And I thought I was seeing images of a Middle Eastern country celebrating the demise of a dictatorship, but instead of flags with the familiar Islamic crescent moon and star, I was seeing the stars and stripes. What the Arab Spring has been to North Africa and the Middle East, the death of Osama Bin Laden has been to most Americans. In one TV interview, a student was asked why they were celebrating and she said that they are celebrating the end of the age of terror, an answer which I also heard several times months ago from several Egyptians and Tunisians who were interviewed by several news organizations. The difference though is that while the Arab Spring has brought back freedom to the people in those Arab countries which were successful in their relatively bloodless revolutions, the death of Bin Laden does not guarantee the US’s or the international community’s freedom from terror.
The death of Bin Laden may have been a cause for celebrations for most Americans, but it quickly became a concern in the hours immediately after President Obama made the public announcement. Already the US and several countries in Europe have sounded the alarm and reinforced their security measures for possible reprisals from Al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations.
In the Philippines, the Armed Forces of the Philippines immediately raised the alert level in the urban centers all over the countries, the Western Mindanao Command went in readiness, anticipating possible attacks from what have been believed as Al Qaeda-aligned groups in the country: the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah. While the armed services guarantee the public that there is no imminent terror threat, the field units have, they said, been on full alert.
The military’s concern, despite the claims of reduced Abu Sayyaf strength, is justififed. Back in the 1990s, when the Abu Sayyaf was still starting out as a group in Western Mindanao, they infiltrated and burned down the whole town of Ipil. In the words of the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “The raid on Ipil, in what is now Zamboanga Sibugay, in April 1995 was the bloodiest calling card the Abu Sayyaf ever left: about 50 people dead, something like a billion pesos looted from banks and a town center left in ruins.” At that time, the Abu Sayyaf was still in its infancy, but it was composed of a motivated and dedicated group of individuals who had the proper training (some in Afghanistan fighting with the CIA and Bin Laden against the Soviets) and enough financial backing.
Bin Laden may be dead, but the networks which he created out of the money from generous individuals and government’s which have appeared supportive of his causes, are still very much alive and armed. And the idealism and dedication of these individuals know no end. It is important that the governments which have been the object of hatred of these “mujaheedin” go beyond the usual military response to terrorism, rather governments should not give the terrorist a reason so incite hate against the government, another nation, and another religion.
How Bin Laden’s death will affect US foreign and security policies, as well as the defense and foreign policies of the Philippines and other US allies, will largely depend also on how the remaining members of Bin Laden’s group and their network will show their reaction to the alleged death of their leader. If Bin Laden’s death will cause some mujaheedin to rethink the path they have chosen and do away with it, then well and good. But if the remaining freedom fighters from Afghanistan to Sulu, will view Bin Laden as a shahid and be inspired by him, then we will see a continued war of terror moving beyond the image and shadow of the bearded tall man in white from Riyadh. And Bin Laden’s death, instead of being the cause of celebration for most Americans, may just mean the openning of a new chapter in what George W. Bush had baptized then as the Global War On Terror.