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To help put the news of Osama bin Laden’s death in perspective, KSMU’s Missy Shelton caught up with Dr. David Romano. He’s the Thomas G. Strong Chair in Middle East Politics in the Department of Political Science at Missouri State University. Here’s their conversation.
Shelton: As news became public that Osama bin Laden had been killed, we saw spontaneous public gatherings, public celebrations. I’m curious how that kind of thing reads in the Arab world.Romano: The sympathizers of Osama bin Laden certainly aren’t happy to see that. At the same time, I don’t think it costs the United States very much. It’s to be expected given the history, his responsibility for 9-11 and so forth, everyone’s expecting to see this and I think the average viewer in the Arab understands this kind of joyous reaction in the country.Shelton: Are there similar reactions by some in the Arab world?Romano: Sure. First, here at home in Michigan, we had the Arab American community coming out to celebrate. What we can read from that is that they’re American just as much as the rest of us, although I’m speaking as a Canadian. I’m not a citizen. Now, in some parts of the Arab world, he’s loathed as someone who brought misery on the region. Among a lot of non-Arab ethnic groups, say the Kurds or the Turks, there’s no sympathy for this man. There have been Al Qaeda bombings in these countries that have killed a lot of civilians so there are a lot of people happy to see him go. By the same token, you can also find supporters. You look, obviously in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and certain parts of the Arab world, you’ll have supporters who are sad.Shelton: In terms of what may come next from Al Qaeda, I think people are wondering if there will be retaliation in response to this.Romano: Sure. It’s pretty de rigeur for Al Qaeda and similar groups to attempt to mount a vengeance operation. Sometimes these even occur two or three years later so I think we have to have a long time frame. I think Al Qaeda operatives didn’t succeed in attacking U.S. targets very much, not for a want of wanting to, it’s been a question of means. So I don’t know how immediate a response we’ll see. That being said, the very next successful attack they mount, I have no doubt they’ll say, ‘This is in part in vengeance for our brother Osama who has been martyred.’Shelton: The fact that Osama bin Laden is dead means that several things can’t happen. He can’t be brought into a court of law and be held accountable in that context for what he’s done. There’s also no opportunity now to gather intelligence from him. What are your thoughts on the fact that Osama bin Laden was killed rather than taken into custody?Romano: I think there are some missed opportunities. I don’t want to minimize the good news for Americans that this represents. It would’ve been ideal to actually capture him and arrest him, I think. You would’ve avoided him dying in combat a martyr. This is also the kind of fellow you want to debrief, I assume he has some reasonably important about the organization. You also want him in front of the news cameras as the now-humbled leader of Al Qaeda who’s been captured, to de-glorify and demystify his image, kind of like’s been done with other leaders in the past.