The dreaded terrorist and mastermind of innumerable acts of terror around the world, Osama bin Laden is dead, and the entire world — or at least the saner elements in it — have heaved a sigh of relief. Even before the US President, Mr Barack Obama, could announce the killing of Osama in a well-thought-out and executed US military operation — or rather a joint operation with Pakistan, as he stated — a part of the media and social networking sites were buzzing with news that the dreaded terrorist had been killed.
For Indians, in particular, the confirmation that the al-Qaeda chief was staying in a villa, barely an hour's drive from the Pakistan capital of Islamabad, came as more of a shock. For after all, what can be more galling than the discovery that Osama was not hiding in the hostile, far-flung tribal terrain between Pakistan and Afghanistan border, but right in the heart of our neighbouring country. The house where he was obviously living in great comfort, if not luxury, one learns, was 8-10 times bigger than the other houses in the neighbourhood. And, Osama was being hosted in Abbottabad, which has not only a large Pakistani military base, but also houses a military academy of the Pakistani army!
So, if while announcing Osama's death, Mr Obama gave some credit to the Pakistani authorities for their co-operation in the joint operation, India and Indians should be excused for receiving that information with a huge pinch of salt. More acceptable was his earnest statement that his country was never at war with Islam.
Anyway, the US has its own compulsions for keeping Pakistan on board as an “ally” because it knows only too well that Osama's end doesn't necessarily mean the end of his ideology of hatred, violence and terror. What the arch terrorist espoused was an idea — an ideology that propagated nothing less than death and destruction to those who did not follow his warped tenets of Islam and Islamic way of life.
This ideology is like a hydra-headed monster that has spewed al-Qaeda clones all over the world. So it is not as though the commander of an inspired military force has been killed and the whole unit will disintegrate.
Mr Obama was right in warning Americans in his rather sober address that Osama's death “does not mark the end of our effort. 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”. The US administration said Osama bin Laden, who was shot through the head, was “given burial at sea”.
What this means in effect is that his body would have been placed in a casket and dumped into an unknown spot of the sea, so that his zealous followers would not be able to build any mausoleum to his memory, or turn the site of his last remains into a pilgrim spot.
Americans have been warned to be vigilant and not travel unnecessarily for some time for fear of a violent backlash from terrorist outfits with close links to the al-Qaeda. If the Pakistan government, which is supposed to have aided this operation, has gone very quiet it is because it expects violent backlash on home turf.
The ultimate end of Osama so close to Islamabad gave India enough ammunition to respond.
The Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, reacted by saying that Mr Obama's statement that Osama was killed “deep within Pakistan” was a matter of grave concern as it proved that terrorists belonging to different groups find sanctuary in Pakistan. He reiterated India's agony that those who carried out Mumbai attacks, and their “controllers and handlers”, continue to get shelter in Pakistan.
Understandably the most exuberant celebrations were held in the US, the most symbolic being at New York's Times Square, and as a comment in the New York Times aptly put it, with the 9/11 attacks, Osama was “elevated to the realm of evil in the American imagination once reserved for dictators like Hitler and Stalin. He was a new national enemy”. Mr Obama put it even more poignantly while announcing Osama's death and said finally “justice had been done” to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, where “we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace”.
RELIEF FOR MUSLIMS
Yes, the Americans had reason to be jubilant. But much more than them, those who should really celebrate Osama's end are, ironically, hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the world, who do not follow the Islam preached by the likes of al-Qaeda.
They have neither belief in nor admiration for the ideology of terrorism. And, yet, terror attacks in the US, London, Madrid or Mumbai, had an appalling impact on their lives. The al-Qaedas, Talibans and other such groups have put the identity of a Muslim under a dense cloud.
Thanks to them and their diabolic bomb blasts, every young Muslim who queues up for admission to a university, a job, a visa, or any other task, is put under the scanner and looked upon as a potential terrorist. Thus, suspected, shunned or denied access to good colleges or jobs in reputed companies, thanks to the ideology of terrorism, Muslims around the world have been hurt the most. They should, and will celebrate the end of Osama bin Laden. But, unfortunately, the stories that will get written or broadcast will be of the violent backlash that his death will bring from the insane Islamist elements.
And we, the saner ones, will be asked the daft question once again: ‘‘Why don't you people stand up and denounce violence/terrorism and welcome Osama's end?'' As though a giant, global ballot box is available to do that!