Far from mourning the death of Osama bin Laden, most Muslim-Americans are celebrating his demise, saying they have no sympathy to spare for a man who indiscriminately slaughtered people of all religions and launched their community into a decade of distrust and discrimination.
"A lot of (Muslim-Americans) feel, first and foremost, catharsis and relief," said Wajahat Ali, a Muslim-American writer and attorney in the San Francisco Bay area. "Relief because Osama bin Laden was a global symbol of terror and indiscriminate violence.
"… It's also a relief because he symbolizes (those who) hijacked Islam, legitimizing his ruthlessness (using the) religion. … His name and the photo (are) imprinted on the collective consciousness of the world."Video: Americans celebrate triumph over bin Laden (on this page)
Islamic leaders said they saw justice in killing bin Laden and emphasized that he was not one of their own.
“There are people who say he is ‘our’ [Muslim] symbol, but for the vast majority of people, they won’t care where he was buried. He will never be venerated in the Muslim world,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America.
But they were divided about whether bin Laden's demise would mark a turn for the better for the Muslim-American community, which many say has been subjected to anti-Islamic attacks and overzealous intelligence gathering by U.S. authorities as a backlash sparked by bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network.
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"For too long, many of our fellow Americans have stereotyped the entire Muslim community as somehow being extensions of bin Laden," Yasir Qadhi, an Orthodox Muslim leader and Islamic Studies scholar at Yale University, said in an email. "While the capture of Osama bin Laden was always a high priority, dealing with bin Laden should never have distracted us from solving our domestic problems, nor been used to create problems that did not exist (by targeting and stereotyping the Muslim community).
"With his death, we pray that we as a nation can regain our composure and begin in earnest to take our country to greater heights."Interactive: A timeline of Osama bin Laden's life (on this page)
Sufu Hashim of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts put it more bluntly: "Maybe the Islamophobia can stop now," he said. "The persecution of Muslims can stop now, particularly in the United States."
According to intelligence experts, bin Laden's ability to coordinate terrorist attacks dwindled over the decade since he laid the groundwork for the Sept. 11 attacks, as dogged pursuit of his operatives fractured the al-Qaida network. Al-Qaida took weeks to respond to the popular uprisings in the Middle East, which many terror experts said was a reflection of diminished relevance and capacity.
'Sense of relief'
Nonetheless, the removal of bin Laden — because of its symbolism — could help lessen the animosity towards American Muslims, suggested Ali, the Bay Area lawyer.
"Maybe his death makes people feel safer. In some ways it doesn't matter if they actually are," he said. "He's this powerful icon of evil, the bogeyman, the face of terrorism. The fact that he is eliminated has caused a lot of people to exhale."
"There is a sense of relief," agreed Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations. "There's a sense that we are a little bit safer today than yesterday but obviously this is not the end of terrorism in our time. The ideology behind (terrorism) remains and needs to be challenged."Video: Mission accomplished: The end of bin Laden
Bin Laden's death also does not end efforts by extremists to recruit disaffected Muslim-American youth into violent action. That represents a serious threat, according to many terrorism experts, who cite several planned attacks in recent years inspired by a Muslim extremist born in the United States and living in Yemen — Anwar al-Awlaki .
Muslim-American leaders say the threat exists, but argue that it has spiraled into irrational fear, as demonstrated by recent controversial congressional hearings focused on the threat posed by such home-grown terrorists..
"In addition to eliminating the leaders of al-Qaida, we must also challenge the theological rationale of these radicals, and address the socio-political concerns that enrage them to such a level," said Qadhi, the Yale scholar. "Until all of these are done in tandem, we shall always worry about the possibility of another person 'going radical' on us."
Those concerns pervade the theological spectrum.
"Some people in my community are sort of Pollyanna-ish. They're hopeful that this is going to make a difference in America's Islamophobic behavior," said Karen Keyworth a Muslim in East Lansing, Mich., and co-founder of the Islamic Schools League of North America. "I would like to think that's true, but I do not think so."
Those concerns gained voice hours after President Barack Obama announced on Sunday that U.S. forces had killed bin Laden. The next morning, a Muslim Community Center in Portland, Maine reported that it had been attacked by graffiti artists overnight. Scrawled across the building, which serves mainly Somali Muslims, were the words: "Long live the West," and "Osama Today, Islam Tomorrow."
Those hateful words underline the challenge facing Muslim-Americans – an obstacle made so much larger by bin Laden and his decade long campaign of terror, said Ali, the Bay Area lawyer.
"The war on extremism isn't over," he said. "And the war on ignorance is not over."
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