Americans and our allies have great reason to rejoice that bin Laden deservedly died as a reviled fugitive at the hands of his victims' long arm of justice. President Obama's national security team deserves the highest of praise and gratitude from a thankful world, as does the president for his tempered, effective leadership at this most crucial time in American history.
Based on an unscientific review of today's Arab media, Arabs and other Muslims, too, are taking quiet comfort from his demise, with good cause, although predictable voices of Arab resentment surfaced, as well.
After all, at bin Laden's express orders, thousands upon thousands of innocent Arabs died on his direct orders. The list of actual and interdicted terrorist attacks ordered by al Qaeda against fellow Arabs is so long that there is insufficient space to list them, but they number nearly 55 separate acts since 2003, excluding those committed in Iraq.
Even before the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden commanded and condoned the killing of Arabs and other Muslims in their own countries as expendable victims of his terror. A murderer of his own co-religionists is a much part of bin Laden's sinister legacy as are his attacks on America and our allies.
After 9/11 transformed al Qaeda into a global threat, bin Laden relished his role as a reverential figure to so many young Arabs: an Arab Robin Hood whose terrorism resonated throughout the region for its audacity against the perceived injustices of the west.
But as al Qaeda showed its true colors as a mastermind of murder against innocent Muslims, the Bin Laden brand became increasingly debauched. All of the most respected polls taken recently indicate that bin Laden and al Qaeda had become a much resented burden on the Arab psyche as the backlash against the Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism could no longer be dismissed as merely collateral damage to al Qaeda's Western targets.
Al Qaeda's propaganda machine tried mightily to dispel the fact that the vast number of al Qaeda's victims were not Americans, Israelis or other Westerners, but fellow Muslims.
According to a highly acclaimed study issued by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, N.Y, entitled "Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al Qaeda's Violence Against Muslims," only 15% of the 3,010 victims resulting from al Qaeda's attacks between 2004 and 2008 were NON-Muslim, and that far more Muslims were killed by al Qaeda than any other military action in the Middle East since 2006.
This is not a casualty count derived from Western sources, but exclusively from Arab media sources in order not to have the figures disputed as figments of Western conspiracies.
Arabs have endured far too many of their own mini 9/11s at the hands of bin Laden. From the scores killed by al Qaeda in Casablanca in 2003, to the Jordanian families murdered celebrating a wedding at an Amman hotel in 2005; from the thousands of innocent Iraqis slaughtered by bin Laden's prince Al Zarqawi to the latest al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists in Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and just two days ago in Marrakech, Morocco, the Muslim world has paid an awful price at his diabolical hands.
Excluding the thousands of Shi'ites killed in Iraq at the hands of al Zarqawi, over 2,700 innocent Arab men, women and children have died in separate terrorist attacks orchestrated by al Qaeda throughout the Arab world since 2006 -- a blatant record of cold-blooded terrorism against his own people.
So what does bin Laden's death mean to the Arab world at this most unique juncture in the region's history?
Although al Qaeda's franchise cells in the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa remain potent threats to the region's stability (let alone to the United States) Arab world observers stated this morning that bin Laden's death will serve to further eclipse the Arab street's attraction to al Qaeda. The push for "ground-up" democracy and justice, according to Al Ahram, Sharq al Awsat and other reputable Arab media outlets trumps any reversionary dalliance with largely discredited bin Ladenism.
Indeed, in vast swaths of the Arab and broader Muslim world, al Qaeda is dismissed as an echo of a bygone era that enabled younger Arabs to briefly test and then reject its toxicity against a better democratic alternative to rampant terrorism in the name of Islam. This is not wishful thinking. The reaction across the Arab world in the wake of his death shows how little bin Laden is part of today's Arab narrative. Nary a word about al Qaeda or bin Laden has been uttered from the protesters taking to the streets in Tunis, Cairo or De'era in search of greater freedom and opportunity. That alone is a positive development.
But bin Laden's demise will surely embolden his most diehard supporters, of which sadly there remain far too many in the Muslim world, even if it's but a small actual number of Jihadis. They will demand revenge against the U.S. and as I briefly scanned Islamic Jihadi websites this afternoon it was painfully evident that Arabic language Jihadi social network and web sites are calling for retaliation and retribution against the United States, and even some less Jihadi-oriented Arab opinion leaders went on record expressing dismay that the United States achieved a victory in their warped zero-sum view of the Islamic world vs. infidels. Threats of retaliation are credible. Al Qaeda's operatives were ordered by their leaders to prepare for this contingency -- whether bin Laden would die at our hands or the hands of other adversaries.
The fact that bin Laden had found safe haven so near to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, raises the specter that elements of the Pakistani intelligence service -- the ISI -- were in cahoots with the Quetta Shura and other Taliban operatives who were part of the protection racket around bin Laden.
More importantly, the multimillion dollar mansion in which bin Laden sought haven suggests that bin Laden had far more freedom from his pursuers to focus and decide who would lead the next generation of al Qaeda's sputtering command-and-control structure. Perhaps our special forces departed bin Laden's compound with hard intelligence evidencing bin Laden's future intentions and the organizational structure he would bequeath to his subordinates. That would be a bonus, for I have always believed that the tide of battle against al Qaeda turns when its followers, rather than its intended targets, have greater reason to worry whether they will wake up the next morning alive.
Unpleasant nightmares blessed be upon them.
But because al Qaeda's command-and-control structure was already under duress, I predict that bin Laden's departure will usher in a contest for control of the al Qaeda's centralized remnants -- a possibility that adds further reason to be on guard against a spike in al-Qaeda-related terrorism as bin Laden's subordinates battle for control of his legacy by proving their terror credentials.
That is why this is an especially momentous time for opponents of al Qaeda to band together to empower vocal moderate Arab voices to contaminate the residual al Qaeda narrative. It has long been understood that Muslim moderate voices challenging the poisonous bin-Laden-inspired falsehoods constitute the most effective tool against Jihadi ideology.
The Arab revolts have given strong voice to Arab moderates seeking hope and opportunity. Now, more than any other time, Arab moderates have their own selfish interest to stand up to Islamic Jihadis who pose a danger to the ideals and aspirations of the revolts. So what can we do, if anything, to leverage these hundreds of thousands of moderate Arab voices to incorporate a post-bin-Laden, anti-al-Qaeda message into their political outreach initiatives? First, effective public diplomacy highlighting the casualties and costs that bin Laden wrought on the Arab world is critical. This is a unique moment for President Obama to undertake a second outreach initiative to the Arab world in support of its democratic aspirations and redressing some of the unfulfilled expectations young Arabs harbor from President Obama's seminal Cairo address nearly two years ago.
Second, we should help provide young Arab moderates with the counter-Jihadi training and critical information about Jihadi websites, which are the recruiting tools for al Qaeda and its supporters. We should encourage them to contest word for word those who support and recruit for al Qaeda, which is counter to their own revolutionary goals.
Third, encourage newly liberated moderate Muslim Imams who have rejected al Qaeda and bin Ladenism to speak out against bin Laden and his distortions of Islam by facilitating outreach from other clergy in Europe and the United States. Interfaith dialogue and outreach has long been recognized as a means to quell the so called "war on Islam" propaganda of al Qaeda.
American and European non-governmental democracy promoting organizations are facilitating the transformation of democratic-oriented Arab protest groups into viable political organizations. They, too have a unique role to play facilitating an anti-al-Qaeda narrative as they help provide young, secular-oriented Arabs with the tools they need to compete with the virtulent Islamist (and Jihadi) agenda and social welfare programs that may be their biggest obstacle in transforming their protest movements into electorally-competitive political organizations. The U.S. is already supporting these non-governmental organizations, and they are a credible vanguard of support for young, progressive Arab moderates.