For Western Muslims, bin Laden died long ago

Published on english AlJazeera, by Wakkas Khan, May 13, 2011.

The response to the death of Osama bin Laden was celebratory, in some quarters even ecstatic. President Barack Obama’s initial statement was much more measured, however, not wanting to appear to gloat. But his restraint was never going to be enough to prevent US citizens spilling out on to the streets to express their relief and utter joy at the death of a man who had become the icon for “global terrorism”.

The events of 9/11, watching two jumbo jets slice through vertical steel structures tens of storeys high, will remain a horror in our collective memory. Even for people thousands of miles away with no blood relation to those who lost their lives, the scars runs deep, many yet to heal. In this context, the response of some in the US to the death of their longstanding tormentor is contextually explainable. Nevertheless, their response belies the fact that bin Laden’s influence on a global level has never been more than at the margin of the margins, and had been dealt the ultimate death blow by the “Arab Spring”.

In the last past few weeks, reams have been written to give us a greater understanding of the geopolitical consequences of bin Laden’s death. The voice that remains unheard and offers a missing perspective is that of the grassroots Muslim communities of Britain, for whom the realities of day-to-day life has been reformed in the past decade.

The connotation here is far from a negative one. Since the events of 9/11, Western Muslims I have met have been asked sobering questions about issues at the very heart of their faith – as well as around belonging, loyalties and identity. Whilst some have been defensive about such queries, exclaiming that Muslims have nothing to prove, the majority have recognised these questions as legitimate, and embraced the chance to respond, wanting to taking a greater responsibility in shaping the future of their communities. Perhaps unexpectedly, answering these questions has given Muslims the opportunity to think critically and challenge cultural and idealogical traditions. More importantly, it has forced incredibly deep introspection leading to the evolution of Muslim communities – which in turn has served to strengthen the hand of moderates … //

… The past decade will be remembered more as a catalyst that transformed Muslim communities; the fruits of this transformation are not solely being felt today, but the same critically minded young people that I have seen in recent years will emerge in the next decade as leaders. For the grassroots, the wars have only strengthened our resolve to participate at all levels; the Arab spring has given a new confidence. Far from the dream that bin Laden ever envisioned, it is an exciting time to be a Western Muslim, and the progress that has been made is, though not complete, remarkable. Indeed, Muslims have shown through their progression that Osama bin Laden didn’t die last week, but in our collective imagination, he died many years ago.

Wakkas Khan is president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, an umbrella organisation of Islamic groups at colleges and universities in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. (full text).

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