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BASEL, May 11 2011 (IPS) - There is no evidence that Osama bin Laden planned the attacks of September 11, 2001, just as there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the pretext used for the 2003 US attack on Iraq. Osama applauded 9/11, but that falls under freedom of speech.

If he was unarmed in a bedroom (the latest version) and did not engage in a firefight, his killing amounts to extrajudicial execution. Those who celebrate it are legitimising an approach that may be applied to themselves.

To refer to the Western reaction as medieval insults the Middle Ages. It is Western Civilization that is in decline, leaving behind it important achievements -like no punishment without a sentence, no sentence without a trial, no trial without law and hearing the accused.

Osama’s terrorism is of course totally unacceptable and violates Qur’anic teachings. But killing him does not kill his cause. It will rather provoke more terrorism to avenge his death. And Obama’s massive violation of Pakistani sovereignty will backfire.

Obama has now surpassed George W. Bush -at war with two Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan- by adding four more: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. Is Syria next?

What has been said is not a defense of Al Qaeda’s nor bin Laden’s violence, nor of 9/11. The former, in the words of Osama, is struggle for Islam, the latter was struggle against economic and military manifestations of the US empire. The thinking of the planners of 9/11 has been covered up by the FBI-CIA; they evidently hated US economic and military activity. But Osama’s thinking is available in “Messages to the World – The Statements of Osama Bin Laden”, edited by Bruce Lawrence (Verso, 2005):

“What America is tasting today is but a fraction of what we have tasted for decades. For over eighty years our umma has endured this humiliation and contempt.” (7 Oct. 2001)

To my knowledge, no Western analyst has cared to check what happened “more than 80 years” earlier: the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, promising the Arab countries in the Ottoman empire freedom if they joined the fight against the empire, which they did, and then colonizing them; the Balfour declaration of 1917, promising Palestine to Jewish settlers; and the 1918 Allied occupation of Istanbul.

Obama’s rhetoric is also attractive, his actions less; we must focus on both.

That the CIA needed 10 years to track Osama down is no surprise. It failed to foresee the Soviet thermonuclear bomb, Sputnik, the Berlin Wall, the nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the end of the Cold War. Central, Yes; Agency, Yes; Intelligence, No.

That Pakistan, a Muslim country, whose border with Afghanistan was arbitrarily drawn by a Western power, plays a double game surprises nobody except the US. In addition, Obama, a social worker from Chicago, lacks experience in foreign affairs (The New Yorker, 2 May 2011) and is victim of dark forces.

The reaction of Osama’s admirers is predictable (The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, 6 May 2011):

“Al Qaeda members promise a series of further attacks which ‘will even make the hair of babies turn grey’, and call for Pakistanis to rise up against their government.”

“Are the Americans able to kill what Sheikh Osama lived and fought for, even with all their soldiers, intelligence and agencies? Never! Never! Sheikh Osama did not build an organization that would die with him, nor would end with him.–If the light of Islam and jihad could disappear with the killing or death of just one person, it would have gone the day Prophet Mohammed died –instead they were emboldened by the attacks– holding the flag of truth in their hands…”.

The Al Qaeda story, while bad and violent, at least hangs together; Washington’s doesn’t. It is changing by the day, even by the hour, blaming the fog of war, not the fog in the minds of the committees composing those stories.

Is there any way out? One could wish that Osama had sent hundreds of Muslim women dressed in black to surround each US embassy, demanding, nonviolently, a dialogue. One could wish that the US empire were open to dialogue and conflict resolution. But Obama is as far from that as Osama was from nonviolence. Milosevic, Khatami, Saddam Hussein all wanted dialogue, Gaddafi calls for a ceasefire with dialogue. Washington wants one thing: “regime change”, getting rid of the person they have demonized to the point that they believe his disappearance will solve the conflict. They feed that dish to subservient media and a US public praying “give us today our daily lies”.

And yet there are two roads to peace. One passes through denying them support, isolating them, not joining as allies.

The other passes through healing the past, the 27 or so Western attacks on Islam since 1830 (see Johan Galtung, “50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives”, TRANSCEND University Press, 2008, chapter 88; from www.transcend.org/tup). A process of reconciliation is needed. This is unlikely to come from the bastions of Western arrogance, but maybe it could from others.

Both, Obama and Osama are extremely violent, killing civilians en masse. Both are rhetorically gifted and intelligent. But one is on the side of history, fighting, however wrongly, for the wrongfully suppressed, and the other is fighting for the wrongful suppressors, for a dying empire, against history. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Johan Galtung, Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, is author of “The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?”

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