By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Sept. 12 -- A decade after 19 Arab men launched the 9/11 attacks, Arab commentators differed on the value of subsequent wars but tended to agree that revolts against tyranny offered an antidote to extremism.
In the Saudi-owned, London-based daily Al-Hayat, columnist Emil Amin posed the question:
After a decade, can one conclude that the United States wasted unprecedented opportunities to use its pain to achieve cultural rapprochement with the entire world?
Amin answered that “since the first hours” after 9/11, the U.S. has seemed determined to divide the world "between those who are with us and those who are against us." Rather than address the reasons al-Qaeda was able to cultivate a small band of followers, Amin wrote, U.S. President George W. Bush listened to “the callers for wars."
As a result, he concluded, the U.S. “lost the wave of international sympathy that the world showed beginning on September 12, 2001.” U.S. collaboration with other countries, he said, “became limited to the alleged war on terrorism.” To its discredit, he wrote, the Barack Obama administration has continued Bush's policies.
Columnist Ahmad Abd as-Sada, writing in the Iraqi daily As-Sabah, had a different, that is positive view of the U.S. military response to 9/11:
Military power against a bloody and primitive regime that glorifies emptiness and despises life, such as that of the Taliban, and against a dictatorial, military and oppressive regime such as that of Saddam Hussein, is a necessity, or rather an obligation, that deserves the blessing of the people and international legitimacy.
Pushing an argument long made by allies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, whom the newspaper supports, as-Saba added, “it would not be an exaggeration to say" that 9/11 and America’s reaction will, “one way or another, serve the dreams of the Arab cultural and liberal elite, which is yearning for civilization and progress, and a break from the hegemony of tyrants.”
Most of the commentary around the 9/11 anniversary in the Arab media, however, centered around the effect of popular demands for democracy on support for al-Qaeda and its ideology. Wrote Ghassan Charbel, one of the region's leading commentators, in Al-Hayat:
The people of the Middle East see the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 through the looking glass of the Arab Spring and its implications. The discourse of al-Qaeda, which appeared attractive to certain youths for some time, proved to be lacking in appeal when the people took to the street in a number of countries to express their anger, their dreams and their aspirations. One can even say that those who flocked to the public squares have demanded the opposite of what al-Qaeda has been calling for.
Another columnist, Mshari Al-Zaydi, writing in the Saudi-owned, London-based Asharq al-Awsat, put it this way: “This is the year of the so-called Arab Spring, and so al-Qaeda can go to hell!”
He said that al-Qaeda had succeeded in bleeding the U.S. but had proven unable to “ignite a permanent fire along the fault lines between the Islamic world and the West.”
The eruptions of the Arab Spring have denied al-Qaeda and its ilk the ability to claim that they speak on behalf of the people or represent their aspirations. This is an extremely important outcome.
The U.S., Charbel concluded, “has dealt painful blows to al-Qaeda,” but the strongest blow was dealt by the Arab revolts, which are “today giving Islamist factions, with broad representation sometimes, the chance to engage in political life.”
Al-Zaydi noted that even if Arab revolutionaries set al-Qaeda back by proving there is a viable way to bring real change through means other than violence, reformers still have additional important issues to address:
Have we truly become lovers of freedom, democracy and equal citizenship, regardless of religious, ethnic or regional identity?
Among the items now blocked from the agenda, he said, were "the empowerment of women, support for the arts, personal freedoms, and the freedom of academic research with regard to history, sectarianism, and Islamic jurisprudence, in addition to other features of a free and modern society.” The extent to which such issues are addressed in the future will be a measure of how much al-Qaeda's backward-looking philosophy truly has been rejected.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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