, he said, and in the coming weeks, emerging information about the years leading up to bin Laden’s capture will greatly influence future relations between the two countries.
“I’m personally focusing most of all on Pakistan and I think that’s where a lot of immediate attention is right now, and rightfully so,” Kirk said.
Because of evidence that indicates bin Laden had been hiding in Pakistan for many years, his capture is an embarrassing situation for the Pakistani government, which is trying to portray itself as the United States’ partner, he said. But the position of the United States has been that it acted independently and was not willing to risk losing track of bin Laden in order to complete the mission under better circumstances.
Many Pakistanis satisfied with bin Laden’s death have also expressed they would prefer the operation had been carried through by their own government. But leaks within the Pakistani government are what had kept bin Laden out of reach for so long.
“It would have failed if it had been a joint operation because, in all likelihood, they wouldn’t have been able to maintain secrecy,” Kirk said. “There are too many leaks within the Pakistani military.”
Bin Laden was a public enemy to more than just the United States, making his death even more significant as a symbol of success against terrorism. Al-Qaeda had harmed more Muslims than Westerners in its earlier, more successful days, according to Michael Pregill, assistant professor of religious studies. But al-Qaeda had already been on the decline prior to bin Laden’s death, he said, particularly because the Arab Spring has shown that freedom and democracy are an alternative to oppression and terrorism.
“Because of things like a greater resentment of violence, like the recent success of the democratic movements, Muslims throughout the world have generally lost sympathy for radicalism in general,” he said. “The success of democratically-oriented groups shows that Muslims don’t need to resort to violence. There are other options, and democracy can happen without any Western intervention.”
But despite the move toward democracy, discrimination toward Muslim-Americans is unlikely to change drastically in the immediate future, Pregill said. The death of one terrorist is not enough to change the views of those who see all Muslims as a threat.
“Generally, throughout the Islamic world, I think there was a time when certain people were attracted to al-Qaeda’s message, not necessarily because they agreed with bin Laden’s interpretation of Islam but because he presented a compelling faith against resistance toward Western imperialism,” Pregill said. “Even among Muslims who do not agree with terrorism, some saw him as resisting the West.”
But over time, al-Qaeda’s methods became increasingly violent and oppressive toward Muslims and the terrorist group lost its legitimacy long before bin Laden was killed, Pregill said.
“Muslims came to see that, increasingly, al-Qaeda was responsible for targeting civilians,” he said. “Many more Muslims than Americans and Westerners have been harmed by Osama bin Laden.”
Since the attacks on Sept. 11, Muslim-Americans have faced much discrimination and the death of bin Laden will not do much to solve this problem, according to Pregill.
“For people who are inclined to see Islam as inherently violent, I don’t think bin Laden’s death is going to change anything,” he said. “Al-Qaeda’s activities have already been on the decline. I don’t think that affects the impressions of people inclined to be xenophobic.”